What Makes one Cosmetic Ingredient Better than another?

As a cosmetic chemist, you will be often visited by chemical sales people and presented “new” raw materials to put in your formulas. Or you may be asked by your marketing people about ingredients and which cosmetic ingredients are better than others. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy question to answer. Read on to see why. cosmetic raw materials

What are better cosmetic ingredients?

Although this might sound like a simple question, it really isn’t. That’s because the answer is highly dependent on what you mean by the phrase “better than.” And this is true of ANY raw material or beauty product for which you might have this question.

What makes one cosmetic ingredient better than another?

It all depends on which of the following factors are most important to you.

Ingredient Performance

This is related to how well a product does what it says it will do and how it compares to what you are already using. If a new emulsifier makes makes the product more stable then from a performance standpoint, it is better. If a surfactant improves your foam, or a moisturizing agent improves moisture scores, then these ingredients are better. The nice thing about a performance standard is that you can run a test, make a measurement and determine which is better.

Unfortunately, there are other less obvious factors to consider when figuring out which is the “better” cosmetic ingredient.


Another important characteristic in determining whether something is better is price. The assumption is that if one product performs the same as another product but is less expensive, then it is better.

Of course, this is simplistic and the list price of a raw material doesn’t take into consideration other factors that can affect the cost impact to your company. For example, your purchasing department might have a contract with a supplier where you get price breaks based on volumes. If you change to a cheaper ingredient, this could raise the price of other ingredients.

But sometimes the performance doesn’t have to match exactly either. If you can get away with using a less expensive ingredient and still have most of the performance, sometimes it’s worth it.

Production Desires

While there are some ingredients that are easy enough to work with in the lab, they can often be nearly impossible to work with in production. I’m thinking of things like powders and highly viscous ingredients. When formulating and thinking about what is the “best” cosmetic raw material, consider also what your production people will think is the best. Generally, if it’s easier to work with in production, it’s a better ingredient.

Personal preference

I have to admit that there were ingredients that I liked working with. Often this was because I had success with the ingredient in the past. Or maybe I just liked to have a “signature” ingredient in all my formulas. Some cosmetic chemists just prefer to avoid using single sourced ingredients or animal derived products or other arbitrary choices. If you as the formulator think one ingredient is better than another, often that means the ingredient is better. Of course, your boss might make you have a different opinion.

Marketing concerns

Sometimes your marketing department will have an opinion about what is a better ingredient. If your group is hung up on the green movement, they’ll think that vegetable derived is better than petroleum products. They’ll think natural preservatives are better than parabens. They’ll also push for free-trade ingredients, biodegradable, low carbon footprint, etc. If you’re looking for a better ingredient, think about what your marketing group would say.

Better cosmetic ingredients

So how do you figure out which cosmetic ingredients are the best to use? The following checklist can help you figure it out.
1. First, have a standard test to compare performance
2. Consider the overall cost impact of the ingredient
3. Consider the impact on production
4. Figure out what your marketing people would say
5. Decide what you like

Cosmetic formulating is a creative endeavor. Remember, you are the artist and should always have the final say on what you think is the “better” technology.

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How to Become a Cosmetic Chemist

The job of a cosmetic chemist, or as they call it in the UK a cosmetic scientist, requires you to do a wide variety of things both in and out of the lab. Your main responsibility will be that of a formulator. This means you mix raw materials together to create cosmetic products like lipstick, nail polish, skin lotions, shampoos, toothpaste and any other type of personal care product.

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