Are you a formula minimalist or maximalist?

PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
I see a number of formula questions on the forum where people post a formula that contains over a dozen ingredients, many of which do the same things. I personally believe in minimalism and think there are good reasons why people should use fewer ingredients when formulating.

But perhaps I'm an outlier. 

Are you a formula minimalist or maximalist? Do you favor using fewer ingredients more more? Why?

Comments

  • CamelCamel Member
    When I first started out, I was definitely a maximalist. I think the reason for this was that I would buy so many new ingredients and feel eager to try them all, so I would throw everything into one formula. Needless to say, that was not an appropriate way to measure the performance of each ingredient. 

    Now, I would say I try to be more of a minamalist. I like the idea of the "10 ingredients or less" concept and try to follow it when I can. My most recent shampoo formula was only 8 ingredients, while my hair gel was only 6. 

    I don't think you are an outlier. This is becoming increasingly popular with brands like Native using their small number of ingredients as a marketing technique on their product labels. 
  • MicroformulationMicroformulation Member, Professional Chemist
    I am a minimalist. I like to use functional ingredients and see the results. This has helped my clients of late due to rising raw material costs. However, I have had Formulas rejected (more so in a Commercial Setting, by the Marketing Department) for "the ingredient list is too short", so you do need to leave some room for these additions.

    I do cringe though when I see these overly complicated Formulas. They aren't realistic to produce on any scale even if they are stable.
    markfuller@microformulation.com Microformulation.com Microformulation Cosmetic Consulting provides Custom Formulations for both large Commercial accounts as well as smaller entrepreneurs. We can provide Naturally compliant Formulations under the NSF, NPA, Whole Foods and USDA Organic Certifications. BS.Pharm Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University.
  • PaprikPaprik Member
    I probably started as maximalist too. I remember buying my first CoQ10 and some proteins and Niacinamide and other stuff and thinking everything together will create the ultimate serum/cream. It turned into ugly snot and I soon realized the less is usually better. 

    At the moment, I am minimalist with extras. Have formula with necessary ingredients and only improving it by a hero ingredient/s and marketing ingredient. Although I do feel like I am cheating my customers. So I am not really crazy about my product story. And thanks to you Perry, many ingredients (Panthenol etc) I am using at low inputs and letting other (well proven) ingredients work the wonders :) 
  • I have found that when working with surfactants it becomes very tricky the more ingredients i add, so for those i like to use as few as possible.

    I recently made my first gel cream however and i basically put everything that i could think of in it. Somehow i got lucky because it actually turned out to
    be truly incredible and, at least so far, stable (polymers are wonderful things, I'm learning).  It actually completely fixed this dry patch on my face i’ve had for about a year now that nothing else i put on it would! I have no way of knowing which ingredient(s) is working the magic there so i’m just gonna keep it exactly how it is.

    @Microformulation what is your definition of overly complicated and why are these unrealistic at scale?
  • MicroformulationMicroformulation Member, Professional Chemist
    edited April 20
    @GeorgeBenson I will give you an exercise to see. Have your overly complicated products priced out for commercial manufacturing. CM's are not charities and these material costs as well as the impact of MOQ's will be billed to you. There are valid supply chain issues as well as inflationary forces causing these materials to increase in cost. My inbox is filled with price updates from suppliers on a nearly weekly basis. So, when you sit down with a manufacturer and determine your costs to run a minimum piece count of 1,250, expect a big invoice for multiple overlapping materials. In most cases, this will be your moment of truth.

    While lesser in scope, these raw material costs are affecting retailers as well. I am retained by one of these Cosmetic Raw Material retailers as a consultant and they are dealing with the same issues.

    A Cosmetic product can easily get over complicated with overlapping raw materials providing identical Cosmetic benefits, numerous preservatives, and other marketing claims ingredients. In my mind, if you can't connect an ingredient clearly to a promised Cosmetic claim, the ingredient can arguably become superfluous. For example, I once had a person call me who crowed they had scoured google and "cracked the code" for the perfect anti-aging product. He submitted to us about 35 overlapping actives and percentages. Unfortunately, he had no aqueous phase, no preservative, and the Formula percentages he wanted added up to 137%. He pared that down so we would at least have some room for other constituents such as water, preservatives, etc. We made a stable product (overly complicated), it was invoiced out by at least 3 manufacturers reflecting the material costs and it never reached the Market by the client as it was simply overly complicated.

