Advice on working with a Formulation Lab

Hello All, 

We run a small factory and have been using the same cold process recipe to make our bar soaps for the last 35 years. However, the cost of raw materials has increased considerably over the last couple of years and we are currently looking for new formulations that can mainly help us cut the cost of productions while achieving the current/better quality of our soap.

Knowing the costs of formulations out there, I will like advice on the process of working with a formulation lab to achieve our desired results. I have spoken to a couple of Labs and noticed that they were just willing to push an off-the-shelf recipe whereas I was more interested in the Lab to reverse engineer our current soap and propose how we could achieve the same quality or better for less the cost. Is this usually out of scope for formulation labs?

I will really appreciate any advice or existing experience. 



  • BelassiBelassi Member, PCF student
    The only way you will be able to reduce your costs for CP soap is by using alternative raw materials. In other words, cheaper oils.
    Cosmetic Brand Creation. Concept to name to IMPI search to logo and brand registration. In-house graphic design inc. Pantone specs. Cosmetic label and box design & graphics.
  • Bill_TogeBill_Toge Member, Professional Chemist
    you'd need to hire a consultant for that kind of work, someone who can learn your processes and materials, and be able to suggest workable alternatives; and a decent consultant will charge a lot for this kind of service

    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
  • What's the most significant cost, raw materials of the manufacturing process? Have you considered slowly transitioning to hot process or rebatch?
  • Thank you all for the feedback. Much appreciated.
    At the moment, we use Crude Palm Kernel Oil, Distilled Fatty Acid, Caustic Soda and Soda Ash. Most of the cost is the Crude Palm Kernel Oil. Are there any Oils cheaper than the Crude Palm Kernel Oil? We have explored the idea of Tallow and Palm Stearin but they seem more expensive. 
  • BelassiBelassi Member, PCF student
    Sounds like you are already at rock bottom.
    Cosmetic Brand Creation. Concept to name to IMPI search to logo and brand registration. In-house graphic design inc. Pantone specs. Cosmetic label and box design & graphics.
  • Not much room for cost cutting
    you can try to skip the middleman and buy oil directly from palm growers or pressers.
    And even so, the cost reduction will be relatively small.

    You can try also making some premium, higher priced, hot process soaps
    that don't have such a high pH, so they're gentle to skin and hair, i.e. with coconut oil,
    maybe their profits can help offset some economy soaps costs.
  • Thank you so much for the feedback. 

    Let me add some background for context. Most of our customers use our soap because is foams very well in hard water and it is really cheap. Also, it is quite multipurpose as we found out that our customers can use a bar of soap take their bath, wash their clothes and even for fishing. I am not a chemist, but I have been advised that these advantages come from the percentage of PKO, Caustic Soda and Water. 

    We have tried to explore the idea of using soap noodles but we can't seem to find the right soap noodles or formulation to replicate our current quality. This is why someone advised that we go down the route of working with a formulation Lab as there may be some safe and cheaper unique synthetic ingredients out there that we may use to boost our output.

    Hence my initial question. 

    I like the idea of a consultant that would work with us but we have tried different consultants and we did not really get anything new out of it. We have a in-house lab, but they are telling me it is not possible.

    So, am I looking for a unicorn or is this achievable. If it is achievable, what is the best way for me to reach out to the formulation lab in order to maximise what we are paying for and not get ripped off.

    Thanks a lot once again.
  • BelassiBelassi Member, PCF student
    As far as I can see, your existing raw materials are so cheap that there's nothing much you could do. Any synthetic would be more expensive and more to the point, it is only the very large companies e.g. Unilever, who manufacture semi-synthetic soap, which would need a pretty big press, just for starters, and a considerable amount of reformulation work. 
    For instance this is the formula for Lux soap, the leading brand:
    Sodium TallowateSurfactant
    Sodium Palm KernelateSurfactant
    Glycine Soja Bean OilSkin Conditioning Agent
    Butyrospermum ParkiiSkin Conditioning Agent
    Coconut AcidPlasticizer
    Disodium Distyrylbiphenyl DisulfonateOptical Brightener
    Sodium ChlorideViscosity Controlling Agent
    Tetrasodium EtidronateSequestrant
    Tetrasodium EDTASequestrant
    Alpha-Isomethyl IononeFragrance
    Benzyl SalicylateFragrance
    Butylphenyl MethylpropionalFragrance
    Hexyl CinnamalFragrance
    CI 77891Colourant
    Cosmetic Brand Creation. Concept to name to IMPI search to logo and brand registration. In-house graphic design inc. Pantone specs. Cosmetic label and box design & graphics.
  • 1. What's the pH of your soap (after it's diluted in water)?

    2. What fatty acids do you use?
    If they are cheaper than oil, and if they're the right fatty acids, you can cut some costs by replacing some oil with extra fatty acids.

    3. What is your competiton doing?
    Are you the lowest priced option?

    4. What other plants are grown in your area?
    May I ask where are you located?
  • aoredoaoredo Member
    edited August 2018
    @Belassi - Thank you so much for the feedback. Your suggestions really does make sense. I am guessing we have to explore the cost cutting exercise somewhere else in our operations and probably start exploring the idea of mid-premium products. 

    @Gunther - Thanks. Please see below
    1. The pH is between 9 and 11
    2. We use Palm Kernel Distilled Fatty Acid - DFA
    3. They are all using Soap Noodles but they can't seem to get their products to foam in hard water like ours because most of the Soap Noodles they using are imported. However, they are cutting in our customer base that are more interested in costs - i.e. customers that wants cheaper products 
    4. We are located in West African and do have access locally to Palm Kernel Oil locally. We have explored the idea of importing the PKO from Malaysia but it works out more expensive.

