Guide to Cosmetic Formulation Basics

1. Hair Conditioner
2. Body Wash
3. Lipstick
4. Hair Gel
5. Skin Lotion
6. Sunless Tanning
7. Antiperspirant
8. Nail Polish
9. Foundation

On formulating cosmetics

To be a cosmetic chemist you have to learn to make cosmetic formulas. For most people starting out in the cosmetic industry, you’ll specialize in a specific type of formulation such as skin, hair, or color cosmetics.

However, to be a complete cosmetic chemist you should have an understanding of how ALL cosmetics work and are formulated. This doesn’t mean you have to go make them (although that is encourage) but it does mean that if someone asks you how a product works, you’ll be able to answer them.

In this series we are going to cover as many types of cosmetics and personal care products we can imagine. We’ll discuss what a product is designed to do, how it works, and some of the ingredients that make it work. Before we get into the specific formulas, it makes sense to give an overview of all the types of products that are considered cosmetics.

While there are thousands of personal care or cosmetic products on the market, they can all be sorted into 5 distinct categories.

Skin Care Products

These are products designed to improve the appearance and feel of skin. The skin care market makes up about 30% of all cosmetics sold which is the largest share of any category. Skin care products can be classified further by how they work and what they do.

So, there are products that are left behind on the skin. These include moisturizing products designed to improve the look and feel of skin. There are also anti-aging products that promise to get rid of the signs of aging skin (for example wrinkles, age spots, dry skin, etc). There are sunless tanners which change the color of skin. And there are over-the-counter drug products that protect from the sun, treat skin medical conditions, treat acne, and actually reduce wrinkles.

The other types of skin products are those designed to remove things from skin. This include cleansers like body washes, hand soaps, facial washes, toners, bubble baths and more. It also includes scrubs, masks, and exfoliation products. You could also add shaving creams and depilatories to this group since they are designed to remove hair from the skin.

2. Body Wash
5. Skin Lotion
6. Sunless Tanning

Hair Care Products

The next category of cosmetic products is hair care. Products for the hair are the second most popular type of cosmetic making up approximately 25% of worldwide sales. Like the skin care category, hair products can be further grouped by how they work and what they do.

The most frequently purchased hair products are those designed to remove things from the hair. These are liquid shampoos which clean hair, but there are also powdered and aerosol shampoos. They remove dirt, oil and other things from hair. There are specialty shampoos which qualify as over-the-counter drugs and include anti-dandruff shampoos, anti-lice products, and even hair restoration shampoos.

Hair conditioners are another type of product designed to be rinsed off, but they also leave material behind to improve the look and feel of hair. There are standard every day rinse-off conditioners but there are also intensive conditioners, protein packs, hot oil treatments, serums and a wide variety of other specialty products that are supposed to improve the hair look and feel.

A third type of hair product are those meant to be left in the hair. These products can help change the feel of hair but are primarily meant to help with the appearance and control of hair. The largest segment of these products are styling products including hair sprays, mousses, styling gels, putties, pomades and more. There are also leave-in conditioners which would fall into this sub-category. Of all the hair care product types, styling products are the most diverse taking on a vast array of formulations.

A final hair product category is reactive hair products. These are formulas that chemically change the structure of hair thereby changing the way it looks. For straightening hair there are relaxer products. For making hair curly there are perms. And for changing the color of hair there are permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary hair colors.

4. Hair Gel
1. Hair Conditioner

Color Cosmetics

Speaking of colors, that brings us to our next cosmetic category, color cosmetics. For most people these are the types of products that they think of when you say the word cosmetic. Color cosmetics or make up comprise about 20% of the worldwide cosmetic market. This group includes products that remain on the skin and change the color and appearance. It includes products for the face like foundations, lip sticks, lip gloss, blush, eye shadow, eye liner, and mascara. You could also include products for the nails such as nail polish, gloss, and all the other products related to nail care. Color cosmetics are the most regulated of all cosmetics because governments around the world restrict the types of ingredients that can be used for colorants. It turns out that some of the coloring ingredients that were used prior to the creation of the modern cosmetic industry were quite poisonous.

3. Lipstick
8. Nail Polish
9. Foundation


Our next major category of cosmetics is fragrances. Fragrances and perfumes have been part of the cosmetic industry since before the 1600’s. These types of products are meant to be put on to change natural body odor. They make up about 10% of the cosmetic market. This category includes perfumes, colognes and body splashes. And this group also includes body sprays which are aerosol versions of colognes.

