Article by: Perry Romanowski

As a cosmetic formulator, you have a tough task. You have to make great new formulas that consumers love, your marketing department loves and they have to be better and unique compared to anything on the market. But in a mature industry like the cosmetic industry, making truly new, breakthrough advancements is tough. And it’s made tougher because of the following forces working against innovation.

Forces against cosmetic innovation

1. Current formula already work – Sure there might be complaints about greasiness or weighing down hair, but almost any consumer can find a formula that works for them. And if consumers are generally happy with the products that exist, they isn’t much room for you to create ones that are better.

Solution – Challenge yourself to come up with completely new formula types that would never be launched. For example, an all oil-based shampoo. A spray-on skin lotion.

2. Regulatory environment – Regulatory departments are out to protect the company from liability lawsuits. They are not generally interested in new innovations. If you ask permission to use an ingredient, they would rather say no than yes.

Solution – First, don’t ask your regulatory people whether you should investigate an ingredient. They’ll say “no”. Investigate then ask for forgiveness later. Most of the stuff you look at won’t be special anyway. But if you do find something special, prove the benefit of your new formula. If you can prove something you have created is truly revolutionary, your company will find a way to get your regulatory people to discover “loopholes” to allow use of a raw material.

3. Hard to understand – Innovative products are often hard for people to understand. This makes them inclined to ignore them and even work against seeing the product succeed.

Solution – Create prototypes that so obviously show the benefit of your claims that people automatically understand.

4. Push cost savings – Companies are frequently more interested in finding ways to make cheaper formulas that making ones that work better.

Solution – Use cost savings exercises like a knock-out experiment to make formula changes that you normally wouldn’t consider. These could lead to some completely different formula types. For example, what would a skin moisturizer that was completely water-based look like?

5. Things that work are drugs – The biggest problems in the area of cosmetic science are things that are unlikely to be fixed by cosmetic formulas. Things like cosmeceuticals are technically drugs.

Solution – Look to the coatings industry for some new product ideas. Cosmetic films have been under investigated and could lead to some non-drug solutions.

It’s tough being a cosmetic chemist these days but it’s not impossible. Think about the pressures against innovation and work hard to overcome them. It really would be nice to see the next generation of cosmetic formulas that work better and don’t require marketing messages to convince us.



  1. Avatar

    Hi guys,
    Talking about cosmeceuticals, you’re probably familiar with “Formulating for efficacy” by JW. Wiechers. He claims that the main reasons a lot of cosmetics don’t work is because the formula is not optimized in order for it to deliver the maximum amount of active ingredient to the skin. The book contains plenty of advice how to make cosmetics work without falling into “drug-like” category. What do you, guys, think about Wiechers approach? Why haven’t I found any such cosmetics on the market yet?
    Online resource on the topic:

    1. Avatar

      Hello Liliana – I am familiar with it and actually have a podcast interview on the subject coming up soon.

      I’m not really certain I agree with Johann because if it was just a matter of optimizing formulas, it would have already been done and there would be some cosmeceuticals that work notably better. There really aren’t. But Wiechers approach does maximize the effectiveness of the ingredient you are using so products may work measurably better but perhaps not noticeably better.

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