    Please do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks a lot once again

  • pH 11 seems excessive. Maybe you're using too much Sodium hydroxide?

    Do you use both PKO oil, and PK fatty acids in making the soap?
    thus saponifying PKO, with some additional hydroxide to neutralize the extra fatty acids added?

    How do oil and fatty acids costs compare to each other?
    May I ask the oil and fatty acids percentage in the formula?
  • BelassiBelassi Member, PCF student
    The only raw material that might prove cheaper is tallow, but sourcing that in good quality could be very problematic. Just don't siphon the dioxin-laden oil from electricity transformers as I saw one family doing in Nigeria...
    Cosmetic Brand Creation. Concept to name to IMPI search to logo and brand registration. In-house graphic design inc. Pantone specs. Cosmetic label and box design & graphics.
  • @Belassi - LOL... If I could siphon transformer oil, I won't be using it for soap :-)

    @Gunther - DFA costs about 75% cheaper than PKO. So we normally use 80% PKO and 20% DFA to drive down cost. We have tried higher % of DFA in the past but the outcome was not nice.

  • May I ask what happened with higher DFAs?

    What DFAs did you use?
    Do you know the originating plant, carbon length or insaturation degree?

    Can you buy both palm oil and palm kernel oil fatty acids from them?
    For best results you'd need a mixture of them.
    Just one or the other may not work properly.
  • You can make fairly good soaps using all fatty acids and no oils the following way:

    Phase A
    53.93% Palm Oil fatty acids
    13.48 Palm Kernel fatty acids
    Heat to melt in a double boiler

    Phase B
    5.39% Sodium hydroxide
    10.78% demineralized or distilled water
    for a concentrated Sodium hydroxide solution

    Pour phase B slowly on phase A, it takes 20 minutes to pour it all
    keep warm, and stir carefully.

    Phase C
    10.78% demineralized or distilled water
    5.39% Sodium hydroxide
    0.01 - 0.07 % EDTA Tetrasodium
    0.17% Sodium chloride

    Pour phase C slowly on phase A+B it takes 20 minutes to pour it all
    keep warm, and stir carefully.

    Then you can air dry, or press the final soap to eliminate excess moisture.

    This should cut costs since fatty acids are cheaper than oils.
  • @Gunther - Thanks a lot for this. Much appreciated. We will try thin in our labs and let you know how it goes. Thanks a lot once again.
  • SibechSibech Member, Professional Chemist
    edited August 2018
    @Gunther Having no experience with actual soap bars (neither using nor producing) I wonder, why have you not added any glycerin to the composition, which would be present from the saponification of triglycerides?

    Edit: clarification
    Dabbling Formulator — Qualified Cosmetic Safety Assessor — experienced in claim substantiation & EU regulatory affairs.
  • There's no clear evidence that soap really benefits from added glycerin 
    and there's evidence that glycerin hinders foam.

    IMO the best way to improve saponified soap skin feel
    is to try to make its pH not as strongly alkaline
    Neutralizing fatty acids, a simpler reaction than saponification, may allow for a closer control of Sodium hydroxide
    albeit hot process soap already reduces excess NaOH compared to cold process.
  • Hello @aoredo

    like say @Belassi, there are cheaper raw material and you are in a zone where is produce, i think that you cant find another more cheap.

    for the reading, i see tha the DFA from Palm Kernel Oil is 75% more cheap that crude Kernel oil. Palm kernel oil have a lot of lauric acid and ibelive that the issue that you have to use more DFA is enriched principally in Lauric Acid. very hard soap, very bubbly but can be hard with the skin why is very cleansening.

    I try to increase the ratio 50/50, but try in small batches (1 or 2 kg) and with hot process to do the perfomnce test more quickly. for this test try:

    1) Increase the soda ash, the potassium tends to do more softly the soap

    2) try to fat the soap 2%, in other words, put the theorical quantity pf soda ash/ sodium hydroxyde to not saponify all your oil.

    3) The additional glycerine will help you with this kind of soap to compense the cleanising. do not add more of 5% or you will have problems of soap sweating. 3 % will be good enogh.

    4) you can increase the tetrasodium EDTA up 0.5%, this is for improve the shelf life of your soap, but will help you too with use with the hardness of the water

    5 in this case, do not put sodium chloride, this is use to increase the hardness of the soap, for the raw material is not needed.

    if possible, you can add some oil rich in oleic acid in you formulation. corn, sunflower, canola is examples that can help you. 10% will help you and decrese the relationship 50 PKO/40 DFA/10 oil rich in oleic acid.  

    For the nature of you oil and prevent to be rancid, is recomended to put BHT at .05 to .1%. no more than .1 or you will have coloring problems.

    Hope this can help you

  • Thanks a lot @Arturo777 for your feedback
  • Cheap soap is a crowded marketplace, and in my opinion a spiral down into oblivion. Doesn't matter how cheap you go with your soap, someone will do it cheaper by accepting lower margins.

    CP soap, in my opinion, is in a market space of artisan made soap  using premium ingredients. It should demand premium prices.

    Re-think your brand, re-think your market positioning.
    Dr. Mike Thair
    Cofounder & Chief Formulator
    Indochine Natural
  • Maybe you can change the perfumery notes to cheaper ones?

    Dr. Catherine Pratt
    (B.Sc with HONS I , Ph.D Analytical/Organic Chem and Microbiology), Cosmetic Chemistry IPCS)
  • svensven Member
    @mikethair very interesting approach dr. 
  • @mikethair, please explain?
    Dr. Catherine Pratt
    (B.Sc with HONS I , Ph.D Analytical/Organic Chem and Microbiology), Cosmetic Chemistry IPCS)
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