Formulation Tools & Guidelines Industry Standards

Am I Peddling Snake oil?

Written by Mark Fuller

One of my favorite Cosmetic Formulators and authors has always been Johann Wiechers. In fact I believe that his book “Memories of a Cosmetically Disturbed Mind” should be required reading for anyone in the Cosmetics Industry. He covers many issues we deal with on a daily basis in a witty manner. Sadly Dr. Wiechers passed away in 2011.

In his book Dr. Wiechers relays a clever anecdote. While attending cocktail parties he would tell people that he was in the Cosmetic Industry and he would be immediately bombarded with questions such as “Do they really work?” and “which one should I use?” He further noted that even a used car salesman was never asked “Do your cars really work?” And we all know how well used car salespersons are trusted.

snake_oil_ad[1]In short we sometimes have a credibility problem with our products and our claims. To our customers we are providing them with “hope in a jar” and unfortunately we can fall quite short in this area. This is equally frustrating to the Cosmetic Formulator as they have crafted a product that they believe in and that they have carefully researched. How can we avoid this?

First of all, be realistic. When designing your products initially pick some genuine and obtainable benefits for your product. I will generally limit my clients to five buzzwords such as “repairing”, “moisturizing”, “firming” and other similar type market driven “action” words. Why only five? Well, mainly since any more than that will confuse the direction of your product. And in the end is it really feasible that one product can do all? Also, as a business person would you want to sell one product that does everything? It would make for a very small product line. Once you have these claims, use them to select raw materials that will deliver these promises. In the end you will have much more success in developing a product that will deliver. As an added benefit your Marketing copy will essentially write itself after you have the actual product.

Next, be a student and always be learning. Take a class on Cosmetic Formulating. Attend Trade Shows. Learn about the anatomy and physiology of the skin and hair. Learn how it really behaves. Learn where your products will have their effect. The skin is a robust organ whose purpose is to protect us from chemical, environmental and thermal damage. Contrary to the popular belief the skin is protective and 85{2f217b6ef4e944ec449aa2c625e1f0e1f43c0ee840d0a16b8bf46c3ef1173473} of what is applied to it does NOT get absorbed into the skin. If this little nugget were true, baby’s first bath would be a gruesome and fatal event. Continue to learn. I read up to 4 journals a month. Some areas such as preservation are evolving so quickly that they take up about 30{2f217b6ef4e944ec449aa2c625e1f0e1f43c0ee840d0a16b8bf46c3ef1173473} of my professional reading.

Further, if you are trying to produce products in a “natural” market, define what “natural” is. Without a definition “natural” is more trouble than benefit. Larger companies have been known to “dust” their products with a mixture of botanicals and redo the packaging with green and pretty leaves. Is this “natural?” Yes, because the FDA has not defined what natural means. My best advice is to learn the existing Natural Standards. Here in the US we are primarily dealing with the NSF Standard, the NPA Standard or the USDA Organic Standard. It costs more to manufacture under these standards. If this is not feasible, at least strive for a compliant product. Down the road if you chose to certify your product you will be most of the way there.

Learn your materials and what they bring to the product! Research them through credible sources. While the Internet has given us access to a great deal of information, it has not necessarily given us access to a great deal of correct information. Vet your sources as if you had to defend them in a term paper in college. In a perfect world we would be able to develop a product in a spreadsheet, make it and be done. However in the real world you have to get dirty. Play with your materials. Experiment with the Formulation. Tweak it until it meets your standard. If you know your materials you will find that it will make you a better and more passionate salesperson.

Lastly, be clear, honest and educate in your Marketing. If you have met your claims with your raw material selections you will simply need to teach the client why it is beneficial. We follow the INCI nomenclature strictly in our ingredient decks. We must realize that terms such as “Persea Gratissima oil” are intimidating and will simply confuse the client. Linking it to Avocado and then stressing the historical uses of Avocado oil will go a long way. When marketing a “natural” product don’t simply use the scare tactic of “natural good, synthetic bad.” A Marketing strategy based on fear and “chemophobia” is outdated. It is fine to imply that your product is safe since it uses natural source ingredients, BUT it should be simply one of many talking points.

Performance and the quality of your materials should be highlighted. If I had one prediction for the “natural” market in the US, it would be that we will start emulating the concepts in fine dining of “Fresh and Local.” There are currently some barriers to this approach which can be overcome but that of course is a whole new topic.

In summary, make a product that delivers realistic claims with quality materials. Educate the customer on why your product is better and what it delivers that other products do not. Don’t simply rest on the concept of mine is better because it is natural. You wouldn’t brag about your children by saying “at least they aren’t as bad as the neighbor’s children.” Don’t use this approach with your products.

Mark Fuller is a professional cosmetic formulator and would be happy to help with any formulation needs that you have. Mention that Saffire Blue sent you to save $200 off your formulation advice fees.  You can contact him through his website

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