Personal Care Products

And then there are general personal care products. This last category of cosmetic products makes up approximately 15% of sales in the market (depending on what products you include). These include oral care products like tooth paste, mouthwash and whitening products. It also includes deodorants and anti-perspirants although I suppose you could make a case that these could be classified as either skin care products or fragrance products. But for our purposes let’s just consider them a separate group.

So there you have it the 5 main categories of cosmetic products. They include skin care, hair care, makeup, fragrances and personal care products.

OTC Drugs

One thing I should mention though is that throughout this show I’ve mentioned over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. This is a special category of cosmetic-like products that is more tightly regulated at least in the US. You see cosmetics are not allowed to treat a disease or otherwise interact with the skin metabolism. According to the law they are only allowed to temporarily change the appearance of skin and hair. So any product that actually treats a disease is actually a drug. In the US the FDA has created a list of such products and each of these has a monograph which dictates the active ingredients, the levels, and the claims that can be made about the products. These products are not technically cosmetics although they seem like they are. This includes things like sunscreens, anti-dandruff products, anti-acne products, anti-perspirants, and anything else that might be considered treating a disease.

7. Antiperspirant

You can learn more details about creating cosmetics in our course: formulating cosmetics


  1. Avatar

    Hi perry,

    I want to know, how to formulate a shampoo hair dye

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I’d suggest you post your question in our forum.

  2. Avatar

    hey friend!
    i want to make emuslion of turmeric oil and pongamia pinnata oil.
    please suggest me any solubilizer.


    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Have you tried Polysorbate 20?

  3. Avatar
    Crystal Williams

    Can someone point me in the direction of where the cost calculator spreadsheet is

  4. Avatar

    hi perry,
    Is formulation of liquid soap for dish washing and laundry covered in the course?
    Is there any course or forum on paint formulation you can suggest? need help.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      No, the course is for formulating cosmetics.

  5. Avatar

    Hi Perry can you plz write me the recipe for a whitening body scrub,thanks so much.

  6. Avatar

    I used cetyl alcohol, but I did not get what I want. The up is tick why the down is waterry, why is it so?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I’m not sure what you mean but it’s probably due to the fact that you don’t have a proper thickener in the formula.

  7. Avatar

    Hello Perry. I really enjoy Your website.

    I don’t see any formulation for face creams, gels, serums. Are these covered in Your course? (Thinking about taking it, but my main interest is in face creams masks etc.)


    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Hello Eric – yes these are covered in our course.

  8. Avatar

    I just wanna know can fairness creams or any cream can be manufactured by cold process method. if yes then please share the process.

  9. Avatar

    I am a sophomore in high school, do you know of any cosmetic science opportunities for my age?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I don’t know of any. You could check out some soapmaking websites to get a sense of how that is made. This isn’t exactly cosmetics but it’s close.

  10. Avatar

    Sir good afternoon
    Sir i want to know about water less facewash formulation and ingredients.
    Delhi india

  11. Avatar
    Kalukusu Raymond

    I need to know the ingredients that give an ice cold effect / cooling effect to an aftershave lotion.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      That depends on the formula. Menthol will do that but usually it is just due to the evaporation of alcohol.

  12. Avatar

    I’m looking for ways to intern in a lab, as I am still an undergraduate. Do you know of resources? Or programs I could apply to?
    Thank you

  13. Avatar

    hi sir..can I use body wash as the basic formulation for body scrub..and I have to prepared two condition of body scrub : oil-in-water and water-in-oil..can you explain the method?

      1. Avatar

        This web page is really good thank you so much sir for best knnowledge for the beginer like me.

  14. Avatar

    Hey there, is there any basic formulation for pigmented products such as eye-shadows, blushers and such?

    Thanks a bunch!

  15. Avatar

    could you please help me by guide formation for cream ?

  16. Avatar
    Robert Fadil

    We are looking for a company to reformulate an aerosol spray for fingernails.. We can furnish original formula if needed. Product now being made in China.

  17. Avatar
    m asume

    please help me
    please, say what is cleansing agent in make up remover lotion??
    thank you
    best regard

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      That depends. Typically, they are surfactants.

  18. Avatar

    I need help in formulating a colorless liquid eyeliner.

  19. Avatar
    Manish Gupta

    Hi Sir,

    Can you please help me with the shaving cream formula, i am a small manufacturer in India and i am very much impressed by your reply’s given on the portal. After reading your comments i have starting feeling that you the one who can make my dream come true which is making my own shaving cream manufacturing unit. I will be highly obliged if you can provide me with the same.

    Below mentioned is my email addres:

    Thanks & Regards,
    Manish Gupta

  20. Avatar
    Joy adderly

    Looking for a chemist to help me with fomulaying my bath bombs for online sales. If someone can point me in the right direction it would greatly appreciated! Or do I need to have it fomulated at all? Thanks again. …..

