Home Cosmetic Science Talk Formulating Skin Peeling-Whitening Cream

  • Peeling-Whitening Cream

    Posted by BartJ on February 14, 2016 at 10:12 am

    Hello, I’d appreciate your input: 

    I was tasked with copying a specialist exfoliating product with a LOI: 
    Aqua, Propylene Glycol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Cetearyl Sulfate, Decyl Oleate, Lactic Acid, Salicylic Acid, Kojic Acid, Arbutin, Retinol, Phytic Acid, BHT, Phyllantus Emblica Fruit Extract, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone.

    My proposition went as such:
    aqua - up to 100%
    Alpha-Arbutin - 2 %
    Kojic Acid - 3 %
    Lactic Acid - 15%
    Propylene Glycol - 5 %
    Cocamidopropyl Betaine - 1.5 %

    Shea Butter - 15 %
    Castor Oil - 15 %
    N200 (emulsifier) - 5 %
    Cetyl Alcohol - 2 %
    Salicylic Acid - 2 %
    Retinol - 0.1%
    Phenoxyethanol/ethylhexyglycerin 1%
    final pH - approx. 3
    After initial tests by trained cosmetic practitioners there was no peeling, only a rash with pimples. The product was unsuccessful. The original cream makes the skin peel off in big chunks.
    I have a vague idea where I went wrong but would rather see if anything is coming across as a poor choice to you.
    With regards to OTC rules - we’re in Europe and the concentrations of actives used are in line with EU regulations.
    DragoN replied 8 years ago 8 Members · 34 Replies
  • 34 Replies
  • Bobzchemist

    February 14, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    I strongly suspect that the level of surfactant in the target product is something critical that you left out

  • belassi

    February 14, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    You’ve got 30% oil phase in there, nothing like the original product. My starting point would be 2% salicylic acid + whatever % PG to dissolve it. Then take a serious look at the likely % of the rest.

  • BartJ

    February 15, 2016 at 8:49 am

    Thank you for the comments,

    Bob, I had a feeling I used a wrong surfactant altogether. Thanks for pointing out that the level could be the issue.
    Belassi, I missed that one. I remember how the client initially described the product saying that we want to minimise moisturising properties as they will interfere with the peeling effect. So, I’m glad you spotted this.
    Another area where I’m lookig for an answer is the Retinol level. I still can’t find a definite answer on whether Retinol itself works as a peeling agent. I’m coming across contradicting opinions.
    Would one of you be able to shed some light on this?
  • Bobzchemist

    February 15, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    Have you determined the %water/%solids in your target formula?

  • David

    February 15, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    You seem to have a totally different formula - no wonder it doesn’t perform as the benchmark. If I got this task I would start with using the same main ingredients - and then substitute them one by one.

  • BartJ

    February 15, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    @Bobzchemist. Is there a name for the method that I could read about? Or is it just distillation?

    @David, I followed the actives but it’s true that other ingredients are different. That company has since remade the cream with a completely different set of excipients and it still performs just as well. Hence, my initial assumption that I have to focus on the actives.

  • belassi

    February 15, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    Actives listed with comments:

    Lactic Acid, below the decyl oleate in the LOI. Now, the upper limit for the decyl oleate is around 7% and more typically 5% so I don’t think the lactic acid will be more than 5%.
    Salicylic Acid, presumably 2% so everything below, should be <2%
    Kojic Acid, should be 2% or less.
    Arbutin, should be 2% or less. 
    Retinol, this is an active, used between 0.1% and 1% max. (limit in Canada for example) just use 0.1%
    Phytic Acid, see this article. This is OBVIOUSLY the principle causative agent. You don’t have any at all in your proposed knock-off.
    BHT, that’s 0.5% max, probably a lot less.
    Phyllantus Emblica Fruit Extract is a supposed melanin inhibitor, I suggest all the way down here it’s nothing more than a magic name.

    I suggest the LOI does not contain ingedients listed in correct order of preference and I would not use it as a basis for copying this product but would rather create a phytic peel using a few base ingredients to determine the appropriate percentage, then proceed from there. This would be something like a three month program for me, and would require recruitment (and possibly payment) of human test subjects. You might like to think it over, because what you have done so far is unfortunately wasted. It took me around fifteen minutes work with Google to realise the basis of that formula; you could have done the same.

    Regarding comments on surfactants, I don’t think it matters a bit, the surfactant is merely being used as a wetting agent or solvency improver, probably around 2%; use any suitable non-irritating surfactant.
  • belassi

    February 15, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    Further to my last, please note that it is NOT used as a leave-on product but only for a short time period, so be careful.

  • BartJ

    February 25, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    Still on the project, the Phytic Acid sample is on it’s way.

