Cosmetic Formula Optimization - part 1

As a formulator one of your main tasks will be to come up with the recipes for the various products that your company sells.  But even after the product is launched your work on the formula is not complete. No doubt your company will look to you to improve things so they can either launch a “new and improved” version or have the same product but improve the margins.  To make improvements to your cosmetic formula you’ll have to learn how to optimize it.  Here is how you do that. 

What is optimization?

On the most basic level formula optimization means finding the ideal level of every raw material in your formula.  The ideal level of an ingredient depends on a number of factors and it is something that you have to figure out on a case by case basis. Ultimately, the ideal level depends on what characteristic you are optimizing.

5 step optimization strategy

Here is a simple 5 step formula optimization strategy. You can use this to develop pretty much any formula for any purpose. The steps are…

  1. Decide what you want to optimize & why.
  2. Find a way to measure whatever characteristic you are trying to optimize for. If you can’t measure something, you can’t optimize for it
  3. Create your prototypes. You need a starting point from which you can optimize. You can’t optimize right away.
  4. Test your prototypes. One of the most challenging parts of optimizing & formulating in general is creating tests that can quantify formula differences
  5. Refine those prototypes and repeat the process.

Eventually, if you go through this cycle enough times you’ll get to the most optimized formula possible. That’s the goal anyway.

What can you optimize?

So, let’s begin with the first step, deciding what to optimize. As I said finding the ideal level of an ingredient depends mostly on what you want to optimize for. There are a number of things you can optimize in a formula including product performance (in lab tests), consumer acceptance (how well consumers like the way the product performs). This is probably the most important of things to optimize. You know, happy consumers make loyal customers.

Other things you can optimize for include product stability, formula cost (your business people will be highly interested in making sure you do this) and you can optimize for your manufacturing people. I’m sure there are other things for which you can optimize but most of them fall under one of these categories.

So when you are looking to optimize a formula, you need to decide which of these things is the most important for your optimization program. Sometimes you can optimize for multiple characteristics simultaneously (for example improving a lab performance may increase consumer acceptance) but usually, optimization requires you to focus on one at the expense of other things. Hopefully not, but sometimes that happens.

What can you measure?

Once you decide what to optimize your formula for, you have to figure out some way to measure it. Optimization without measurement is not optimization. So, what can you measure.

  • Specific performance characteristics
  • Consumer perception scores
  • Product long-term stability performance
  • Calculate formula costs
  • Time required for manufacture

In the lab you can measure specific performance characteristics. Now, this will depends on the type of product you’re making but for cleansing products you can measure the foam. You can measure moisturization scores for skin products or color fastness for color cosmetics. To optimize you need to find a reliable measurement for whatever characteristic you are interested in.

If your focus is on consumer performance you can optimize for consumer perception scores. This means you’ll have to create a questionnaire, get a group of reliable consumers and test. This can be pretty difficult.

For optimizing for stability performance you can do long-term stability tests. For formula cost optimization well, you just need to calculate your formula costs before and after optimization.

Finally, if you are optimizing for manufacture, time is probably the most important thing which you can measure. Anything that makes the product produced in spec more quickly would be worth optimizing for.

What’s next?

Now that we’ve looked at the formula characteristics you can optimize and considered how you might measure those things, we can next look at some prototyping techniques to optimize your specific formula.  But we’ll save that for the next part of our formula optimization series tomorrow.

 Want to learn more about making the best cosmetic formulas you can make? Consider joining our Practical Cosmetic Formulation course.

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The job of a cosmetic chemist, or as they call it in the UK a cosmetic scientist, requires you to do a wide variety of things both in and out of the lab. Your main responsibility will be that of a formulator. This means you mix raw materials together to create cosmetic products like lipstick, nail polish, skin lotions, shampoos, toothpaste and any other type of personal care product.

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