As a cosmetic formulator I get the opportunity to look at a number of cosmetic formulations. Cosmetic chemists are like artists and many will have their own special style they bring to their formulas. (There are a number of formulators who simply copy the work of others but we’ll ignore them for the moment).
Anyway, one of the most common things that I see is formulas that have a dozen or more raw materials. Take this product for example. Here is the ingredient list…
Aluminum Hydroxide, Anthemis Nobilis Flower Oil [Anthemis Nobilis], Ascorbic Acid, Benzyl Benzoate, Butylene Glycol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetyl Hydroxyethylcellulose, Cetyl PEG/PPG 10/1 Dimethicone, Citronellol, Coumarin, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Epilobium Angustifolium Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract [Epilobium Angustifolium], Ethylhexylglycerin, Eugenol, Geraniol, Glycerin, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil [Glycine Soja], Iron Oxides (CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499), Isostearic Acid, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil [Lavandula Angustifolia], Lavandula Hybrida Oil [Lavandula Hybrida], Lecithin, Limonene, Linalool, Phenoxyethanol, Phytoecdysteroids, Polyglyceryl-2 Diisostearate, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Polymethylsilsequioxane, Polysilicone 2, Potassium Sorbate, Propanediol, Retinyl Palmitate, Sinorhizobium Meliloti Ferment Filtrate, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Metabisulfite, Soil Minerals, Stearic Acid, Tocopherol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Triethylhexanoin, Trisodium EDTA, Water [Aqua], Zizyphus Jujuba Seed Extract [Zizyphus Jujuba]
Now realistically, how many of the ingredients in this formula are having any effect at all? How would the formulator even know?
To be fair, a number of the ingredients on the list are components of the fragrance or are solvents and aren’t expected to have an impact on the functionality. These would include things like Limonene, Linalool, and Propanediol. But seriously how would any consumer (or chemist) tell whether any of the following ingredients are having any effect?
Anthemis Nobilis Flower Oil
Glycine Soja Oil
Jujuba Seed extract
Can you tell a difference?
If the formulator removed every one of those ingredients I bet no one would be able to tell a difference. And if that is the case, why are the ingredients in the formula at all?
I’ll tell you why. To tell a marketing story.
There is scant evidence that any of these ingredients will have a noticeable effect when topically applied to skin. But they do have a noticeable effect when put on the label of your formula. People will be more apt to buy. So cosmetic chemists drop in these claims ingredients, make incredibly long label lists, and convince people who are not in the know that things like Jujuba Seed Extract is going to improve some aspect of their skin. It’s not.
In a world shifting to more sustainable and environmentally friendly formulations, I don’t see how this type of bloated formulating can continue. Better is to follow a minimalist formulation approach. It will save money, save resources and you will know that the cosmetic ingredient you add actually has some function in the formula beyond story telling.