    Just for the reference, LOI of the newer generation of the product:

    Aqua, Lactic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Paraffinum Liquidum, Ceteary Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Arbutin, Kojic Acid, Retinol, Polysorbate 20, Titanium Dioxide, Ceteareth-12, Sodium Cetearyl Sulfate, Alumina, Phytic Acid, Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Silica, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Ascorbate, Sodium Metabisulfite, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phyllantus Emblica, Fruit Extract, Sodium Polyacrylate, Tocopherol.

    (that one inspired me to put the Lactic Acid up to 15%)

    A picture of how the products look:


    (the original below, the newer one listed in this post above)

    One can lean towards assuming this is retinol powder colour:

    I’ve been on the topic for quite a while. 
    Am I to assume that the LOI is insincere? The reason I skipped the Phytic initially was because of it’s place in the LOI. I assumed it was there as a claim ingredient.
    I mean the only proven effective concentration of Phytic Acid in a product I came across is 10%.
    The manufacturer claims safety up to 20% and 1% vs. 1% equivalent effect with Glycolic Acid.

    Will certainly post my updates after I give the Phytic a try.

  • belassi

    February 25, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    First, I think the product in the images looks disgusting, very unsightly.

    The LOI is pretty unsightly too. Especially the “paraffinum liquidum” part. The peel is caused by the actives, especially the phytic acid. I should list the actives, decide the relevant percentages to use, then consider what else needs to be done to make an attractive product.

    Secondly, I think the idea of combining a peel with a lightening action is pretty stupid. You’re going to put the lightening actives into the top layer of the skin … and then 15 minutes later you remove it all again, and then peel off the top layer of skin? Just a waste of actives.
    This should be a two-stage treatment. First, the peel. Then once the peel has completed, stage two is lightening actives plus skin protection.
  • belassi

    February 25, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    By the way, may I ask the price of the phytic acid? I might design a phytic peel further down the line.

  • BartJ

    February 25, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    Hi, if it looks bad, it smells even worse. Almost as if the purpose was to make the customer feel like they’re being treated with heavy duty chemicals in a perverse marketing way.

    The prices are:
    5kg container 146USD/KG


    It’s from US, so you should get them cheaper, as I’m getting the shipment to Europe included in the price.

    I like your point on the combination of peeling and brightening.

  • belassi

    February 25, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    Not terribly expensive. At say 5% concentration the price equivalent is 1/20 or around $7 a kilo for that ingredient in finished product. So around $40 a kilo at retail. 

    I think I would market this in a similar physical way to the way hair dye is marketed. First you do the nasty thing then you get a result then you repair the damage with the nice thing. So I think I’d have all the peel ingredients in the first, then after the peel you slather on moisturiser, sun barrier, lightener, anti-inflammatory, all that good stuff. The first is a 15-minute rinse off and the second is a leave-on cream. All in one box.
  • belassi

    February 26, 2016 at 12:41 am


    While researching phytic acid I came across THIS enormous patent application which has areas directly relevant but you will need to be a fast reader.
    The same document describes MASCARA formulations and since this is reputed to be a very difficult area of cosmetic chemistry, may be of use to some here which is why I mention it.
  • Bill_Toge

    February 27, 2016 at 12:43 am

    @BartJ, what’s the pH of your benchmark?

    I ask, as your remark:

    The original cream makes the skin peel off in big chunks.

    raises a red flag, and makes me think there may be something undeclared in the benchmark

  • MarkBroussard

    February 28, 2016 at 2:21 pm


    Why don’t you make your life simple and try making a simple aqueous peel/serum.  If you can’t get 0.1% Retinol to solubilize using the Polysorbate 20, just eliminate it from the formulation.  You can thicken this up with HEC or Xanthan Gum.  It is essentially a Lactic/Salicylic Acid peel with skin lightening ingredients.

    Aqua, Lactic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Salicylic Acid, Arbutin, Kojic Acid, Retinol, Polysorbate 20, Phytic Acid, Sodium Citrate, Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Sodium Ascorbate, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phyllantus Emblica, Fruit Extract.2.

  • BartJ

    April 27, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Hi all I apologise for disappearing, things were really busy and I just couldn’t get down to write everything up. To complicate things, the person who wanted me to create the product has shifted her focus somewhere else and asked me to work on the new project rather than this.

    I just want to sincerely thank everyone for their input, I am sure that I will finish this product at some point and when it happens I’ll come back to show it to you.

    The original I was working on:

    I found the brochures from the company - public info, not internal - where the actives are listed as:
    Retinol - 5%
    Salicylic - 6%
    Lactic - 8%
    Phytic 0.5%

    I’m attaching photos of skin peeling effect at 48h following a single application of I-E-Lightening:
    (the procedure: the skin is cleansed with isopropyl alcohol solution beforehand to degrease, then the peeling cream is applied and the face is washed 4 hrs afterwards, light moisturiser is used later in the day)

    That is the benchmark for the new product.

