How to pick a cosmetic formulation benchmark

Whenever you start a new project it is a great idea that you find an existing formula that will serve as a benchmark for your formulation efforts. Typically, your marketing person will propose a benchmark for you but you should also have your own benchmark that you try to outperform. Here are some guidelines on picking a cosmetic product benchmark and using it to guide formulation. benchmarking

What is benchmarking

Before picking a benchmark it’s helpful to know what it is. A benchmark is an existing formula that has many of the same characteristics that you want in your future formulation. It doesn’t have to be exactly what you are trying to create, but it should give you a target for your formulation to meet or exceed.

Factors in picking a benchmark

There are a number of things to consider when picking a benchmark but the most important things include.

1. Market Position - While the best selling product is not necessarily the best performing product, you still want to make sure that your new formulation performs as well as the most popular product. No matter what, you should always be sure you compare favorable to the market leader. Use market data to find out which is the market leader. If you don’t have access to that, go to your local store and see which of the products they stock the most of.

2. Performance - The best benchmark is the one that performs the best and you should look at the market to find this. To find the best performing benchmark you should get samples of all the competitive products you can find and run them through a series of lab / consumer tests to figure out which is best. When I was working on hair care products, the Pantene formula consistently scored highest on both our lab and consumer tests. It’s important to note that these were blinded tests so as to not bias the results. When you are trying to identify the best performing product in your category, always do blinded testing.

3. Aesthetics - For some products, the performance is not equivalent to the aesthetics. For example, a body wash could perform great on a foam test but preform terribly on a consumer evaluation. Therefore, you should also find a benchmark that is aesthetically the strongest product on the market.

4. Cost - While you would like to compare yourself to the best product on the market, sometimes you don’t have to. If you are competing in the 99 cent shampoo category, you don’t necessarily have to create a formula that beats a $5 a bottle shampoo. The final cost of your own product should be considered when finding a good benchmark.

5. Manufacturing - Sometimes your marketing people will direct you to pick a benchmark that clearly requires some special manufacturing equipment to create. You should shy away from this kind of benchmark unless buying the equipment needed to make it is a possibility. There is no reason to create a final formula that your company can’t mass produce.

6. Patents - The final thing to consider when picking a benchmark is to find formulas that have patents and ensure that you avoid infringing on them. You can endeavor to copy them but remember you can’t sell anything that might infringe on another company’s patents.

Using a benchmark

Once you’ve picked your benchmark you need to come up with a battery of tests to quantify how well it performs. This will be highly dependent on the type of product it is but it should include a mix of lab tests and panel tests. You should use the product yourself too to get a good sense of how it performs. Be sure to conduct blinded tests so you can’t easily pick the samples. And also repeat tests multiple times to see if you get consistent results.

For something like a shampoo you might run the following tests.

1. Foam test (with and without oil)
2. Tress combing test
3. Tress washing test
4. Panel test

Use the scores from these tests to set benchmark levels for you to meet or exceed.

Benchmarks are a great way to help guide your formulations and also show data to your bosses that the formula you created is every bit as good as the competition. You should use a benchmark for every product you formulate.

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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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