I frequently get requests here on Chemists Corner from people who want to start their own organic skin care line or their own natural cosmetics line. Sometimes they want to know how to make it themselves and other times they are looking for a chemist that can help them. If you have such ambitions, I wish you good luck and will provide you any information you need to help you along your journey. But before you launch your own natural or organic personal care or cosmetic line, here are some things you need to know.
Natural cosmetics are not safer
One of the most common reasons people give for wanting to start an organic cosmetic line is that they want to make products that are “chemical free” and natural. Many believe that these products are safer than standard cosmetics. This is just not true. In the US and around the world, it is illegal to sell unsafe cosmetic products. While you might have read otherwise on the Internet, this is what the FDA has to say about cosmetics.
“…cosmetics must not be adulterated or misbranded. This means that they must be safe for consumers when used according to the labeling, or as people customarily use them, and they must be properly labeled.
Any cosmetic you buy at the store is safe whether it is natural or not. Big corporations who make most of the mass market products conduct extensive safety testing on products.
Another thing you need to understand is that whether something is synthetic or natural is no indication of whether it is safe or not. Safety depends on two factors, the ingredient and the amount of the ingredient. It does not depend on the origin (synthetic or natural) of the ingredient. This means there are both unsafe and safe use of synthetic ingredients and safe and unsafe use of natural ingredients. Plus, the amount of exposure matters as well. The bottom line is that the natural or organic products you produce will not be safer than the synthetic products produced by competitors.
Natural products will not work better (or as well)
Another reason I hear people want to launch natural cosmetic lines is because they believe that natural products work better than synthetic cosmetics. Well, this isn’t true. In fact, the opposite is usually true. To formulate a “natural” or “organic” cosmetic product you have to limit yourself to a certain set of ingredients. These are the raw materials that are acceptable to whatever definition of natural that you happen to be following. This necessarily means that you will not be able to use the most effective ingredients to deliver benefits to your consumers.
Cosmetic chemists who make standard formulas are focused on making the best-performing products that they can make. They can use any natural ingredient that a natural formulator uses, but they can also use synthetic ingredients that can improve the functionality of the product. A standard formulating cosmetic chemist can use all the best things from nature and make them better by supplementing formulas with synthetics. The natural formulator does not have this option. They are limited in the choices they can make and in this way, are limited in the performance capabilities of their products.
You can see this in shampoos & body washes that don’t produce a creamy foam. In skin lotions that don’t last as long or that don’t provide relief as quickly. You’ll see this in hair styling products that don’t hold the style or tame frizz as well. In nearly every beauty product category, you can compare the best natural formulas to the best synthetic formulas and the synthetic formulas will always perform better.
Natural products are usually not natural
A reason many people start natural product lines is that they were inspired by the organic food movement and they want cosmetics that are as safe as organic food. As previously demonstrated, natural cosmetic products are not safer. But I’ll also suggest to you that natural or organic beauty products or cosmetics are also not natural. There are a couple reasons for this.
First, unlike food, there does not exist a shampoo shrub, a body wash bush, or a lipstick plant. Right now I can go out to my garden, pluck off a ripened cherry tomato and eat it. The plant produces the finished product. Cosmetics are not like this. Raw cosmetics do not exist in nature. ALL cosmetics must be processed in some way. People may disagree on the level of processing that is done in making a product that would still be considered “natural” but by the most strict definition of “natural” there are no natural cosmetics.
But if you are willing to loosen the definition of natural like many natural cosmetic standards groups do, then you’re faced with the second problem of natural. For many crucial cosmetic ingredients the FDA requires that you use a synthetic material, specifically cosmetic colorants.
You know all those mineral makeup products? They all use synthetically produced colorants like Iron Oxides, Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide. It’s true that these ingredients may exist in nature, but it is illegal to use those in making cosmetic products. These manufacturers are forced (for safety reasons) to use only synthetic versions of the ingredients.
And there is also the problem of preservation. All “natural” preservatives on the market are actually synthetically produced. There are no effective all-natural cosmetic preservatives. They just don’t exist.
So, if you are trying to create a natural or organic beauty product line, it’s important to realize that there it is impossible to make it chemical free and all-natural. Cosmetics are not natural.
Most consumers don’t buy natural products
From a marketing standpoint, launching a natural cosmetic line is probably a good niche. But at the moment it is just a niche. You are appealing to a small segment of the market. The vast majority of consumers (>80%) do not care about natural products. They don’t buy them. They buy the most popular products on the market and these are the synthetic products produced by giant corporations. If you look at the top ten best selling beauty products, they are all from companies like P&G, L’Oreal, or Unilever. And whenever a small, natural brand gets big enough in terms of sales, they will get bought out by one of these larger competitors.
It’s important to realize that if you are launching a natural cosmetic product line, you have a limited audience. This is actually a good thing for a start-up.
Consumers want products that work
Finally, the most important thing to know about launching natural products is that consumers want products that work. They might like your marketing story enough to purchase the product once or to use a free sample you send them. However, if you want to create a long lasting brand with loyal consumers you need to make a product that works for them. Natural products usually don’t work as well as ones that combine both natural and synthetic ingredients. If you want to be successful, you need to make the best working products that you can make.
There are lots of good reasons to start a beauty product or cosmetic line and it isn’t too difficult to actually get started. There are even some good reasons to start a natural cosmetic line since it provides a great marketing story and targets a large niche market.
But if your only point of differentiation is that you are selling a “chemical free”, organic or natural product, you will not succeed. Success comes when you have products that work to solve your consumer’s problems, a marketing story that your customers find compelling, and a way to communicate the story to your customers. Get those things right and you too can start a beauty product line.