    I am very cognizant of costs as they put a great deal of emphasis on these numbers in a manufacturing setting. At one facility I worked at we did a great deal of Walmart, Walgreens, and other commercial lines. Inevitably on a Friday, I would have to sit through a meeting that concentrated on "how can we get our costs down by 3 cents an ounce as the buyer wants?"

    Whatever you put in, you have to pay for. At some point, you will need to take Business Practices into account as well.
    markfuller@microformulation.com Microformulation.com Microformulation Cosmetic Consulting provides Custom Formulations for both large Commercial accounts as well as smaller entrepreneurs. We can provide Naturally compliant Formulations under the NSF, NPA, Whole Foods and USDA Organic Certifications. BS.Pharm Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University.
  • ozgirlozgirl Member, PCF student
    I would love to be a minimalist but unfortunately the marketing team requires the fairy dust ingredients.
    Where possible I try to use fewer ingredients in the base formulas.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @ozgirl - I think fairy dust ingredients are fine as long as they are used at the appropriate levels. When I see Panthenol listed at 2% I just SMH.

  • MicroformulationMicroformulation Member, Professional Chemist
    ozgirl said:
    I would love to be a minimalist but unfortunately the marketing team requires the fairy dust ingredients.
    Where possible I try to use fewer ingredients in the base formulas.

    Been there! I was known for getting Formulations rejected with the simple Marketing comment, "The ingredient list is too short."
    markfuller@microformulation.com Microformulation.com Microformulation Cosmetic Consulting provides Custom Formulations for both large Commercial accounts as well as smaller entrepreneurs. We can provide Naturally compliant Formulations under the NSF, NPA, Whole Foods and USDA Organic Certifications. BS.Pharm Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University.
  • I am a maximalist and not ashamed of it :) Although I don’t use any extracts and natural fluff but I add several rheology modifies and esters to achieve certain aesthetics that no one but me would even notice in a blind test. But hey, I am not a chemist :)
  • I'm a minimalist, usually maximizing functionality with the streamlined ingredients. I will evaluate & scrutinize my ingredients closely to see if they can have overlapping functions to reduce the use of others if possible. 

    What Microformulation mentioned about the MOQ / billing of ingredients is something i consider as well. If my product comes to market in the future, i do still have buffer for "fluff" but i believe i've considered my functional ingredients already have marketing potential since it's part of the evaluation. 
  • I am a maximalist and not ashamed of it :) Although I don’t use any extracts and natural fluff but I add several rheology modifies and esters to achieve certain aesthetics that no one but me would even notice in a blind test. But hey, I am not a chemist :)
    I think this is not called maximalist. You are using each ingredient for a purpose and you are able to see the result. Without all those ingredients you don't get the results that you get with all those ingredients. 

    maximalist uses ingredients that he doesn't know what is the benefit of adding it over not adding it. 

    Usually everyone uneducated or new are maximalist. They do a Google search, read about the benefits of 30 ingredients, believe all those information is true, and now want to combine all those benefits in one product.
    That is how i was. 
  • ngarayeva001ngarayeva001 Member
    edited April 21
    @Abdullah, I understand that since many people in this thread are professionals who were or currently are formulating for big brands and a need of being cost effective naturally leads to minimalism. I usually  have 14-16 ingredients in a moisturizer (I don’t count phenonip as many ingredients) because for me it’s a hobby, I enjoy exploring new materials and don’t consider costs and need of scaling up. For example in my ‘typical’ moisturizer, I would have a traditional emulsifier like GMS/PEG-100 Stearate (again count as one), aristoflex avc and ultrez 30, cetyl alcohol and some other thickener like cetyl palmitate, 2 humectants, one being glycerin and another something less sticky, I might stick niacinamide in it because niacinamide is not messing up with overall formula and I don’t have to rethink other ingredients, 3 emollients, petrolatum or softisan 649, dimethicone and some silicone elastomer. Add preservation system (preservative, chelator and antioxidant) and you get 17 ingredients. Half of it is technically not necessary. It’s possible to make a moisturizer with one main emulsifier, ultrez 30, cetyl alcohol, butylene glycol, 1 emollient (mineral oil),dimethicone , chelator, preservative and no antioxidant now is needed - 8 ingredients. 90% of consumers won’t be able to tell difference between my overcomplicated formula and the minimalistic one :)
  • @ngarayeva001 may i ask where you get your ultrez 30 from? 
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    Thanks for all the great replies!

