by Oyéta Kokoroko
When it comes to skincare formulation and product development there are a lot of elements and factors for formulators to consider during the R & D phase. In this article, I would like to share some of the things I focus on before developing a product (even before starting trials with prototypes).
#1 Need, benefits & purpose
During the development phase of a new product, when you are creating your initial formula, one must think about who the product is destined for. What problem are you trying to solve? Is it actually solving a problem and is there a need for it? What is the purpose of your product? You want to do a bit of market research first to see if there’s actually a need for it and if the product will be of interest to others. We often disregard this step, but it very very essential. My advice is if you already have an audience, don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask them what product is missing in their routine or how you can help them. I have found that the market has become saturated with products that no longer excite people as they used to. As the green beauty industry is evolving (very quickly) consumers are actively looking for:
- innovation from brands (fresh ideas, new ingredients, craftsmanship)
- sensorial products with beautiful textures
- products that will answer their concerns and will be useful in their routine
- performance and results
This step is crucial and you want to take your time and gather as much feedback as possible to ensure that your next product (that you have worked so hard on) will actually be of interest to your market.
I think that a great product should be able to improve your skin for the better, and is more than just a safe product.
Another factor to consider while developing a new product is the availability of the ingredients. I have spent time formulating products only to realize that some of the key ingredients were not widely available or would be difficult to source in large quantities if needed. Sometimes, you will find an ingredient you absolutely love and would be a star in your products, only to learn that it’s quasi-unavailable or is only sourced at a certain time of the year or is so rare that the price won’t justify its use. Availability is a real challenge for formulators and I always try to keep that in mind during the creation phase. So before investing a lot of time and effort, do some research, get to know your ingredients and talk to your producers/suppliers to learn about the potential for sourcing it in large quantities. The last thing you want is to create a stand out product that will become popular only to realize you cannot scale it up.
Every formulator will go through trial-and-error during the development phase. If you are like me, you might be easily inspired while formulating and sometimes will get carried away. But you must remember that not all ingredients will work together well, and some may deactivate others. When I am creating a formula, I research every single ingredient and its compatibility to make sure the end product will have a beautiful synergy and will be effective. Also, when ingredients are not compatible, this may result in a product that might cause irritation, sensitization, or it may affect the color, odor, texture or stability of your product. So it’s very important to keep compatibility in mind and read every bit of documentation that is available to you to learn as much as possible about the ingredients you are using. If needed, don’t hesitate to reach out to your suppliers to ask them those important questions. Really, we want to avoid offering a product that does not work or will disappoint your customers…
What is the price range you are aiming for? The cost of your ingredients will impact the price of your finished product so this is definitely important to think about. Will your customers be able to afford your product? What market are you aiming at? If you are using a lot of luxury ingredients (that are rare, precious and pricey) expect that your finished product might be expensive too. If you want your products to be affordable and accessible, you will need to choose your ingredients accordingly. I have had to pick and choose and sometimes eliminate ingredients I loved simply because the cost was too high and I knew it would make the finished product excessively expensive. We don’t talk about this much, but depending on what you are making and who it is destined for, you might select a more accessible ingredient based on price. Having a production cost in mind and a clear niche market you want to sell to, will help you to better select your ingredients based on cost. Don’t forget to factor in shipping, duties and taxes if you are importing ingredients. In some cases, you may want to select ingredients from a localized area, grouping them together as a larger order to minimize costs associated with importing.
# 5 Certification
Do you want your products to be all organic? Or perhaps vegan? Are you planning on getting them certified? Surely you want to think about that too. Your formulas can become quite elaborate depending upon the values and certification(s) you are aiming for. If you want to promote your brand as all organic then obviously you will select ingredients that are certified organic. I wanted my line to be vegan so I kept that in mind during all of my product development, selecting ingredients that had no animal- derived sources. As much as we love promoting “natural and organic” skincare, please note that organic does not always mean “better quality” (i.e., rich, nourishing, vibrant). I have seen organic ingredients that were refined, which means that they were devoid of their nourishing molecules. For example: imagine that you find organic, refined moringa vs. wild harvested, unrefined moringa. In this case, the unrefined version will have more anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic benefit to your product. So, even if the ingredient is organic, I suggest you dig a little deeper and find out if you are being sold something refined or unrefined? There is a big difference. To me it’s not just about being able to say “my product is organic” but being able to say I deliver products that are potent, active and filled with nourishing molecules.
Do you ever take the time to read the documentation before buying your ingredients? Many suppliers sell ingredients that are not properly labeled or identified. If you intend to make products for sale, I strongly suggest that you make it a habit to thoroughly research your ingredients. If there’s a potential hazard, you want to know about it. If there’s contra-indication, you want to know about it. You also want to be aware of recommended use because some ingredients can be quite powerful. It is our responsibility to make sure we are making and selling safe cosmetics; doing your due diligence is key here. When you are selecting your suppliers, ask them if they have and can send you the MSDS and Certificate of Analysis for your ingredient(s). You really want to know as much as possible about what you are using in your products because ultimately, it will be put on other people’s skin. Those documents will also allow you to understand the purity, potency and efficacy of the ingredient(s) you are buying. If you are buying an extract, then the MSDS will have the breakdown of what’s inside, therefore you will have an idea of the potency of that ingredient. Also, MSDS and Certificate of Analysis for each ingredient will be required if you intend to sell in Europe. So make sure to make it a habit during the development phase, this will help you to avoid surprises and having to change your formula(s) along the way.
#7 Impact on the environment & other communities
There is so much to talk about here, cruelty-free, sourcing, sustainability etc.. Natural skincare formulators are driven by the desire to offer safe, pure and effective beauty products that are clean and do not harm the environment. We focus on ingredients that are respectful, earth-derived, sustainable and that are harvested with minimal damage to the environment. Think about the impact your products, ingredients and formulations will have on other’s people’s lives… For many, it is also important to get involved in fair trade and ethical business. I love to see formulators and brands buy directly from the source, build relationships and empower other communities as a result. The way you source your ingredients reflects your values. If you are interested to learn more, my colleague Yelena has written an amazing article on waste reduction and sustainability that you can read here.