1 - What am I wanting to achieve?
Is this a functional ingredient, or a cosmeceutical? A butter to soothe dry skin, a plant oil to hydrate sensitive skin?
2 - What properties will this ingredient bring?
My customers are typically in their 50s or older, and we all know that skin as it gets older has very specific needs, whether it be hydration for menopausal skin, super sensitive skin that needs calming or red-ness and irritation. I match up the symptoms I am looking to manage with ingredient properties to find the best ingredients.
3 - What will it do to the texture/feel of the product?
Feel is important - the velvety feel of a balm, a silky oil to skate lightly over the skin, without any feeling of greasiness, a Plant oils can differ significantly in their feel, macadamia oil has a heavier feel and is great for nourishing dry skin, rosehip oil has a lighter skin feel and is faster absorbed. Ingredients all have to play nicely together to give a skin feel that is a pleasure to use and works on the skin.
4 - Does it bring functional and/ or therapeutic benefits?
I'm all about packing in as much bang for my buck. I like my ingredients to bring multiple skin benefits. Sometimes an ingredient has a very specific purpose, an emulsifier to bring together oil and water based ingredients into a cream, or a preservative with one very specific objective. But some ingredients are clever enough to do different things. Rose damascena essential oil, one of my favourite ingredients, it plays a role brining a natural scent to my face oil, while doubling up to bring calming and soothing properties to skin.
5 - Scent - does it change the overall scent - positively or negatively?
As we have seen, I might use an essential oil like rose oil to deliberately add scent and therapeutic properties to my skin care. But most natural skin care ingredients have their own scent - and sometimes a very distinctive scent that might not be appealing to the consumer. Bright orange vibrant rosehip oil is a magical ingredient for the skin - but in its organic state depending where it was sourced it can have a very distinctive scent. Most people describe it as a 'fruity' scent but it can be quite pungent and that needs to be balanced with other ingredients to end up with a skin care product that melds together to give an overall pleasurable scent.
6 - What is the shelf life?
You could whip up a fabulous skin loving mask in your kitchen, avocado, honey, strawberries, yogurt, it would be great to use straight away, and at a push, might last a day or so in the fridge. Great on a sunny Sunday afternoon at home, with time to pamper yourself, less good if you are about jump on a flight the other side of the world. We are used to convenience. We expect our products to reach us in a safe state, and to have a reasonable shelf life. Natural skin care ingredients are no different. Jojoba oil (actually a wax if we are being picky) is very stable and has a long shelf life, other oils start to oxidise very quickly, and are stable only for a matter of weeks before they start to degrade. When formulating a new product, I assess the shelf life of each ingredient to ensure it will be fit for purpose and give reasonable longevity.
7 - Will it play nicely with the other ingredients in my formulation?
It's tempting to come up with a formulation with a gazillion ingredients - working on the hypothesis the more the better, and therefore the better the product will be. In my experience that does not work. Plonking a whole load of ingredients together and hoping for the best is much more likely to give you a product that is at best mediocre and more likely will perform poorly - the worst of all worlds. The more variants you add to a product the more testing is needed and often it defeats the original objective as you dilute all of those beautiful properties. I assess each ingredient individually to understand how it will perform with other ingredients. Time consuming, but makes for skin care products that actually work effectively.
8 - Colour
Is it bright and beautiful or clear - and how will it mix overall within a product? (Most people don't want a brown muddy mess - even if said muddy mess has some fabulous skin benefits).
10 - What is it's price and availability?
I focus on benefits above cost - but I would be a fool if I didn't factor in pricing. I have to come up with a product that you as my customers can afford. Take my favourite rose damascena oil for example, it takes about 50 roses to product just a single drop of essential oil - which gives you an idea of the cost. The other factor is supplier availability. After investing in bringing a new product to market, I have to know that I can source an ingredient reliably - and that means being able to purchase an ingredient from my main supplier and having a back up supplier, so I don't end up being stuck with products out of stock. (Another life lesson this one borne out of experience )
11 - Experience
When I started out with my brand (which was pretty much accidental anyway) I made hundreds of prototypes with 'must have' ingredients because I didn't have any of the experience and instincts that I have today - several years later and after building my brand and winning 39 awards. I still dream of fancy ingredients but with my experience I have a far better idea of how they are going to play together. Sometimes ingredients sound great on paper but don't come together in they way you are expecting, and this does sometimes still happen, but my instincts help get me to the finishing line more quickly and easily these days.
12 - Eco credentials & Sustainability
Natural and organic is to me - but with that comes a responsibility. It's all good and well building products around natural plant oils and butters, but suddenly I am part of the problem rather than the solution. A natural butter becomes the next 'best thing' with the result that demand spirals out of control which in turn leads to it being over harvested. There is a balance, a natural rhythm within nature, and I believe within the beauty industry we have a responsibility to look carefully at where out ingredients come from and to use suppliers that source ingredients sustainably. There is no doubt this is difficult when you are a small business. But for example, I source my ingredients from British suppliers who can tell me how they have sourced their products.
My organic argan oil originates from a co-operative in Morocco.
My organic shea butter is from a women's co-operative in Ghana
Not to mention our relationship with B1G1 supporting a number of communities throughout the world. More of that here.
Formulating skin care products is easy. Formulating skin care products that are effective, feel amazing, smell delicious and make you smile is much harder.