Common Mistakes Made When Beginning To FormulatePosted by LovingItNatural on April 28, 2020 at 1:53 am
Let me start by saying I apologize if you’ve seen or answered this question already. To my defense, I searched the forum using certain keywords to see if I could find an article. As you know many articles are posted a day and I could not find a recent one!
What are some common (and even uncommon) mistakes you see individuals make when beginning to formulate? Especially when formulating hair products and trying to eventually get approved by ECOCERT and / or COSMOS? Without compromising the formulation of course! I know this can be a sensitive topic.
I can think of a few things but would prefer to hear from those with much more experience. Those who may have come a particular situation themselves and had to learn how to solve it. I believe this will be advantageous to many, as it can be quite overwhelming when getting started.
Thank you in advance and please stay safe!
MemberApril 28, 2020 at 1:27 pm
I’ll start. Mistakes that beginners often make…
1. Starting out as a “natural” formulator - If you want to become a formulator, first learn how to formulate. Learn what formulas are & the technology that makes them work. Learn which ingredients work best. If you start out with the attitude that you are only going to be a “natural” formulator, you will never get a complete understanding of how to make products. If you want to specialize, and eventually create Ecocert or COSMOS formulas, that’s fine. But first learn the subject.
2. Believing the hype about ingredients - Raw material companies are motivated to get formulators to use their ingredients. They publish seemingly scientific studies that “prove” some ingredient is good for some specific thing, anti-wrinkle, hair growth, skin lightening, etc, or even some non-specific thing that sounds good, e.g. antioxidant or anti-inflammatory. Be skeptical. Most of the claims about ingredients like Hyaularonic acid, Peptides, Pro-biotics, ceramides, etc. are exaggerations. Consumers can’t tell differences & ingredients like that typically don’t matter except for the claims you can make. Putting more than 0.1% vitamins in a hair formula is a mistake since they do nothing in hair products. And natural extracts or hydrosols will have almost no impact on performance. Be skeptical & carefully evaluate ingredients to determine whether they actually make any noticeable difference in your formula or not.
3. Starting out with too many ingredients - It’s ridiculous how many formulas I see with dozens of ingredients that have no effect or just duplicate the effects of something else. Practice formula minimization. That is, use as few ingredients as you can to still achieve an effect. If you can’t tell a difference in your formula whether using an ingredient or not, then don’t use the ingredient!
4. Inconsistent measurements - Formulating requires consistency and doing your measurements in terms of cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons is not formulating. That’s cooking. Formulating is not cooking. Get a scale. Measure things on in terms of Grams. Make your formulas in terms of percentages. The math is not hard & it’s important to do if you ever want to make the same formula twice.
5. Using pH strips - Don’t use pH strips. While they might work for a kid’s science fair, they are not helpful for a formulator. You need a proper pH meter.
6. Not understanding ingredient production - Just because an ingredient has the same name, that doesn’t mean it will work the same in your formula. The ingredient composition is more than its name and will vary depending on what supplier made it and what starting raw materials they used. You have to have specifications for every ingredient you use and you have to test every formula with every supplier you want to use.
Those are just a few off the top of my head.
MemberApril 29, 2020 at 2:24 am
Thank you for your detailed and very thorough response @Perry ! It is much appreciated. You made very good points that should be taken into consideration before and when getting started.
I remember you mentioning hype in your formulation course. There are different classifications of ingredients and the ones that pertain to hype you categorize as marketing ingredients. Ingredients that don’t actually provide a benefit but people will most likely purchase a product or feel better about a product that has these ingredients in it. This is rather unfortunate for a variety of reasons. I would love to find ways to add ingredients that make a product more functional and beneficial versus someone’s desires. Also, at the end of the day if your product doesn’t benefit the consumer they are most likely not going to continue purchasing that persons products anyway.
