How to Reduce the Cost of a Cosmetic Formula

In your career as a cosmetic chemist, you will undoubtedly have the following experience. After months of prototyping and testing you create the most inspired, most incredible cosmetic formulation of your career. You present it to your marketing group and they absolutely LOVE IT! The project starts to move forward and everything is going great, but then they make a simple request.

“We love it, but can you make it less expensive?”

While your first inclination will be to answer “No” this is not always an option in the world of the cosmetic industry. But fret not, there are certain strategies you can follow to turn your excellent, expensive formula into an adequate, reasonably priced formula. Here are 5 tricks you can try.

Reduce the fragrance level

In most formulas, the fragrance is the most costly ingredient. It’s also often put in at a level that is much higher than required. To get a quick cost savings, you can cut the fragrance level in half and see if a panel of users can tell a difference. You will be surprised how few people will notice even a 50% reduction. If people do notice a difference, try lowering it by only 10 or 20%. You probably have more fragrance than necessary and when you’re looking for a quick cost savings, that’s the first place you should start.

Reduce the level of Claims ingredients

Another source of a cost savings is the claims ingredients that you’ve put in your formula for the marketing story. These natural ingredients are frequently more expensive additions than standard ingredients so you can save a relatively high amount of money by reducing the levels. If you are using an extract at 0.5% or even more, you’re probably wasting money. Verify it yourself by doing a knock-out experiment. On a blinded-basis, see if you can pick out the one that is missing the extract. If you can’t, then you can reduce the level to almost nothing. For example, using a level of 0.01% of an extract in the formula is not unreasonable when you’re looking to cut costs.

Eliminate unnecessary ingredients

Speaking of reducing ingredients, there may be some ingredients that are completely unnecessary. These represent a great cost savings not only in terms of formula cost but in terms of storage costs for additional raw materials. To figure out if an ingredient isn’t necessary, you should do a knockout experiment and compare the formula with and without the ingredient. If you can’t tell whether a missing raw material is in the formula or not, you don’t need it.

Find less-expensive alternative ingredients

While you may love your specialty emulsifier or ultra soft emollient, you may be able to replace them with a less-expensive but approximately equal alternative. It is surprising how few differences non-trained beauty product consumers notice. I once created a two-in-one shampoo formula and compared it to a basic shampoo formula that looked and smelled the same. 14 out of 15 panelists didn’t notice any difference. To me, the differences were night and day. So, remember, just because you can tell a difference, your audience may not.

Water it down

The last strategy to reducing the cost of a formula is to just add water. This only works for aqueous formulas, however, that is the majority of personal care products. When you add water, you reduce the overall concentration of all the other ingredients. This reduces the cost of the entire formula. Depending on the formula, you can add up to 5% more water and not notice any difference. This could be a significant cost reduction. A word of caution with this approach however, be sure not to decrease the level of preservative. Adding more water increases the chance of microbial contamination so you want to maintain a good level of preservation. (Note: For anhydrous formulas you can use mineral oil or propylene glycol as the less expensive diluent).

Cost saving and the cosmetic chemist

Reducing cost is all part of being a cosmetic chemist and if you can find hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost savings, you will be a company hero. When you first develop formulas, don’t worry so much about optimizing them. When the product is successful, your business partners will no doubt ask you for a less expensive alternative. If you’ve already optimized it up front, it will be much more difficult to optimize it later.

How have you gotten cost savings out of your formulas? Leave a comment below.

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