Lessons From a Natural Formulator

By: Mark Fuller

As a Consultant I have the opportunity to work with many start-ups and Entrepreneurs. With the popularity of “Natural” and “Organic” Cosmetics this leads to the bulk of my projects being under these standards. Unfortunately, I have seen some trends which will almost always cause a line to fail. Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned about natural formulating in the last few years.

What are natural cosmetics?

“Natural” and “Organic” without further definition are useless terms, much like “new and improved”, “extra strength” and other such marketing terms. Although many clients are becoming more educated my typical client will state in the initial consult that they want their product “Natural.” When I ask them “what do you mean when you say “Natural?,” I get a simple response of “you know, Natural.” If you are going to try and make a product in this market, it is important to know the standards, their requirements and how to comply. Many months ago Perry posted a blog entry that exploring natural cosmetic standards so I will not go into great detail. For the most part you will be formulating under NSF, NPA or USDA Organic standards.

Not everything can be natural

Are you ready for some heresy? Not every project can or should be “Natural.” I am sure this will cause some disagreement. For example, I was approached by a client to make a “Natural” Skin Whitening product. Keep in mind that Kojic acid and just about every traditional tyrosine inhibitor is not acceptable under NSF standards. There are numerous botanical extracts, but realistically these are best meant to augment Kojic acid and other actives. The same goes with Anti-aging. In many cases it will be problematic to reach even the 70% Organic threshold in these cases.

Organic products

“Organic” can be difficult although not impossible. If this is your goal make this clear at the beginning. It will take more work to source the materials. In some cases it will be a challenge to reach the 95% Organic percentage. The costs will be even more than a “Natural” Formulation.

More expensive formulas

“Natural” and “Organic” cosmetics will cost more to make. The raw materials have a higher documentation standard and extra processing/handling. To truly be a valid product the manufacturer must be registered. These registrations cost money and time to obtain and these costs are passed on to the client. If you are under-funded (as many are) this may not be the sector for you, at least at first. In many cases we will make a traditional product and identify opportunities to transition the product to Natural/Organic later when the company has some business and a following.

Importance of documentation

Collect and maintain your documentation! This includes MSDS’s, Certificates of Analysis and Organic Certificates. Look closely at your Organic Certificates. They must be registered with the USDA. I have found that in many cases the Organic certificate is only maintained internally by the supplier’s QA Department. These will be disallowed. The reasoning behind maintaining these documents will become clear during the Audit process. you will be asked to fill out a simple form and then essentially provide all these documents to the auditor. Trust me, it is more difficult to scramble to get these documents at the last minute. Keep good records!

Natural market is hot for marketers

While the Natural/Organic market is hot, these products do not simply sell themselves. Like any product line there must be a coherent Sales and Marketing plans. The days of creating an Amazon E-store and collecting the checks from the mailbox are over. Don’t under estimate Marketing! This is why I say you will reach a point where you will need to choose if you are a Formulator or a Marketer. If your line progresses you can’t effectively do both.

Natural Cosmetic preservation

Use an effective preservative!!!! Just because your blogger du jour blasts a preservative does not eliminate in entirely. There is no perfect preservative in this area. Factors such as coverage, changes in color/odor, composition, and numerous other factors will need to be taken into account. If there is any doubt do PET Testing. I have a binder full of failed PET results from just the last 5 years. These were in cases where the client insisted on a specific preservative and would not bend. In these cases they all failed due to coverage. A preservative system must cover gram negative, gram positive and yeast/mold. I see the majority of failures due to yeast/mold in these products. In these cases augment the preservative with Potassium Sorbate or a similar product. Having your products pulled off the shelf a year later due to mold is almost impossible to recover from.

The natural cosmetic market

Know your Market! Ten years ago you could make a product that was “Natural” and it would sell on that fact alone. Today’s market wants a safer product that is at least as effective as the product it replaces with only a slighter higher cost. These gaps narrow each year.

Lastly, Organic and Natural products are not always safer and more effective. This again is heresy but a truism. When I first began getting demands for “Natural” products in 2006 it was much more difficult to produce a great product. The suppliers do deserve some credit since in the last 10 years they have really seen the need and the options have increased 10 fold. However, in many cases the differences in the Cosmetic and Organic grades are minimal. If you ask a QA person the difference in these grades of materials in many cases the answer is “4 hours of paperwork.” There are many cases where any added safety is offset by a decrease in effectiveness.

None of this is an argument against producing a product that meets the demands in the Natural market. Be realistic, know your budget and don’t get wedded to a specific product that was featured on a blog. Be flexible. Know the standards. Work within them. In the end you can make a product that is safe, effective and will meet the expectations of the market.

Mark Fuller is a cosmetic formulation consultant and a frequent contributor to our cosmetic science forum. You can contact him through his website Microformulation.com

Do you want to learn how to formulate Natural Cosmetic products?  Start with this free Natural Formulation book now.

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