-Side Note- I’ve been a fairly health conscious person since I was a teenager. That spread into more than just eating healthy, one way being paying attention to the products I used and ingredients listed. I think for me, it goes back to when I first started making my own products. And I emphasize the word making, not formulating. When I first started making my own products for my hair and body, many ingredients I used can be found in someone’s kitchen. Yes they were organic or processed as naturally as possible (like cold pressed oil) but most of the items were things you could buy at Whole Foods or an herbal store. I understood with me using many perishable items ingredients, that these products were a one time use and weren’t meant to last. What I could not deny was the benefits that I could feel and see from using these ingredients! Yes I could spend the rest of my life making my own products every time I do my hair. But I believe there has to be a way to transition the beneficial nutrients and key components of these ingredients that grew my hair into products that can help others. People ask me all the time what products I use and I say the ones I make. So my desire to do so doesn’t come from the new trends or pressures from the industry. It comes from me cutting my hair extremely short and growing it all the way down my back using natural products I made at home. And my goal wasn’t to grow long hair it was just to use healthy products that were safe and nutritious!
So that’s where I’m coming from and why. I would love to do what Dr. Junga did. He’s a medical doctor who experienced a series of digestive issues and was surprised when modern medicine did not heal him. Holistic medicine on its own did not didn’t either but once he blended the two together he was able to heal himself. I would like to do the same by blending chemicals with naturally derived ingredients to create products that function better. But if the “natural” ingredients won’t provide any benefit, where to go from there? How was I able to make it work without proper formulation? I want to do it the right way. Under no circumstances would I put myself in jeopardy or risk the health of someone else by giving them a product that’s not properly formulated or preserved. I am all about using natural ingredients but in no way shape or form will I allow the pressures of the industry to put anyone in danger.
Now I don’t believe putting 1% of a preservative in a product that people consider harmful when used in copious amounts as toxic. That’s more being afraid without knowing the data. But some health enthusiasts can go overboard and just trying to be prepared and eliminate as many battles as I can. Also I don’t think my goals are impossible. Shea Moisture has created a slew of products that are marketed towards the natural community. From analyzing their labels they don’t use what some would consider harsh preservatives. No they are not completely organic but they use a lot of naturally derived ingredients and I guess “foo foo dust” marketing ingredients that aren’t actually doing what people think they are 😆 haha. They have gotten backlash in the past because some feel like they don’t disclose all their ingredients, mainly their preservative-ha- but I haven’t reversed engineered one of their products so I don’t know for sure. At the end of the day I would happily settle for creating products at the standard that Shea Moisture does as a lot of health conscious women and men use their products. -Side Note ended!-
Using too many ingredients- Why do you think people do this? Is it merely because they don’t understand the particular ingredients in those that operate similarly? I know that some emulsifiers must be used with others to stabilize a product and preservatives aren’t broad-spectrum so need to be combined with others.
Using pH strips - I know it’s almost impossible to get a exact and precise reading from a strip, it’s too broad of a spectrum. Do you have any recommendations for an affordable one as well as a great quality one?
Not understanding ingredient production - I completely understand what you’re saying. What do you recommend besides getting data sheets for every ingredient from supplier?
Thank you you again for responding Perry, hope all is well with you.
MemberApril 29, 2020 at 1:21 pm
Thank you. I’m well so far. Hope you are staying safe and well too.
Some comments in reverse order…
1. Ingredient production: My recommendation (beyond getting data sheets) is to stick with 1 supplier until you get your formula worked out. Once you get a working formula, then you can try a different supplier of the same material and see if the formula still works and remains stable. Don’t buy Cetyl alcohol from Lotioncrafter on one batch and then from Makingcosmetics for another batch. When creating prototype formulas stick with one supplier.
2. pH meter - You could try something like this pH meter to start out.
3. too many ingredients - I think people do this because our brains naturally operate via a “more is better” heuristic. It’s the same reason people take multivitamins with hundreds of times more vitamin than they need. This is a mistake. More isn’t always better, sometimes it’s worse.
