I like the TV show Top Chef. If you don’t know it’s a competition show in which cooks are given challenges and a time limit to create their best recipes. The reason I like it is because a cook and a formulation chemist are very similar. Both face the task of taking raw materials and converting them into something that pleases customers. Both have to consider texture, stability, color, odor, and appearance.
Of course, there are some significant points of deviation. First, cooks primary focus is on what their formulas taste like. Cosmetic formulators are concerned more with how their product functions. The other point of deviation is the raw materials that are used. While there is a small amount of overlap, cosmetic chemists have significantly more options than a cook. Unfortunately, chemists are not able to go to their local Whole Foods to get their raw materials. For that, you’ll need other sources.
Cosmetic raw materials
Your ability to get raw materials depends on the size of your company. If you work for a big cosmetic industry corporation, then you’ll often have no problem getting free samples from large and mid-sized suppliers of chemicals. In fact, the only companies you might have a problem getting free samples from are small to tiny chemical suppliers. They are often underfunded and sampling may represent a significant cost to their business. Without a guarantee of future sales, these companies are often hesitant to give product away.
To find sources of free samples, you’ll want to consult one of the many cosmetic industry buyers guides. While there is no single source that lists all the raw material companies and the products they have available, there are a couple of sources that can get you started.
Cosmetic Bench Reference — over 600 suppliers listed and >18000 raw materials
Happi Buyers Guide — Limited selection but useful
PCPC Buyers Guide — They list suppliers for over 3800 raw materials with international sourcing.
SpecialChem4Cosmetics — The INCI directory is an excellent source of raw material information.
ULProspector — You can order samples right from the website.
Cosmetic trade show directories
A little known source for cosmetic industry information and raw material suppliers is trade show listings. There are a couple of great cosmetic trade shows and they frequently put exhibitor information online complete with website and contact info. Here are a couple of the best.
NYSCC Suppliers day
Alternative cosmetic raw material sources
But what if you do not work with one of the big guys or you work in an industry that isn’t recognized in the cosmetic industry or you are at a university? Well, there are some options. Unfortunately, these sources rarely give free samples so you might have to put out some money to get the raw materials you want. The other problem is that they are not cosmetic industry specific so you have to sort through a lot of irrelevant compounds to find what you want.
Signma - Aldrich chemical
Chemexper.com — An online catalog of catalogs
eBay — You can actually find raw materials on eBay!
Amazon.com — They have raw materials too
Being a cosmetic chemist and formulator can certainly be as fun and creative as a cook but you can’t just go to your local grocery store to get your raw materials. Hopefully, with these resources you’ll find getting materials a little easier.
Incidentally, see this video if you are curious about naming cosmetic raw materials.
What is your favorite source for cosmetic raw materials? Leave a comment below.