    @ngarayeva001 - From a professional standpoint the reality is that you don't actually want to be a minimalist at the start of a project. This is specifically because you know that after a product is on the market for a year or so, the Marketing / Purchasing department is going to ask you to make the formula less expensive. 

    If you spend all your time optimizing up front, you won't have any "cost savings" opportunities later down the road. So, I often advise new formulators that they shouldn't try to optimize formulas up front.

    I'd also add that the process you describe does not really violate the "minimalism" philosophy. Using 2 humectants to offset the stickiness of Glycerin is just smart formulating. 

    The things that make no sense to me is when someone does something like putting in 5 different natural oils that all have essentially the same fatty acid distribution. Or putting in 3 different antioxidants or using multiple plant extracts. 

  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    Minimalist ... only use the ingredients that are necessary to achieve the objective, but use ingredients that will deliver functional performance.  You can always add-in additional ingredients for marketing purposes if your functional core of the formula is properly developed.

    I always find it interesting consumer's/client's perception of the performance of a product based on their perception of what ingredients are included in the formula.  Often, in evaluating a prototype, a client will find the sample containing ingredient X, more moisturizing, for instance regardless of the amount of ingredient X in the product, or if they just think ingredient X has been added to the product when it hasn't been.  Consumers often infer performance attributes to a product based on what ingredients they think are in the product.  In reality, beyond a certain level of base performance, consumer's can't tell the difference, they only infer enhanced performance based on the LOI.   
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details www.desertinbloomcosmeticslab.com
  • wannabewannabe Member
    Hi!! New here. Just came across this post. I have been an Esthetician for over 20 years and started making products to use in my treatments, nothing to difficult, found some simple recipes and edited to my liking. Over time, I really enjoyed it and wanted to create the products I wanted to have. When Covid hit and I couldn’t work, I decided to give it a really go. I have created a skincare line with @20 products. I am so lucky that with my built in customer base, clients, local friends, and family, I have been able to learn as I go and make improvements all the time. I set up a lab out on my parents property, a small unused home winery. So, I am very much a fake it till you make it “chemist”, the more I learn and experiment, the more I realize I don’t know anything. However with my knowledge and understanding of the skin and what people want and need, my formulas are very ingredient heavy. I have essentially no overhead and I’ve only been doing direct sales, so the ingredient cost can be “ absurd“. My philosophy has been to really utilize the power of natural oils, extracts, antioxidants, actives, and essential oils in combination. Focusing on actives and ingredients that fall in the 1-2 safety (ewg).

    Perry, you saying that you’re confused by people who use multiple plants extracts, antioxidants, and natural oils (with similar fatty acid profiles). I do all of these things 🤪, well the oils I try to make a list of all that would be beneficial for the skin type/condition I am formulating for and then select ones with various profiles. As for the extracts, they too have so many different benefits, so combining to make a more comprehensive product, and as far as antioxidants, I thought that combinations improved that performance of each other. I am very curious to hear if and why my understanding is flawed. 

    I feel like I and my clients are getting great results. I feel like where I am seriously lacking is my understanding of emulsifiers. When I started, I made all lotions, face and body with Olivem 1000, with XG, with the addition of BTMS-50 in body. In serums, pretty much just Aristoflex, Polymuse  and Siligel. Everything starts to feel the same, and don’t love the “soaping” of the Olivem. I don’t like the stickiness of XG, or the serums ( I am also using HMW HA) which I know has that profile as well. 

