Home Cosmetic Science Talk Formulating What are the basic science/chemistry concepts do formulators need?

  • What are the basic science/chemistry concepts do formulators need?

    Posted by oldperry on February 4, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    I’m working on a new online cosmetic science training program and want to create a series of lectures that will help people who do not have science backgrounds to understand enough to take the course.

    Right now I’m going to cover some basic biology, math, and chemistry.
    What chemistry concepts do you think I must cover?
    mayurdave replied 9 years, 8 months ago 16 Members · 21 Replies
  • 21 Replies
  • Herbnerd

    February 4, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Probably look at a high-school chemistry text book and remove anything you don’t feel is important for cosmetic chemistry might be the easiest place to start.

  • Bati

    February 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    I agree with Herb. Basic chemistry concepts you’d find in Chem I and Chem II. Start with the periodic table (the most natural starting point I think), progress to atoms and compounds, move to chemical reactions, then throw in some acid-base chemistry. I would also go over types of chemical bonding which would help in understanding how chemicals interact with various substrates (i.e. why quats are attracted to hair, etc.). I guess a lot of it is dependent on how thorough you want to be as well. I’ve found a lot of the concepts I’ve learned in analytical chemistry to be helpful.

  • mikebavington

    February 4, 2014 at 3:54 pm
    I dont have a chemistry background, so I am the type of person that would be interested in such a course. I had to learn about formulating on my own, and even now, I dont know 95% of what I would like to know.
    Expalanation of the Periodic Table and examples of elemental chemistry in cosmetic ingredients is important. I dont think many people understand that ingredients are basically a rearrangement of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules, in various quantities and positions. 
    I would also spend alot of energy explaining emulsifiers and preservatives. These two areas are where most people have questions or problems relating to finishing their formulas. Especially emulsifiers. I cant say that enough. Emulsification is the most difficult task when trying to formulate.
    I would do a lecture, with diagrams, on the components of skin. Most people dont understand skin composition and their are alot of misconceptions of how different ingredients affect/dont affect the skin.
    Also explain all the terms commonly found in formulating, such as ‘alcohol’, which is different from ethanol. How occlusives are different from humectants, which are different from emolients, etc.
  • mikebavington

    February 4, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    See, I just realized that I used the term ‘molecule’ in place of ‘atom’. I need your course Perry. 

  • Bobzchemist

    February 4, 2014 at 5:26 pm
    It’s hard to do this, because understanding most of the fun stuff depends on understanding all the boring fundamentals. 

    I mostly agree with Mike. Skip the vast majority of inorganic chemistry. I’m not even sure the periodic table is all that important. Concentrate on atoms, molecules and compounds. Briefly touch on electrons, etc. until it’s time to explain charged surfactants. Definitely explain the “everything is a chemical” concept.

    Get into organic chem as soon as you can, explaining the most common organic moieties. Spend time on nomenclature and it’s relationship to molecular structure.
  • oldperry

    February 4, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    Thanks for all the excellent feedback thus far!

  • Ayla

    February 5, 2014 at 2:48 am

    pH ! It’s very important and a lot of non chemist formulators don”t have any idea how it works !

  • pma

    February 5, 2014 at 5:40 am

    I think basic toxicology concepts are important as well. People must know that even water can be toxic or safe depending of the amount you take.

  • microformulation

    February 5, 2014 at 8:14 am

    I agree with everyone. I would try to avoid an in-depth Chemistry instruction as it would take too much time. I would cover basics of solutions and emulsion technology.

  • chemist77

    February 5, 2014 at 8:40 am

    How about a broad categorization of cosmetic and personal care products and then carry on from there while explaining all the details in layman terms???  

  • Bobzchemist

    February 5, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Ayla made a good point about pH, but I don’t think you need to go into all the details about Lewis acids/bases, etc. The basic concept of acid + base = salt is good, and you might want to introduce the concept of strong and weak acids/bases, which leads nicely into a discussion of pH buffers.