Another reason is because people don’t have an understanding of what the ingredients are or how they work. For example, there is another thread where someone was including 7 different oils in their formula. While they see 7 different names of ingredients, I see 7 oils that are made up of essentially the same hydrocarbons. Except for the name, a consumer will not be able to tell any difference between argan oil, almond oil, or sunflower oil. But they have different names so beginners think they are different. They don’t work differently.
4. Side note - First, I’ll say that your perspective is exactly the kind of perspective that someone needs who is going to create a beauty brand and sell a lot of products. You have an over-arching philosophy, an unsolved problem, a villain, and the unwavering belief that you have found a solution that will help other people. Many of the great brands are built in just this way. If you want to create a successful brand, you should not lose this perspective.
But there is another perspective on your story. It’s quite possible that none of the products you made yourself had any impact on your hair or skin. It is more likely (in my opinion) that your skin and hair are the way they are primarily because of your genetics, the physical environment that you’re in, and time.
Over time, to any system three things can happen.
- They get better
- They get worse or
- They stay the same.
This is true whether you put a natural product on, use synthetics, or do nothing at all. The fact that you used products of your own creation could have had nothing to do with how your skin and hair turned out. We just don’t know. Dr Junga just doesn’t know either. His system could be effective, it could be crap, or it could have no effect at all.
The thing about cosmetic products is that anyone can make something that will provide at least a moisturizing benefit to consumers. And 90% or more consumers will be satisfied with that. This is why brand stories are needed to set yourself apart. Without the story of some special ingredient or a hero’s journey to discover a solution (or a ton of advertising and cheap prices), people just won’t buy your product. Cosmetic brands need stories. Whether they are true or not matters less.
If you are primarily concerned with telling the whole, truthful story about your products, it’s unlikely you can create a successful cosmetic brand. Consumers don’t want the truth. The truth is boring. Consumers want the experience. They want the pizzaz, the razzle dazzle. They want their cosmetic products to transport them to a different reality, to experience what might be. They want hope. Successful brands give consumers hope & they don’t mind embellishing the truth to give it to them.
If you’ve ever wondered why there aren’t more cosmetic chemists who have their own brand, this is why. It’s hard to maintain the perspective needed to be a successful marketer when the science of reality is staring you in the face.
MemberMay 1, 2020 at 1:48 am
1. Ingredient Production - Makes sense. It’s okay to get different ingredients from different suppliers if one supplier doesn’t have all that I need right? As long as I consistently get the same products from same suppliers?
2. pH Meter - Good price, thank you for the recommendation.
3. Too Many Ingredients - Yes, I too have been guilty of that same perspective but it isn’t always the case!
I read the thread you were referring to and understand what you’re saying. Would it be better to add fewer oils in higher amounts to achieve the same desired % of oil in a formulation?
4. Side note - Thank you for the compliments on my perspective. Essentially you’re saying I have a story to tell, am very passionate and have a burning desire to see my vision come to fruition which will help to sell my brand right?
I understand your perspective regarding my situation. It is possible that my hair groom healthier and longer as a result of the products are creating and it’s also possible that they didn’t have a significant effect. Since I didn’t preform scientific tests and record my data, it’s very difficult to know if it did for sure. If definitely made my hair feel and look better to say the least!
I presume that is what you’re referring to in regards to mentioning most cosmetic products being at least moisturizing but and that is enough for most people. I guess it’s a good thing I have a true passion, emotional connection to why I want to launch and sell a cosmetic brand. Hopefully that along with using a few special marketing ingredients that can help me to sell my brands.
It seems you’re right about consumers. Maya Angelou did say People won’t always remember what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel. I have to remember that perspective when it comes to formulating I’m selling products. I don’t mind giving people hope as long as I do just about everything thing I can to create nutrient rich and functional products without compromising them.