    I have been playing now with Eumulgin SG (with GMS) without much success in lower percentages for thinner products, I’ve also added 6% Olivem 1000 with that, it separated. I’ve used Oliwax,  Oliwax LC, and Ceteryl Alcohol as thickeners. I’m just not really having any success with these. I would like to work on combinations or different emulsifiers, but this is where my lack of education is getting me. Any thoughts or advice would be so greatly appreciated. If any of this even makes sense to a professional 😂

    cheers! Ellie
  • wannabewannabe Member
    I apologize, please disregard.

    like I said, I’m new. I was just reading the COC and I will revise and ask questions appropriately. I am really excited to be here. 
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @wannabe - Thanks for your comments. It's great to hear different perspectives.

    Just a few comments in response to yours...

    "As for the extracts, they too have so many different benefits, so combining to make a more comprehensive product"

    This is where a lack of understanding of ingredients can steer you wrong. Extracts really don't do anything. In fact, most of the extracts you buy are mostly glycerin, propylene glycol, or water. There's only a tiny amount of any plant material in them. In fact, if the company who supplied them just made brown colored water, you would have no way of knowing. They truly are useless ingredients in terms of performance. They are GREAT for building a story around & they help sell products.

    But I would be willing to bet that if I took your formulas and replaced all the extracts with a solution of brown water, you would not be able to tell a difference.

    "...
    as far as antioxidants, I thought that combinations improved that performance of each other."

    You have to understand why antioxidants are used and what they are doing in a formula. In a formula or on the skin surface, certain molecules might develop into a free radical. This just means it has a lone electron. It's an unstable situation and can cause a bunch of other chemical reactions that can damage skin. An antioxidant is able to interact with these free radicals and stop the chemical reactions. Having multiple antioxidants is not going help in topically applied products. It's simply a story marketers tell to sell product. It doesn't actually happen. 

    "Focusing on actives and ingredients that fall in the 1-2 safety (ewg).
    "

    The EWG is not a reliable source of information. Their rating system is just a fairy tale and tells you next to nothing about whether an ingredient is safe or not. They do a good job of looking official but they are not professional toxicologists or have any special ability to rate ingredients. A better source is https://cir-safety.org
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    "I feel like I and my clients are getting great results"

    Great! This is the whole point of cosmetic products. But whether people feel they get great results tells us nothing about whether a formula is working or not. People easily fool themselves. If you spent lots of money on a product, most people will instinctively believe that it works better. It could be the exact same product but our brains are programmed to believe higher cost means it's better. On a blinded basis this can be shown to be false.

    If you want to really learn formulating, you have to understand that most of what you "know" about skin care is inaccurate. Beyond moisturizing and exfoliation, there isn't much we can do for skin with topical treatments. And on a blinded basis people really aren't good at noticing differences.

    Once you commit yourself to really wanting to know what is provably true, then you can start to discover what things really make a difference. And when you discover that raw material suppliers are marketers who make up stories to sell ingredients, you'll be better equipped to know what ingredients matter and which ones don't.   
  • wannabewannabe Member
    Wow! Thanks… I think 🤦‍♀️ This is very important, valuable information. Now I need to reevaluate my life 😂
  • wannabewannabe Member
    @Perry okay, I want to learn. I signed up for the course.
  • "Extracts really don't do anything." - I think this is an unfair generalization. There are extracts that have a visible, or measurable effect. For example, tea tree oil for acne, warming extracts (ginger, chilli), gel-forming extracts (konjak, tremella, chondrus crispus), film-forming (chia, marshmallow), mattifying (bamboo water - silica). You can also buy standardized extracts even up to 50% of active substances.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @grapefruit22 - tea tree is not approved for acne treatment so it hasn’t been proven in clinical testing to work. Warming extracts, that would happen if you put 100% glycerin on skin and exposed it to water. Film forming…ok, other things form films more efficiently & for less money. Mattifying, ok.

