Article by: Perry Romanowski

While there are literally thousands of different types of cosmetic products, there are actually only 10 different types of cosmetic formulas. Here is a brief overview of those types including what they are, how they’re made and when you might use them. As a formulating chemist, you should make it a point to learn to make each type (even if your company currently doesn’t make these particular products). colors2

10 Cosmetic Product Forms

The basic categories for cosmetic formulas include
1. Solutions
2. Creams / Emulsions
3. Lotions
4. Ointments / Pastes
5. Suspensions
6. Tablets
7. Powders
8. Gels
9. Sticks
10. Aerosols

Solution Cosmetics

These are the simplest type of cosmetic formulas and are used for a wide range of products such as shampoos, body wash, hand cleansers, colognes, etc. They are homogeneous mixtures of soluble ingredients. To make them you simply fill your container with the main diluent (usually water) then mix the rest of the ingredients into it. Sometimes warming the system slightly will increase the speed at which you can make them.

Creams / Emulsions

The majority of cosmetics use raw materials that are not compatible so a cream or emulsion is used. Emulsions are pseudo stable mixtures of immiscible liquids dispersed in another liquid. They are used for products like hand moisturizers, make up, hair conditioners, sunscreens, etc. To create them you need three formula components including an oil phase, aqueous phase, and an emulsifier. The formulas are made by heating up the oil and water phases separately, mixing them together (along with the emulsifier) when they are hot, and cooling them down with thorough mixing. The result is a cream with tiny particles of dispersed in the diluent phase. See our article on emulsion HLB for more information on creating emulsions.


Creams are not always appropriate for some applications because they can be too heavy or greasy. In these cases, the lotion form is used. Lotions are essentially thin creams. They are used for facial moisturizers, leave-in hair conditioners, and moisturizing cleansers. Since these are emulsions, you make them the same way you would a cream. They are generally easier because you do not have to worry about the emulsion getting thick enough as it cools down.


Suspensions are another product form for delivering incompatible ingredients. Unlike creams, they are typically clear products with visible particles like gelatin beads or inorganic minerals (e.g titanium dioxide) suspended throughout. They are used for sunscreens, hand washes or shampoos. To create them you need to include a polymer or clay that gives the formula some internal suspending structure. Ingredients like carbomer or bentonite clays are useful.

Ointments / Pastes

These are super thick products used for things like hairdressing and medicated skin products. Usually, they are anhydrous (contain no water) and are sticky & greasy. Some common ingredients used to create pastes include petrolatum, lanolin, or dimethicone. Making them is a simple matter of heating up the raw materials and rapidly mixing them until they are dispersed.

Tablets & Capsules

Another product form that is often used for creating color cosmetics is the tablet. These are physically blended solids that are held together by being pressed into shape. You’ll need special equipment to create these products. They are also generally more expensive.


One of the most common types of product forms for color cosmetics is powders. Powders are also used for products like baby powder & foot powder. They are just mixtures of solid raw materials blended together into a fine powder. Some typical ingredients include talc, silicates, and starch. Special equipment is needed when making these products as the fine powder can be dangerous.


Another common form of cosmetic products is gels. These are thick products, typically clear, and have a property known as “shear thinning”. This means they stay thick until you apply a force which makes them thin and flowable. Anyone who has tried to get ketchup out of a bottle knows what we’re talking about. Gels are used for hair products, body washes, shaving products, and in toothpaste. They are made by using a gelling agent such as an acrylic polymer, a natural gum or a cellulosic thickener.


Sometimes you need to create a product that the consumer won’t necessarily want to touch, for example, lipstick or underarm deodorant. In these cases you’ll use a stick product form. Sticks are solid delivery forms that deliver active ingredients through a rubbing action. The way you create them is by using mostly materials that are solid at room temperature. The ingredients are heated until they melt, mixed, and poured into either a mold or the final container. When they cool, they take the shape of their packaging.


Aerosols are more of a packaging product form than a specific formulation type. You could actually create an aerosol out of almost any cosmetic formulation if you have the right can, propellant, and nozzle set-up. Aerosols are any cosmetic delivered from a pressurized can. They are composed of a concentrate and a propellant. You first make the formula as you would any other cosmetic, then fill it into the can. You seal the can and pressurize it using the appropriate propellant. Recent VOC (volatile organic compounds) regulations have reduced the use of aerosols in cosmetic products.

In the future, we’ll look at each of these product forms in depth. You can find out more information in Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry edition 3.



  1. Avatar

    could you please provide me the manufacturing formulations database for all cosmetics?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      No, I don’t have that.

  2. Avatar

    Hi, how would you categorize mascara?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Most mascaras are thick liquids so they would either be solutions or ointments.

  3. Avatar

    Hi Perry,
    I’m kind of confused between the 5. Suspensions & the 8. Gels. Are they the same basically ? If we put some gelatin beads into a gel, it would turn to a suspension, is it right ? I just can’t distinguish them , please tell me more. Thanks.

  4. Avatar
    Chan Tel

    Hi Perry,
    I would like to formulate a foaming facial wash for oily and acne prone skin.
    What would boost foam and get rid of excess oil?