5. Lorraine Dallmeier, Biologist and Environmental Scientist - Lorraine now runs Formula Botanical, an online accredited school specializing in Organic Cosmetic Science. I do think at times it’s wise to be guided by those with much more experience an success. She’s offering a free masterclass for skincare which I’m almost done with and of course she does that to entice people to purchase her course. I’ve come across several different courses over the years and have considered taking one but don’t want to waste money on the wrong ones. Hers seems professional and with her having a background in biology and science I am taking it to consideration. Now I don’t just believe everything I hear or see which is why I’m doing research on her and showing if I can get ahold of someone who took it and was successful in launching their own brand. She makes very confident claims regarding being able to formulate organic products safely. She emphasizes on getting to know ingredients and how they work and that she’s able to create products that’s more functional than others by doing so. Have you heard of her? Is her last claim mostly dazzle dazzle? What is your opinion on natural or organic courses online?
Thank you for taking the time to respond in such detail @Perry I really do appreciate it!
MemberMay 1, 2020 at 1:50 am
MemberMay 3, 2020 at 5:00 pm
3. Yes, fewer ingredients is generally better mostly because it reduces unknown variables and the chances of instability or an allergic reaction.
5. I do not know Lorraine nor do I know of the quality of information shared in their organic cosmetic science course. Their website looks pretty enough & some of their blog posts seem fine. I also listen to their podcast and it is usually interesting. They do a decent job. But from the view of someone who’s worked in the cosmetic industry, it also comes off as quite naive. It’s not surprising coming from someone who has no real cosmetic industry experience. You get a much different perspective when you work for a company that sells millions of bottles of product every year.
I personally think their slant on the information they provide is inappropriately hostile to mainstream cosmetic companies, a little “holier than thou”, and not critical enough of unverified claims. They seem to begin with a philosophy (Natural is superior to synthetic) then cherry pick information to support that belief. They also encourage some practices that I view as ones that break federal cosmetic regulations & are borderline illegal (e.g. their blog post encouraging people to use unapproved plant extracts as cosmetic colorants). They are located in the UK so follow EU regulations which are not quite the same as regulations in the US.
Whether you should take the course or not depends primarily on your goals. If you want to launch a product line, I don’t think you need to learn how to make products. If you want it to be successful, you need to take a course on Marketing & Selling cosmetic products. Then hire someone to make your products. You could easily go through a course teaching you how to make cosmetics and at the end, not be any closer to reaching your dream of launching a product. Just remember, learning how to make an omelette doesn’t make you ready to start or run a restaurant.
If you want to learn how to make a few formulas for using at home, it’s probably fine enough.
I can tell you that going through that course will not enable you to make cosmetic products that work better than other formulas. Natural products do not work better than the products produced by large companies. Big companies have teams of trained scientists optimizing ingredients to come up with formulas that appeal to the biggest group of consumers. A small company who learned formulating from an online course will not be able to make formulas that work better. Yes, her last claim as you have written it is razzle dazzle.
MemberMay 3, 2020 at 9:36 pm
Setting the bar too high. I am guilty of this. I wanted everything to be organic & palm oil-free. Then the retailer demanded a ‘natural’ preservative as well.Needless to say, it was a recipe for disaster.
MemberMay 4, 2020 at 5:11 pm
Here is my advice, do not learn to formulate from Formula Botanica. I saw their formulas that are in free access and this is a disaster.
1) They suggest making a water-based toner with added essential oils without an emulsifier. It was obvious from the pictures that oil floats on the top of the liquid and then they added a note that if you don’t like it, wait for a week until it gets “infused” and they filter the water through a coffee filter.
2) They suggest preparing sanitiser without alcohol, that is based on useless essential oils during the global pandemic and are totally aware that people are copying their formula and put themselves in danger.
3) They also propose formulas with poor emulsification and preservative systems (because if you have any experience it becomes obvious). Even Marie from Humblebee and me is a better formulator.
MemberNovember 30, 2023 at 12:01 am
Laughing my Arsh off… Marie had now taken their (FB) course, and is worse than ever! And apparently, was not willing to pay for it….so has to work them off, by trying to sell them in the middle of all her videos. 🤮 She went from bad….to intolerable.
