Product categories in the cosmetic industry

Most people who work in the cosmetic industry for large to medium sized companies specialize in one type of cosmetic product. They are limited to hair products or skin products and rarely is there an cosmetic-industry-productsoverlap. Formulators at contract manufacturer or consultants have much more opportunity to work on the different types of cosmetic products, but even they are limited by the projects that come to them. If you want to be a complete cosmetic chemist and maximize your career flexibility, you should learn about the products in all cosmetic categories and the basics of how to create those formulas. The first step to that is to know the products in each of the categories.

Cosmetic product categories

While there are thousands of cosmetic products on the market, they can all be sorted into 5 distinct categories.

Skin care products

These are products designed to improve the appearance and feel of skin. The skin care market makes up about 30% of all cosmetics sold which is the largest share of any category. Skin care products can be classified further by how they work and what they do.

First, there are products that are left behind on the skin. These include moisturizing products designed to improve the look and feel of skin. There are also anti-aging products that promise to get rid of the sign of aging skin (e.g. wrinkles). There are sunless tanners which change the color of skin. And there are over-the-counter drug products that protect from the sun, treat skin medical conditions, treat acne, and really reduce wrinkles.

The other types of skin products are those designed to remove things from skin. This include cleansers like body washes, hand soaps, facial washes, toners, bubble baths and more. It also includes scrubs, masks, and exfoliation products. You could also add shaving creams and depilatories to this group since they are designed to remove hair from the skin.

Hair care products

Products for the hair are the second most popular type of cosmetic making up approximately 25% of sales. Like the skin care category, hair products can be further classified by how they work and what they do.

The most frequently purchased hair products are those designed to remove things from the hair. These are liquid shampoos which clean hair but there are also powdered and aerosol shampoos. They remove dirt, oil and other things from hair. There are specialty shampoos which qualify as over-the-counter drugs and include anti-dandruff shampoos, anti-lice products, and hair restoration shampoos.

Hair conditioners are another type of product designed to be rinsed off but they also leave material behind to improve the look and feel of hair. There are also intensive conditioners, protein packs, hot oil treatments, and a wide variety of other specialty products that are supposed to improve the hair look and feel.

A third type of hair product are those meant to be left in the hair. These products can help change the feel of hair but are primarily meant to help with the look of hair. The largest segment of these products are styling products including hair sprays, mousses, styling gels, putties, and more. There are also leave-in conditioners.

A final category would be reactive hair products that chemically change the make-up of hair to change the way it looks. For straightening hair there are relaxer products. For making hair curly there are perms. And for changing the color of hair there are permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary hair colors.

Color Cosmetics

For most people these are the types of products that they think of when you say the word cosmetic. Color cosmetics make up about 20% of the cosmetic market. This group includes products that remain on the skin and change the color and appearance. It includes products for the face like foundations, lip sticks, blushes, eye shadow, eye liner, and mascara. You could also include products for the nails such as nail polish, gloss, and all the product related to nail care. Color cosmetics are the most regulated of all cosmetics because governments around the world restrict the types of ingredients that can be used for colors. Some coloring ingredients that were used prior to the creation of the modern cosmetic industry were quite poisonous.


Fragrances and perfumes have been part of the cosmetic industry since before the 1600’s. These types of products are meant to be put on to change natural body odor. They make up about 10% of the cosmetic market. They include perfumes, colognes and body splashes. And this group also includes body sprays which are aerosol versions of colognes.

Personal Care products

The last category of cosmetic product are the other personal care products. This group makes up approximately 15% of sales in the market (depending on what products you include). These include oral care products like tooth paste, mouthwash and whitening products. It also includes deodorants and anti-perspirants although I suppose you could make a case that these could be classified as either skin care products or fragrance products.

OTC products

Throughout this post we have mentioned over-the-counter drugs. You see cosmetics are not allowed to treat a disease or otherwise interact with the skin metabolism. According to the law they are only allowed to temporarily change the appearance of skin and hair. So any product that actually treats a disease is actually a drug. In the US the FDA has created a list of such products and each of these has a monograph which dictates the active ingredients, levels, and claims that can be made about the products. These products are not cosmetics although they seem like they are. See this post we did on drugs that seem like cosmetics for more information.

Become a better cosmetic chemist

If you want to become a more well-rounded cosmetic chemist you need to learn the technology behind all of these types of cosmetics, not just the ones that you work on every day. Don’t allow yourself to get pigeonholed into one type of product category without learning about all the other categories. It’s ok to specialize in one area but don’t limit your knowledge to a single specialty. Having a broad knowledge about all the cosmetic product types and categories will improve your career options, improve your formulating skills and make you more innovative.

Suggested Homework

Pick a product category and thoroughly review the types of products in that category and the technologies used to solve the consumer problems.

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