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  6. Avatar

    Hi Perry, could you write an article about the most common experimental machines used in cosmetic field (name & their function) ?

    1. Avatar

      Or could you suggest any link?
      Thank you!

      1. Avatar
        Perry Romanowski

        That’s not a bad idea but unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of standard experimental machines. There is test equipment like Viscometers, and robotic combs and skin testing devices. There are a lot of things but they are mostly custom made for companies. I’ll work on something though. You could post specific questions in our forum.

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  9. Avatar

    I have been creating my own natural, “organic” skin-care products for about a year, currently for personal use but am thinking of expanding. I cannot find the answer to one question, I am hoping you can help with. What can I use as an emulsifier in my products to reduce, preferably eliminate, the greasy residue on skin from natural oils, such as coconut oil? I prefer not to use anything alcohol-based, if possible and please remember, whatever ingredient has to be pure, natural and not synthetic. Can you help me? I’ve combed the Internet, many times, to no avail. Thank you.

  10. Avatar

    hi, just want to know about your opinion on what type is “serum” belong to ? emulsion or gel ?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      A serum would probably be a solution or a gel.

  11. Avatar

    Greetings chemistry was one of my best subjects in School,great to find People who love it too,not only for Business purposes but as something one loves doing. I am intrested to start a cosmetic Beauty line but am not so sure where to start or how to do it,do you offer any Guidelines?

  12. Avatar
    Eberu florence O.

    l want to appreciate thèse information so far and l like it. l ami intending to Start up making some cosmetics such as shampoo, haïr condition treatment, hand softening treatment for hard skins and l dont know much about it . could you please éducate me

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  14. Avatar
    Charles Murphy

    Good day Sir,

    I want to appreciate you for this information. I’m luck to have come to this page thru my research.

    Pls I would like you to help me bcus I want to start up something on how to make some of these products. I so much like what you are doing here.

    Pls can you help by sending me the formulae n how to make creams, lotions, ointments, powder, gel n sticks. I would appreciate if you can send it to my email..

    Thank u

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  16. Avatar

    I want to know formula for making hair removing cream

  17. Avatar

    Hi, this is very helpful. I’m a novice, however, I am trying to create a formula for an antiperspirant product. I have the ingredients but need guidance on how to mix and then record the percentages of the ingredients.

    1. Avatar

      Are you using AlZrtetrachlorohydrex?

  18. Avatar
    gohar sabri

    looking for easy gel making formula any one help me

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      See our post on free cosmetic formulas

  19. Avatar

    Looking for Manufacturing Cream w/o Formula with followings :
    Beta-sitosterol 0.25%, Sesame oil 92%, Beeswax 7.75%
    As burn repair is especially formulated to promote the natural healing of all burns including scalds, sunburn, nappy rash, sweat rash and chafing. By Supporting Stem cell regeneration
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  20. Avatar

    Hello Sir,
    So glad I came upon this site. Thank you. I am trying to find a Nail polish fomulator/Chemists around or near Illinois. Any guidance is appreciated

  21. Avatar
    Vipul Patel

    Thank u very much for above information. Sir I want to start a new business of cosmetic. Can u give me formula for making cosmetic. U can share with my mail id

  22. Avatar

    I am desparate to learn how to formulate a basic cream like aqueous cream, body butter, basic lotions, basic sun moisturiser
    Please help

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      We will be covering that in our upcoming training program. Sign up for out newsletter for more details.

  23. Avatar

    What is holding you back from not starting your own skincare brand

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Personally, I enjoy writing more than I do selling a skincare brand so that’s why I haven’t done it yet.

  24. Avatar

    looking for cream formulation.thanks for the beutiful information.plz provide me the detail information on technology and formulation it will be a great help.thank you.

    1. Avatar

      See our article on free cosmetic formulations for where you can find specific formulations or ask your question in the forum.

  25. Avatar

    Hello sir, i want to ask you something. what type of cosmetic formula spray lotion is? is it an emulsion? or an aerosol? tahnk you for your answer..

    1. Avatar

      It could be both an emulsion and an aerosol. If it is in a pump spray, then it is just an emulsion.

  26. Avatar

    Hello sir
    Can i have some new developed formulas as i want to develop somethng new as developing same thing which other firm allready making is quite borring for me persnally …

  27. Avatar
    Meliga Kuseka

    Brilliant information, please supply me more on stick and creams for facials

  28. Avatar

    Creams / Emulsions
    Ointments / Pastes

  29. Avatar

    please i want to see face powder and makeup sticks formoulas

  30. Avatar
    Magreth Hange

    Looking for formulas to make body and hand lotions, lip and vaginal serums, bar soaps, body sprays, shampoo and conditioners. It wil help if i can buy basic formulas to make my own flavors wth.

  31. Avatar

    Novice here. Looking for comments from the experts. Looking for manufacturing formula’s of spray tanning solution. Also looking for maufacturing formula’s of pre- spray exfoliator, sprayed on skin prior to spray tan. Any direction wouod greatly be appreciated. Thanks, Julianna

  32. Avatar
    Golden Wing Comany

    Looking for Manufacturing Formulla’s of Hair removing Cream

    Natural Bleach Cream and Herbal Bleach Creme.

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