AdministratorNovember 30, 2023 at 12:52 pm
She’s likely in an affiliate program for them. Gotta make money somehow I guess.
MemberMay 4, 2020 at 5:16 pm
This is what they suggested as a sanitiser:
Phase Ingredient % A Aloe vera Juice 1:1 51.40% A Witch hazel 40.00% A Panthenol 0.50% A Chelator – Dermofeel PA3 0.10% B Glycerine 3.50% B Konjac gum 1.00% B Xanthan gum 0.25% C Cocamidopropyl betaine 2.00% C Preservative Eco 0.80% C Sweet Orange essential oil 0.20% C Eucalyptus essential oil 0.15% C Tea tree essential oil 0.10%
It’s not even a home-crafter level.
MemberMay 4, 2020 at 8:47 pm
Moreover, there was a lady in one of formula botanica’s groups on Facebook who was thanking them for sharing this formula, because it’s their quote “best seller”. I even asked her whether she sells (because I couldn’t believe my eyes) it and she confirmed it.
MemberMay 4, 2020 at 11:33 pm
The main fail as far as I am concerned is marketing. Do not design products simply because you can. First find out if there will be a market for them.
I decided to design a liquid soap in a 250mL pump bottle. There was no problem in designing the soap, it came out fine, and no problem in sourcing the bottle and pump. HOWEVER:
My product smelled better and had nicer sensorials than those I found in the stores. Unfortunately, their product sold for $2 in the store. . . and it was costing me $2 just to buy the bottle, pump, and label. Without the contents or labour cost or profit margin or …
I had neglected to note that (1) Big manufacturers can source and make products MUCH more cheaply than I can. (2) Consumers don’t really care if their hand soap has great sensorials. They do care very much about price.
- - In other words - -
However good you are at other things doesn’t matter a damn, compared with MARKETING.
MemberMay 5, 2020 at 4:00 pm
Wow @ngarayeva001 I definitely didn’t see that recipe or video or I wouldn’t have even asked the question! It really is sad how people can get away with so much without actually backing up the claims they make. People are continually being deceived into thinking they are properly making products and seems like they are in for a sad reality check. More so than that, they are potentially endangering many lives by the lack of properly formulating which can lead to a load of issues.
MemberMay 5, 2020 at 4:21 pm
@Perry You’re absolutely correct. I am a seeker of wisdom and appreciate being a person who knows how to do things myself and learns what I don’t know. I have felt in the past compelled to learn how to actually formulate products if I’m going to sell them one day. Partially for feeling as though that would help me remain more “authentic”, actually know some of the scientific background of ingredients as well as how they can work together and would be able to talk about it. Also maintain the respect I have for chemists and formulators, knowing the amount of work that goes into it. Also out of caution, knowing that I could potentially risk lives if I try to sell something that hasn’t been properly formulated and undergone proper testing. It still surprises me how so many people creating water based products do! Anhydrous is a different story.
Yes it’s important to be cautious, but I realized I’m facing the same problem I did in the past. Thinking from the wrong perspective and “small mindset”. I can’t try to learn and do everything on my own. I shouldn’t be focused on formulating my own products - I should leave that to the experts who’ve spent years studying and have experience in perfecting formulations. I need to focus on the business and marketing side, then find the right company to work with. I will still most likely learn how to formulate as a hobby, since I do enjoy it.
I am glad that I didn’t get hasty and took the time to refocus my priorities so I can work on the right tasks which will help me reach my goals. Very much appreciated, thank you @Perry @Belassi and you too @ngarayeva001 ! Hopefully people will continue to add to this thread as they think of information that may be helpful.
MemberDecember 14, 2020 at 9:21 pm
Definitely some great, useful advice! Thank you @Perry for taking the time to share some of your knowledge. It is especially helpful for someone like myself who is just starting to formulate in hopes to eventually create a few unique products worthy enough to market.