    I guess the point is not that extracts do nothing (although most don’t), it’s that there are superior, less expensive options.
  • I am formulating a number of wash off products and trying to keep the number of ingredients minimal for all the reasons you mention @Perry and to keep manufacturing costs down as my 'base' should work across a number of lines. One issue I have found in my base shampoo formulation, whilst great on hair, it is drying as a bodywash. Can you recommend a moisturising ingredient that does not kill foam (aka glycerin) (as we are only just happy with foaming) - ideally effective and cheap! :) - Our main foaming surfactant is SCS but we also have SLES in there. Many thanks everyone - and @Perry -LOVE Beauty Brains.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @geekchic - you might try a cationic polymer like Polyquaternium 7 or a Guar.

    Thanks!

  • I am both happy and sad to hear there are others struggling between the two.. 

    I work as a chemist for a contract manufacturer and can 100% agree with what Microformulation said:
    @GeorgeBenson I will give you an exercise to see. Have your overly complicated products priced out for commercial manufacturing. CM's are not charities and these material costs as well as the impact of MOQ's will be billed to you. There are valid supply chain issues as well as inflationary forces causing these materials to increase in cost. My inbox is filled with price updates from suppliers on a nearly weekly basis. So, when you sit down with a manufacturer and determine your costs to run a minimum piece count of 1,250, expect a big invoice for multiple overlapping materials. In most cases, this will be your moment of truth.


    Whatever you put in, you have to pay for. At some point, you will need to take Business Practices into account as well.

    It has become increasingly difficult to educate brands on why a minimalist approach to formulations is better. Everyone claims to be an expert and wants us formulate as per their understanding of materials...which sometimes is absolute nonsense! I have had people come to me with articles (Not scientific, mind you) with the expectation that we can replicate their idea of 'Natura' cosmetics with unrealistic formulas. 

    The 'Ingredient list is too small thus must be inefficient' is an argument I have had too many times. We usually end up having to procure large MOQs of unnecessary materials that do absolutely nothing in terms of product experience. It is painful sitting on 200kgs of inventory of a material that we only need to use 1kg of (that too an unnecessary addition). 

    One thing that has helped me close many of these problematic brands is by adding extract blends (usually 5-8 in one blend) at minimal concentrations just to make the ingredient deck more attractive. 4 out of 5 times that helps ease their mind. 

    Another thing that has helped is withholding the ingredient deck until they physically try the sample. This is also helpful because they test the product with an open mind. Previously we used to share it as soon as the sample was sent out but that always resulted in these conversations. 

    Once again, happy that I am not the only one suffering! Misery loves company!
  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    @Cosmetic_Chemist:

    A good way to resolve this problem is to charge the client upfront for the MOQ of a superfluous, non-stock, label ingredient ... Say the ingredient supplier's MOQ for an extract of dubious efficacy is 20KG, but you will only need to use 1KG in the production run.  Charge the client upfront for the entire 20KG as a separate line item.  Usually when you explain the cost/benefit of the inclusion of a particular ingredient, in particular label ingredients, the client having to pay for it upfront usually gives them a different perspective on the investment.
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details www.desertinbloomcosmeticslab.com
  • @Cosmetic_Chemist:

    A good way to resolve this problem is to charge the client upfront for the MOQ of a superfluous, non-stock, label ingredient ... Say the ingredient supplier's MOQ for an extract of dubious efficacy is 20KG, but you will only need to use 1KG in the production run.  Charge the client upfront for the entire 20KG as a separate line item.  Usually when you explain the cost/benefit of the inclusion of a particular ingredient, in particular label ingredients, the client having to pay for it upfront usually gives them a different perspective on the investment.
    Thank you @MarkBroussard, we are trying to charge them upfront with the promise that material will be on hold for their products. The second you mention more money though, everyone's guard goes up and sometimes this can be the reason we don't close. 

