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The challenges of formulating natural skincare

The challenges of formulating natural skincare

by Oyéta Kokoroko

Allow me to share with you 3 common challenges when developing natural and organic cosmetics. This is based on my own experience formulating and making, as well as my observations working and chatting with other formulators and brands about their main issues.

Please note that this post is not meant to criticizeg anyone but is intended to help us educate ourselves, address some important challenges we all have and focus on some details we must pay attention to. For those who are interested to learn more about natural preservation, and stability, Formula Botanica offers some excellent courses on those topics.


Challenge #1: Preservation

When making natural skincare, especially water based products or products that might be in contact with water, formulators have the responsibility to make sure it is properly preserved for the safety of our clients. As much as we love using fresh, raw, potent plants and natural ingredients, we have to agree that preserving toners, serums, creams made with your favorite plants + actives can be a huge challenge.

The challenge here is finding a compatible broad spectrum natural preservative for each specific formula, while maintaining the integrity of ingredients. Many preservatives will only work under a certain pH or can be deactivated by other ingredients/actives. So one must invest time in R & D and testing to find a compatible and effective natural preservative to prevent and control the growth of bacteria, fungus, and yeast in the product. Sometimes, it is necessary to combine two or more preservatives to boost efficacy.

It has been amply shown that inadequately preserved cosmetics can be hazardous to human health and cause problems such as skin infections, irritation and even blindness (case of unpreserved mascaras). The risk of using safe natural preservatives in a water containing product is lower than selling an unpreserved water based skincare product.


Challenge #2: Stability

Have you ever bought a balm and noticed upon opening that it was grainy? Or the balm has melted or separated? Or perhaps your product changed texture or color over time? Let’s be real here. This is an ongoing challenge that not many brands will openly admit exist. Ensuring that the product is stable is something all formulators have to keep in mind when developing products to sell.

Natural skincare made with fresh, living ingredients will eventually loose potency over time, this is normal. This is why we suggest that you use your products while they are fresh. Changes in temperature for example (hot regions), can affect a product’s look and texture. For the most part, formulators and brands are recommended to undergo stability testing (under various temperatures/situations) to make sure the product will remain stable and to help determine the ideal shelf-life of the product. However, this testing is not always mandatory.

So next time you receive a product that seems deteriorated, remember that this could be due to stability issues. Sometimes it can be resolved easily (melting balm) or other times it can reveal a more important issue or incorrectly formulated product. Most of the time, it can be corrected by changing the method of manufacture. Most brands and formulators have at some point, to address product stability.


Challenge #3: Sourcing

Another challenge for us when sourcing ingredients is consistency of supply, the efficacy of ingredients and their quality. When we are sourcing our ingredients, we obviously want each lot/batch we buy to be as good as the last ones, so that the end product is consistent in quality and efficacy. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Not all suppliers are truly committed to harvesting and selling quality goods. So it’s a constant search for us. I have also noticed that many suppliers do not have the proper documentation about their ingredients (MSDS and Certificate Of Analysis).

What is an MSDS ?

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a document that contains information on the potential hazards (health, fire, reactivity and environmental) and how to work safely with the chemical product or ingredient. It is an essential starting point for the development of a complete health and safety program.

For botanical extracts, the MSDS will reveal if any preservatives have been added to the product as well as the ratio of any solvent use and the ratio of the botanical. This is how we know what’s really inside the product and if the product is meeting our standards (i.e., it is actually pure and potent).

What is a Certificate Of Analysis ?

A Certificate of Analysis (COA) is a document issued by Quality Assurance that confirms that a regulated product meets its product specification. They commonly contain the actual results obtained from testing performed as part of quality control of an individual batch of a product.

Therefore, there is no way to really be certain where the ingredient came from, how it was produced and what’s actually inside. Without MSDS and COA, it is also hard to know if a given ingredient is really pure, potent and void of “nasties/toxins”. The truth is, not all formulators and brands actually care to ask/keep those documents. Fortunately, this level of care and attention is mandatory to sell products in the European Union.

At Okoko Cosmétiques, we do not compromise on quality. We want to partner with excellent suppliers that are committed to delivering high-quality ingredients every time. All our suppliers are required to submit to us the proper documentation on the goods we buy, signed and certified by a professional lab. We invest in testing and ongoing research for new suppliers for any new ingredients we may be interested in.

Sourcing does make a difference in the end product, I can guarantee you. Next time you want to buy a natural skincare product, don’t be shy to ask the brand how they source their ingredients and how they ensure the purity, integrity and quality of their goods over time.

But of course, there are many more challenges to address such as sustainability, ingredient price and availability, GMP, etc., Part 2 coming soon.

What do you think of this article? Is the information valuable? Kindly let me know your comments and feedback below. I am inviting any fellow formulator or brand founder to add their comments and feedback on this topic. It’s always appreciated. Thank you for reading. ❤