“Life belongs to the living and he who lives must be prepared for changes.”
This quote by Goethe is just as applicable to your raw material sources as it is to life. If you produce cosmetics, you must be prepared to change vendors at any time. What you must do to prepare is the topic of today’s post.
Why switch cosmetic ingredient sources?
Before we go further it is helpful to explain why a formulator would want to change raw material vendors or at least have an alternate source for a raw material. There are a number of reasons.
- Price – If you’re unhappy with the price you’re currently getting, finding a new supplier can help bring down your costs. This is an excellent reason to switch suppliers.
- Lower minimums – Suppliers have different minimum order quantities, and if you had a secondary source you might be able to buy less of an ingredient. This is particularly important for small businesses.
- Insurance – If you have a single source, you are at the mercy of that supplier. They can raise prices, give you poor service, or otherwise hold up your production. You need secondary sources to prevent anything from going wrong.
- Reliability – Sometimes a supplier will fill the orders of a more important customer before they fill yours. For this reason, you need to have an alternative supplier who will be able to reliably fill your orders.
Potential issues when changing sources
Unfortunately, changing from one source to another is not as simple as just buying from a new source. The primary problem: ingredients that have the same name aren’t necessarily the same material. INCI names cover a wide range of mixed materials, so one supplier’s glyceryl stearate (EU) might have a significantly different composition than another company’s. Another problem is suppliers often make raw materials in a different way, which can lead to variable residual materials in the finished product. These residuals can wreck havoc on your formula.
Of course, some of the differences won’t matter, so you need to test your current formula with the new material to determine if a substitution or switch can be made.
How to approve alternate suppliers
To approve a new supplier, there are a number of things you need to do. First, make sure the specs for the ingredient match. To do this, you can look at the certificate of analysis (C of A) the new supplier provides with samples. Compare this to your current spec and note where there are differences. You can then tell the new supplier changes that need to be made in the spec before you are able to evaluate or purchase the alternative material. It may also be easier to just give the new supplier your specs. Remember, specifications are negotiable.
Once you have the specs for the new material, you’ll need to make batches and run some tests. The first test is simply to see what happens to the batch when you use the new raw material. Check the pH, viscosity, appearance, odor, and anything else that might be different. You should also conduct performance tests. Finally, if things look good you’ll have to conduct stability tests on the formula in your final packaging. Once you’re satisfied there are no significant differences, you can start using the new raw material. Change your specs to have all approved suppliers listed, and start buying and using the ingredient.
Note: it may make sense to make a batch where you blend the new raw material with your current source just to make sure that you can safely blend the two ingredients in the future. Sometimes when you’re making a batch you may run out of a raw material and be forced to use something from a different supplier.
Testing depends on material
For some ingredients, it’s not too risky to use an alternate supplier. Things like glycerin (EU), propylene glycol (EU), and salt will be so similar that there is little risk in using a different source. You might even be able to skip some of the testing suggested above. But for natural ingredients, like fatty alcohols (EU), specialty chemicals and surfactants, change will be much more risky. In these cases, you’ll want to perform a wide range of verification tests before you make the substitution or switch.
It’s always nice to work with good suppliers and reward them with your business, but you should never put yourself in a position to be single sourced for any ingredient. Things change, and you need to be prepared for those changes. Having a second or third choice of supplier for every raw material you use is an excellent way to prepare for those changes.
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