    It is easier to convince new clients to abide by this but asking existing clients is like banging your head into a wall. 
  • Perry said:

    I guess the point is not that extracts do nothing (although most don’t), it’s that there are superior, less expensive options.
    I agree, the only exception for me are pore-shrinking extracts, I was not able to find a synthetic equivalent. 

    Thank you @MarkBroussard, we are trying to charge them upfront with the promise that material will be on hold for their products. The second you mention more money though, everyone's guard goes up and sometimes this can be the reason we don't close. 

    It is easier to convince new clients to abide by this but asking existing clients is like banging your head into a wall. 
    Extracts have usually only 1 year shelf life. They can be sent for re-testing, then this date will be extended, but you cannot be sure. At worst, they will buy 20 kg every year, pay for 20 kg, and throw away 19 kg.


  • MicroformulationMicroformulation Member, Professional Chemist
    I worked with a company where they billed the MOQ's based on a scoring system of 1 to 3.

    Class 1 was a product that you would most likely use regardless. They may even already be in stock. (For example Glycerin).

    Class 2 was a product we didn't carry usually but we could develop opportunities to use the material. Oftentimes we would use the remaining raw materials in our Private Label programs.

    Class 3 was something you knew was going to sit in Supply forever and unless they did subsequent runs, it was likely to be discarded. We would bill the full amount of the purchase to the client.
    markfuller@microformulation.com Microformulation.com Microformulation Cosmetic Consulting provides Custom Formulations for both large Commercial accounts as well as smaller entrepreneurs. We can provide Naturally compliant Formulations under the NSF, NPA, Whole Foods and USDA Organic Certifications. BS.Pharm Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University.
  • I worked with a company where they billed the MOQ's based on a scoring system of 1 to 3.

    Class 1 was a product that you would most likely use regardless. They may even already be in stock. (For example Glycerin).

    Class 2 was a product we didn't carry usually but we could develop opportunities to use the material. Oftentimes we would use the remaining raw materials in our Private Label programs.

    Class 3 was something you knew was going to sit in Supply forever and unless they did subsequent runs, it was likely to be discarded. We would bill the full amount of the purchase to the client.
    I love this breakdown! Thank you @Microformulation,  I think this will help explain the costs to the customer with utmost clarity! 
  • tecnico3viniatecnico3vinia Member
    edited April 28
    When I started out I was a maximalist, but now I'm definetely a minimalist. Less ingredients = less interactions between them; less components to cause reactions on consumers' skin and also potentially lower costs with raw materials!
  • Bill_TogeBill_Toge Member, Professional Chemist
    edited April 28
    minimalist for sure - I take an engineer's approach to formulation, using the necessary tools to achieve the end result and no more
    this also makes it a lot easier to troubleshoot if it goes tits up
    UK based formulation chemist. Strongest subjects: hair styling, hair bleaches, hair dyes (oxidative and non-oxidative) I know some stuff about: EU regulations, emulsions (O/W and W/O), toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoos, other toiletries
  • SylSyl Member
    I spent a lot of time researching formulas before starting a new project, and I was happy with the outcome. But lately I am doing knock out experiments because, I suspect some expensive ingredients I am using in my formulas have no impact on the performance of my products.
  • KarenboKarenbo Member
    From a consumer and self-study:  this is the best about being here....what I learn from the industry, which is what prompted me to start this journey.  I was a Dermalogica slave for about 15 years.  And then Skinceuticals hit the market.  And I had to make my own L-ascorbic serum as the prices were ludicrous.  The Ordinary changed everything:  Brandon (bless his cotton socks) was a groundbreaker to my mind.  And here we have little dropper bottles of minimal materials.  And it worked!

    Listening to the chemists, realising that marketing drives the industry, all the BS on the labels and promo materials.  And I felt deceived and cheated that I was a slave to this rubbish for so many years.  

    I still go read labels at the stores and the ingredient lists are still long.  And its tempting to fall trap to it.  

    So my uneducated approach now is that I'll add materials for stability & sensory, staples like glycerin and as for actives less is more.  And I don't waste money on mysterious extracts.  

    Oh and I hate the word "soothing" now....the default claim for botanicals if all else fails....
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