It is disappointing to read the info about Formula Botanica, although it isn’t totally surprising. They seem more focused on selling you the course above anything else. Is there any school or course that is specific to cosmetic formulating that would be worth taking?
I was happy to read what @Perry said about “Starting out as a “natural” formulator” because this is something I decided on my own early on, which is to learn how to formulate with industry standard ingredients, and perfecting those formulations, before trying to formulate using “all natural” ingredients. Plus, the definition of “all natural” is relative anyway
I do have one more question for you @Perry, and pardon my ignorance with these things..I’m new to it all and there is a LOT of misinformation online…but you said, “putting more than 0.1% vitamins in a hair formula is a mistake since they do nothing in hair products.” This is the first time I’ve heard this! Does this include Panthenol? Thank you for more information on this!
MemberDecember 14, 2020 at 11:04 pm
@abierose - It’s not surprising you haven’t heard that vitamins don’t do anything as they are very popular ingredient put in hair products. You have to first understand that hair is dead. Putting vitamins on hair fibers is about as useful as putting vitamins on your shoe laces. For water soluble vitamins (like vitamin C), the ingredient just gets rinsed down the drain. For oil soluble vitamins, well, those get emulsified by the detergent and washed down the drain too.
Yes, I would include Panthenol in that opinion. Certainly, some formulators would disagree with me but I’ve never seen compelling, scientifically controlled evidence that Panthenol included in a hair product (especially rinse-off products) has any effect that a consumer would notice. It’s a gimmick ingredient made most famous by the hair brand Pantene. And the original supplier Rhom and Haas certainly did a lot to publicize the benefits of using it. But there aren’t any, in my view. I’m always open to new data or research but I haven’t found any compelling evidence to suggest panthenol makes any bit of difference in a hair product, except giving the marketers a story to talk about and increasing the cost of the formula of course.
And as far as courses to take, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the course we put together - Practical Cosmetic Formulating, but if you wanted to get a sense of my teaching style before purchasing the course, you can see the free course I collaborated on. Learn Cosmetic Formulation. Just realize that I have a particular perspective and cater to people who are interested in making products that could actually be sold and produced in the cosmetic industry.
MemberDecember 15, 2020 at 12:43 am
Wow, that is so fascinating! What a perfect example of how powerful marketing can be! I guess now my question is, what products can I make using all of the panthenol that I have? 😬 Is there anything that utilizes this ingredient that makes it actually effective?
And your course sounds like it would be in alignment with what I am hoping to achieve with my formulating pursuits! I will also check out the free course via the link you supplied. Thank you so much!
MemberDecember 15, 2020 at 2:37 pm
@abierose - The nice thing about panthenol is that you can pretty much add it to any water-based formula. Also, P&G has done such a great job of publicizing the ingredient so most consumers have heard of it and have a positive impression of it. That makes it most effective at telling a story and giving consumers one more reason to buy a product.
MemberDecember 17, 2020 at 4:28 am@abierose - The nice thing about panthenol is that you can pretty much add it to any water-based formula. Also, P&G has done such a great job of publicizing the ingredient so most consumers have heard of it and have a positive impression of it. That makes it most effective at telling a story and giving consumers one more reason to buy a product.
Is the KERATIN same story?
MemberDecember 17, 2020 at 8:33 pm
I assume the idea of keratin came from keratin hair treatment but it’s not keratin that is responsible for the effect. It’s either formaldehyde or alkali, but you can’t sell a treatment ‘that exposes hair to extreme ph and it allows it to be straightened’, ‘keratin treatment’ sounds better.
MemberDecember 18, 2020 at 11:08 am
MemberDecember 18, 2020 at 2:07 pm
Keratin in a shampoo will have no noticeable benefit as far as I’ve seen in practice. It is water soluble and shampoo pretty much washes it all away. If you want smooth and shine from a shampoo, you’ll need a silicone, a cationic polymer or both. Keratin won’t make a shampoo better.
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