    I was able to have a conversation with some cosmetic chemists who manufactured similar peeling creams and everybody seems to follow a consensus that it’s the high retinol content that does the job here and the other acids are acting to support.

    I also gave a phytic serum a shot, as described by Mark. I brought phytic acid up to 20%(+6% salicylic) and had the pH around 2-3. It peels… but it’s not what you see above.

    The brochure from the benchmark company says they are using retinoic acid. It’s just there in the text randomly. That’s Tretinoin, a Rx drug that essentially does Retinols job at around x100 potency. It’s also the same yellow powder and could look the same. Then later all the info they give goes back to Retinol and no more mention of retinoic acid.
    This made me think at some point that this is what makes the product work so well. But like I said above, I spoke to someone who also formulated a yellow peel and it works on Retinol. 

    P.S. Belassi, the price of Phytic Acid I gave above was for a 50% solution. Sorry! :(
    P.P.S. I know in the USA the salicylic acid comes with a lot of restrictions, it’s not the case in Europe, hence the liberal approach both by me and the other companies here.
    Also this is a product for application by a professional - in case you know the SCCS guidelines for salicylic and wondering if I missed something.

  • DragoN

    April 27, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    Interesting tactic with the PA. Looks like they are chelating the multivalents to knock out tyrosinase…nice. Morus alba , one known mechanism of action is same. More than 0.5%  PA doesn’t improve the effect either. 

    Leave cream on for four hours ( brochure states 30min  to 2 hours ?) and wash face…days later ..start peeling. 
    Salicylic - 6%
    Lactic - 8%

    15% acid and pH in the bottle 1.7 -2.0 =100% free acid available. Jack in Retinol @5%…that would cause a peeling effect. 

    The acidity of the cream alone will create a lightening effect, regardless of the actives. Salicylic acid @ 10% can put a smile one a girl’s face who is wanting to achieve lighter skin tone. 


  • David

    April 27, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Salicylic acid in EU:  Max 3.0% rinse-off Max 2.0% in other products

  • BartJ

    April 28, 2016 at 1:09 pm


    @DragoN , that’s correct, they performed the procedure in their own way. So the photos present the effect of 4 hrs application, not the 2 hrs as recommended by the manufacturer.

    @David , this is a grey area because this is a product for ‘Professional use only’, so the usual SCCS guidelines can be interpreted (corresponding CIR materials on AHAs give more information on professional use of those acids).

    On top of creams, there is a number of products on the market that are presented as ampoules with highly concentrated acids. They look like medication but they’re not. They’re cosmetics for professional use. They require a neutralisation procedure to be performed after application due to the extreme acid concentration.

    Different countries will interpret this in different ways. In some, a dermatologist/plastic surgeon can only use them, in some others they are in use in beauty parlours.

    In Poland, we don’t have beauticians using them, we have cosmetologists - that’s a 3yr bachelor degree normally taught at pharmacy departments - who are a registered profession to perform such procedures.

    But they are cosmetics nonetheless. They have ‘Only to be apllied by a professional’ written on the side of them and you won’t purchase any of the products I’m dealing with here in a retail outlet.

  • MarkBroussard

    April 28, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    You would not have an issue selling such a product here in the US “For Professional Use Only” … The total acid concentration is well below the maximum level that can be applied by estheticians (up to 40% acids).

  • DragoN

    April 28, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    they performed the procedure in their own way. So the photos present the effect of 4 hrs application, not the 2 hrs as recommended by the manufacturer.

    Could be also why the peeling. Quite nice though…

    Found this on a different site advertising same peel: Vitamin A 3%, Salicylic Acid 10%, Phytic Acid 0.5%, Arbutin 4%, Kojic Acid 5%


    Variations on a theme. Can see where the yellow comes from depending what was used.  Or could turn out white as well.  Not seeing a “cream” so much as an elegant gel. 

    Another one:
    Active ingredients: 
    - Lactic acid at 10% 
    - Retinol 3%
    - Salicylic acid 6%
    - Kojic acid 1%
    - Arbutin 1%
    - Emblica 1% 
    - Folic acid

  • Bill_Toge

    April 28, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    @BartJ, the usage limits on salicylic acid are not a grey area at all; the limit @David stated is proscribed in Annex III/98 of the regulations

    if you use a substance listed in Annex III outside the specified limits or for uses other than the ones specified, your product is not legally compliant as a cosmetic, regardless of whether or not it’s meant for professionals

  • beautynerd

    April 28, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Is anyone familiar with succinic acid as a peeling agent?

    See attachment

  • MarkBroussard

    April 28, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    I think the carve-out here in the regulations is that if a product is sold to qualified professionals only, and not the general public, then the regulatory requirement does not apply provided the product is safe.  

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