Guide to Cosmetic Formulation Basics
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.