Find a cosmetic chemist for your product idea

One of the most common questions we get here on Chemists Corner is someone asking for help to find a cosmetic chemist. Unfortunately, the majority of people who have expertise in developing cosmetics work for companies so they typically can’t help you out. However, there are a number of independent formulators or chemists who work for contract manufacturers who may be able to work with you. There are a few things you should know when trying to find a cosmetic chemist.

Can you make the cosmetics yourself?

Typically, people try to find a cosmetic chemist when they have a great idea for a cosmetic product. After doing a quick Google search and seeing all that is written about making cosmetics yourself, some get the idea that they don’t need a cosmetic chemist and can make the products themselves. Depending on the type of product you want to make this is certainly an option. We even have an online course where you can learn cosmetic formulating if you’re interested.

However, the reality is that learning to make cosmetic products and developing an idea into a successful beauty brand are completely different skill sets. If your goal is to start a beauty product line or develop a great product that doesn’t already exist, you don’t need to make the product yourself. It is a much better idea to hire a chemist or a company to make the product for you.

As we teach in our course on starting a cosmetic line, you need to focus on sales and marketing if you want to have a successful beauty brand.

Do you really need a chemist?

So, if starting a product line is what you really want to do then working with a chemist or a company is the best way to go. Then you’ll have to decide whether you want to work with a chemist or with a company that can make the product for you. Let me explain the difference.

Formulating Chemist - A formulating chemist or cosmetic consultant is an independent scientist who will come up with the formula for you. You discuss with them your idea, your budget, and everything else about the project and they create a formula to your specifications. The nice part is at the end of the process you typically will own the formula.

Contract Manufacturer (CM) - There are companies that will work with you to develop the formula and make the product. Depending on the project, the lab work might even be free if you agree to make your production runs with the company.

Private Labeler (PL) - Another type of company you can work with is a private labeler. The difference between a PL and a CM is that the private labeler will only allow minor customizations of the product. They offer you existing formulas which you can put into containers that have customized labels. The product will look like your own but the actual stuff in the bottle might not be unique to you.

Pros & Cons

    • Chemist - custom formula, you own the formula - cons - more expensive, you have to do more work, takes more time
    • CM -  less expensive, some customization, less work, faster - cons - you don’t own formula, less customizing, long term more expensive
    • PM - Fastest option, lowest cost - least amount of customization, not unique formula, fewer options

What type of chemist do you need?

If you do decide you want to work with a chemist, it’s important to know that not every chemist will know how to make every formula. Some cosmetic chemists specialize in hair products others may specialize in skin products. An area like color cosmetics is a specialty that not many formulators have, so if you are looking to make a color cosmetic finding a cosmetic chemist to make it may be harder. Even in a specified area of expertise there may not be many formulators available. For example, just because a chemist has worked on hair products that doesn’t mean she will know how to make hair colors. It’s a different specialty. Before you find a chemist, you need to figure out what type of product you want to make.  Then find someone who specifically lists that product type as one of their specialties.

Do you need a custom formula?

If you have an idea for a cosmetic product line you might not need a custom formula. And if you don’t need a custom formula, you don’t need to find a chemist. You could just work with a contract manufacturer or private label company. The downside to this is that you may not know what’s in your own formula. This would make it nearly impossible to switch production companies if you are unhappy with the people making your product. While it may be cost beneficial to start your product using a Private Label company, you will ultimately have the most flexibility if you work with a cosmetic formulator and get the rights to own your formula.

How do you know if someone is a good chemist?

This is probably the most difficult thing to determine when trying to find a cosmetic chemist. Currently, there is no good system for figuring out who is good or not. Some things you want to ask include

  1. Does the chemist have an advanced degree? Completing an online course in formulating may give a person a good background but that doesn’t make them a cosmetic chemist. It takes a long time to develop an understanding of the ingredients and formulation types. It takes experience and time working with specific ingredients. This is something that starts with getting a science degree.
  2. Has the chemist done previous work? It’s easy to set up a website and start offering your formulation services. But to know if someone is good you have to first see if they’ve been good in the past. Be sure to ask a potential formulator if there is a reference you can check with to verify the quality of their work.
  3. Do they have an online presence? While being online doesn’t have much to do with formulating, it does indicate that the person is staying up to date with the latest technologies. It also means that the person should be easy to contact. When looking for a formulator be sure that they have a web page and a way to easily contact them.
  4. Are they in the SCC? The Society of Cosmetic Chemists is the premiere organization for cosmetic chemists from around the country and the world (IFSCC). Membership in these groups requires a scientific background and a number of years experience. If the chemist qualifies to be part of the organization, then you can be sure that they have a good background knowledge in formulating.
  5. Do they expect a lot of money up front? You can’t expect that a chemist will work for free however, you shouldn’t have to pay for the whole project up front. Typically, a good formulating chemist will meet with you for free to discuss the project then only charge 50% up front and another 50% upon delivery of the formula.  They will also be able to give you contacts for getting your formula made and even for packaging.
  6. Will they give you timing?  If you have a hard time getting the formulator to commit to a time table this should be concerning and you should avoid them. Many formulators are looking for really big jobs and they will put their smaller jobs on the back burner if the big one comes in.  Be sure you get timing worked out and that the chemist delivers when they say they will.

One of the most important things to know about creating a cosmetic product, it’s important to have a good, functional product but to be successful you need to have top-notch marketing.  Unfortunately, a cosmetic chemist can typically not help you with this.

Resources for chemists

If you are trying to find a cosmetic chemist here are some of the best options I can suggest.

Cosmetic Chemist forum resources


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How to Become a Cosmetic Chemist

The job of a cosmetic chemist, or as they call it in the UK a cosmetic scientist, requires you to do a wide variety of things both in and out of the lab. Your main responsibility will be that of a formulator. This means you mix raw materials together to create cosmetic products like lipstick, nail polish, skin lotions, shampoos, toothpaste and any other type of personal care product.

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