How to test Cosmetic Raw Materials

As a cosmetic chemist you will likely be inundated with new raw materials and sales people encouraging you to try out their latest and greatest offerings. If they have an interesting sales pitch you might even request a sample. Unfortunately by the time you get the samples a few days later, you often forget why you were interested in the first place. You’re left with unopened samples which will pile up on your lab bench only to be moved and pitched the next time you have lab clean-up day. This is a complete waste of effort for both you and the sales people.

To prevent this from happening you need to create a system obtaining and evaluating raw material samples. Here are some tips for setting up a system to evaluate new cosmetic raw materials.

Write down your ideas

During a meeting with a sales person be sure to keep notes about the meeting. Specifically write down raw material names and the reason you might want to get a sample. Note also whether you requested a raw material & if you received it. This way when you get a sample a few days later you’ll know why you wanted it in the first place.

It’s useful to keep a list of raw materials and ideas related to the material on a separate sheet from your meeting notes. So when you receive a raw material sample you can consult the list and quickly remember why you asked for it.

Have a place for your samples

After you receive a raw material sample, you should put it in a designated space. Leaving it out on your lab bench or randomly putting it on a shelf makes it less likely that you will ever do anything with it. Keep only new raw materials in this space. Also, don’t make the space too large as this will only encourage you to put off doing something with the sample.

You should also have a policy where you can’t get a new sample if there isn’t room in your designated area for it. This will make you do something with old samples before filling the cabinet with new ones.

Oh yes, be sure to put a date on every sample you receive. If a sample is over 1 year old, THROW IT OUT and get a new one. But remember, if you haven’t done anything with a sample in over 1 year it’s not likely you are ever going to do something with it.

Have a plan for your cosmetic raw materials

In addition to labeling your new raw material sample, you should also put a short Post-It Note on the sample indicating what you plan to do with it. This can be a simple sentence like “test in body wash” or “evaluate in skin cream” depending on what idea you had for the sample. These reminders will make it easier for you to remember why you requested a sample and what you plan to do with it.

Create blank base formulas for testing

The best thing you can do with most samples is to evaluate them from a standard cosmetic base. If shampoos are your area of work, create a gallon of a shampoo base that contains only the surfactants, preservatives, and other critical ingredients. Leave out ingredients like fragrance, color, or conditioning ingredients. You want to keep the system as simple as possible.

Pick areas for evaluation

You should record various characteristics of the blank base such as foam level, moisturizing levels, viscosity, pH, etc. This will give you something to compare to when your new raw material is added to the blank base. Perhaps most critical is to use the blank base yourself in the manner in which the consumer would use a finished product. Get familiar with how the product works and feels. You have to become an expert evaluator of the base before you can determine whether the new raw material improves the product or not.

Create your test samples

Often the hardest thing about testing new cosmetic raw materials is figuring out what level of the ingredient you should use. You can get some direction from the supplier but realize that they are going to tell you a higher level than you actually need. (The more the sell, the better). At this stage of development however, I like to use the highest level of an ingredient that seems reasonable. You can always cut back on the level if the initial tests are promising.

In general, put any new ingredient in at at least 1% of the formula when evaluating it for effectiveness

Record your results

After you’ve created a sample with the new raw material in your base, check the appearance for any effect the ingredient might have had. Note clarity, color, and odor differences. Try the test sample and the blank sample one after another. Ideally, you will do this on a blinded basis so you won’t be biased in favor (or against) a new material. In your first evaluation just answer the question, “do I notice any difference between the sample with and without the raw material?” If the answer is ‘no’ then you can probably stop further evaluations. Don’t waste your time on ingredients that don’t have a significant, consumer-noticeable effect. If the answer is ‘yes’ then design a more rigorous test to evaluate further.

Focus on consumer important raw materials

Since there are lots of different raw materials out there, spend your time evaluating ones that can have a consumer-noticeable effect. There is certainly a place in the world for new emulsifiers but the truth is consumers don’t care about emulsifiers. No one will create the next greatest cosmetic formula by changing their emulsification system. Look for ingredients that can effect feel, moisturizing effect, foam levels, etc. These are the areas in which the best new formulas will be found.

Take action

Perhaps the most important thing about getting a new cosmetic raw material sample is to do something with it. Put it in a formula, evaluate it, then either get rid of it or ask for more. No one benefits from a sample sitting untouched on your lab bench.

One final point, it is also nice to provide feedback to the sales person who gave you the sample. Even if you tested something and didn’t like it, this would be helpful for a sales person to know. They can communicate back to their lab and maybe, just maybe, the lab will be inspired to make improvements and deliver new cosmetic ingredients that chemists can really use.

How do you deal with new cosmetic raw material samples? Do you have any tips for cosmetic chemists? Leave a comment below.

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