  21. Avatar

    Does Mascara fall under hair care since it goes onto eye lashes? Are lashes Hair…lol? Or does it fall under color cosmetics?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Mascara is typically considered color cosmetics.

  22. Avatar

    Is there a standard formulation for natural face mask, using the following ingredients, for instance: activated charcoal + kaolin clay + rose powder + red rice?

  23. Avatar

    Hi perry . I want to know which perfume or chemicals suppress the odour of isopropyl alcohol in preparation of hair sprays

  24. Avatar

    Can someone please help me resolve this problem. I used dehyquart A-CA, Nutrilan i, Ethanol, Water, Polysorbate 60, Phenoxythanol to formulate a product. The problem is the colour of the product keeps changing with time. The older batches always look deeper in colour. What can I do to stabilize the colour and prevent it from changing with time? Thanks

    1. Avatar

      Can I get the basic Hair color formulations?

  25. Avatar

    I’ve recently completed my bachelors in biotechnology engineering and looking forward to a career in cosmetic science. Can you help me out with universities that offer this course as well as suggest any internships which could help in giving me a better idea about the field?

  26. Avatar

    Hi..any idea of cosmetic formulation course in India?

  27. Avatar

    Dear all

    I am in the need of developing hydrogen peroxide developer for hair color..i was used carpobol 2020 as a base and i got a viscous liquid developer..but after a month it get viscous gel and after 6 months again its viscous fully down and looks like liquid..And my package bottles and packets get swell. But there is no major change in hydrogen peroxide value.but grey hair doesn’t change into black as previous..bobbles formation is so high.Need good stabilizer and alternate base for formulation..

  28. Avatar

    Hi, how can i make AHA15% gel? What materials can i use?
    And how can i make azelaic acid20% cream?

  29. Avatar
    Chirag gupta

    Hi Perry,
    I have been formulating Handwash with SLES, CAPB, glycerin,cocamide DEA,EGMS. But i am unable to prepare it as that of Commercial one. Please Guide me . Thanks

  30. Avatar

    What is the formula for eyeshadow please.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      See our post on color cosmetics.

  31. Avatar
    Peto Clement Kinsaka

    This is very informative and I am very close to producing my product because the information I receive from your website. Thank you for good heart.

  32. Avatar

    my cream developer (hydrogen peroxide) 40 vol is unstable need help with formulation

  33. Avatar
    mrs vora

    please may I ask you for simple shaving cream base formula

  34. Avatar

    I am a chemical Engineer living in cameroon.I will wish to work in team that will enable to come out with new cosmetic formulation.

    1. Avatar
      Mian Ghulam Mustafa

      Hello Mr Dicka
      i am mustafa from pakistan iwant to start the business of cosmetics
      kindly send me formulation of body lotions whitening cream cold creams
      face wash hair removing cream thanks

  35. Avatar

    Can you include formulations for shaving products for razor bumps and razor burn?

  36. Pingback:Cosmetic Formulation Basics – Shaving Cream

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  38. Pingback:Cosmetic formulation basics – Foundation

  39. Avatar

    could you please include formulation information for eyeliners, mascaras, eyeshadows and blush? Thanks!

    1. Avatar
      shiv bahadur yadav

      Hi Perry and every other members of the forum.
      Plz, can any one help me wit a starting formular for hair setting lotion. Thanks

    2. Avatar
      shiv bahadur yadav

      hi rish
      shiv bahadur yadav
      (senior consultant f&D
      eyeliners, mascaras, eyeshadows and

  40. Avatar

    Hi Perry and every other members of the forum.
    Plz, can any one help me wit a starting formular for hair setting lotion. Thanks

  41. Pingback:Cosmetic formulation basics – Nail Polish

  42. Avatar

    Hi there,

    I have been reading this website for a few months now and find it really really useful, its a great place for info, I have now taken the leap to try and make a formulation for a body butter to get certified by a chemist but desperatly need some help with this could anyone help it would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Avatar

      I would suggest you post the question in our Forum.

  43. Avatar
    Reap company

    Please if you can add botanical formulae too.

  44. Avatar

    I would appreciate it if someone can assist me with formulating body butter and body scrub?

    1. Avatar
      Desiree Mattox

      Hi Estelle,

      I would be happy to assist you with your body butter and body scrub products. If you are still interested feel free to submit an inquiry through my website. 🙂

  45. Pingback:Cosmetic Formulating Basics – Lipstick

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  47. Pingback:Cosmetic Formulation Basics – Hair Conditioners

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