As a new cosmetic formulator you might be surprised to learn that you won’t get many opportunities to create completely new formulas. It is rare that you would start a project without a starting formula. Often what happens when a company hires a formulator is you get handed a list of in-house formulas and your job will be to make small changes to those. In reality, companies don’t really want new formulas. They usually don’t want to change formulas at all. Here’s why.
Modifying cosmetic formulas
As I said, brands do not want to change formulas. This is especially true for products that are selling well. The idea is that if something is selling well, you don’t want to change anything. Each change creates the potential that you will disturb current customers and they will start looking for other options. This is likely one reason why it took J&J Baby shampoo so long to remove a formaldehyde releasing preservative from their formula. Even a preservative change might make a negative consumer perceptible difference.
Cosmetic formula changes
But there are a few reasons why brands would change a formula. And these changes are often what you will be working on as a new chemist.
You might change a formula if you have a product that is not the best selling on the market. Making a change can improve product performance but it can also give new news for the brand to talk about. New news about the formula is always something that your marketing department likes.
The rules and regulations about cosmetics are always changing. This means that companies have to change formulas to adjust the levels or remove certain ingredients from a formula. The changes are supposed to be done in a way that will not be noticeable to consumers but that can be incredibly difficult. It takes a lot of prototype making and testing.
Negative consumer perception
Sometimes ingredients will develop bad reputations with consumers due to negative media reports or social media misinformation. Ingredients that have been safely used for a long time in cosmetics like petrolatum, mineral oil, sulfates and more have all been removed by some companies. Many cosmetic preservatives have also had to be changed. If an ingredient can easily be removed the cosmetic industry will do it. It’s the ingredients that are hard to find a good replacement for that makes these formulation changes quite difficult.
Perhaps the most common reason for a change is that the company is looking to reduce the cost to produce a product. If you can find a secondary source for an ingredient which reduces the cost, that’s a chance to reformulate. Or if you can find a less expensive way to make a formula but it still performs the same, it makes sense to have a formulation change. I actually started my career as a cost savings chemist. There were a few projects where a simple reduction in one ingredient led to a savings of over $100,000 a year.
Making formulas compliant
As often happens in the cosmetic industry Big companies buy up smaller companies. And what the big company usually finds is that the small company wasn’t following all the cosmetic industry regulations or rules. For this reason you might have to reformulate a product to make it compliant with rules or company procedures.
On being a cosmetic formulator
Cosmetic formulating is a fun job, especially when you have a chance to change an existing formula. This gives you the opportunity to put your own spin on a formula and really make you feel like you are contributing to a product. For a new chemist this is rare so enjoy every chance you get. And if you would like to find out all the information a new cosmetic chemist needs to know about formulating, be sure to try out our Practical Cosmetic Formulating course