  • the_microbiologist

    February 5, 2014 at 9:49 am

    This thread wouldn’t be complete without a mention of microbiology.  One doesn’t need a degree or anything, but DOES need to spend about 1-2 hours familiarizing themselves with the two basic micro tests done on cosmetics, the APC and preservative challenge test.  To safely and sustainably make cosmetics one should know what each test tells them and when each test is appropriate.

    Here’s a crash course (for more info there are several educational articles at http://www.CosmeticTestLabs.com):

    • APCs are cheap and give “snapshots” of germ counts over time.  <100 cfu/ml is ideal.  They are often done several times in a product’s life cycle (usually after each round of production).
    • Challenge tests cost more and tell a formulator whether or not the formulation has some “built in” resistance to microbes.  They are usually done once, after a formulation is complete and before manufacturing begins.

    Good luck!


  • Anonymous

    February 5, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Hi, I think the people who do need to learn cosmetics industry. they need to know about chemical and its uses in cosmetics. If you can work on it and make a suitable and simple directory, which have chemical name along with its property, uses and side effects on it.
    It will help new learner a lot easily

  • eperfumes

    February 5, 2014 at 11:42 am

    All of the above, please also consider throwing links and references to relevant materials to the subject in a way that it completes the concept.
    I would love to see a practical course to become a formulator with a solid base of knowledge in a realistic time frame
    Keep the good work!

  • the_microbiologist

    February 5, 2014 at 1:38 pm


    Sorry, was just catching up on the thread and realized that your question was about chemistry. and not chemistry, biology, etc..oops!  Sorry to hijack your chemistry thread with micro info.

  • vitalys

    February 5, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    @The_Microbilogist, I think you don’t make mistake since Biology and Microbiology eventually based on chemical reactions and canons…On my humble opinion - Cosmetic Chemistry is a complex science which includes Pharm.Chemistry, Biochemistry, Anatomy and Physiology and Biology, Physics, Esthetics and even Psychology and based on Colloidal Chemistry…


    It would be fine if you explain the concepts of the Colloidal chemistry as a general base for entire Cosmetic Chemistry including some concepts from Organic Chemistry (just basics). Colloidal chem. embraces everything from pH to emulsions, gels, sols, solutions etc. Plus the basic chemical concepts as acids/bases which Bobzchemist has mentioned above will be essential.

  • microformulation

    February 5, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    @The_Microbiologist Microbiology and Process sanitation is a huge part and often overlooked. It may not be Chemistry but is arguably a topic for Cosmetic Chemistry.

  • bill_toge

    February 6, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    I’d include a section on polymers, considering how widely they’re used

    also, I agree with everyone above who said colloidal chemistry

    both topics are key parts of cosmetic science, but they’re only taught in the most specialised of specialist academic courses; as a result, they’re generally the least well understood

  • vocenal

    February 7, 2014 at 3:15 am

    Hi, Perry,

    As we know, cosmetic science is a branch of apply chemistry. I admit that everybody talk above is really important as basic knowledges to study cosmetic science. But I think the most crucial thing is ‘ application’ which would be more concern by the people who really want to participate in this course. Cosmetic also have close relationship with human, physical as well as mental. It has long history, sometimes it behaves a kind of culture, even a kind of art.
    You said some of participants even don’t know chemistry. But I don’t think they really don’t know cosmetic because they use it everyday. Maybe it is so hard to understand the complicated relationship between cosmetic and chemistry as well as biology and math, these kind of science and engeering subjects. Why not to talk about the history of cosmetic and aesthetics first?I think that would be more acceptable.

    I remember when I studied in my university, my teacher introduce cosmetic science in this way.
  • shahbaz

    February 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    @Perry, I have very less experience and knowledge as compare to this community’s active members but still working on a project like yours but at very very basic level, while keeping in mind of our local situation= majority of people involved in manufacturing have zero know how about basics of cosmetics science. project comprises of free learning material + free lecture and if it gain some interest then some free practical work will be included at later stages. I am almost at the completion of the free learning material, which will be available online at my web in English as well as in Urdu language.

  • mayurdave

    March 17, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Hi Perry,

    I’m signed up for your course, I would be very interested in knowing more about formulating with naturals as this the a trend not going away anytime soon.

Log in to reply.