I recently gave a talk at the Scandinavian Society of Cosmetic Chemists annual meeting which featured a panel discussion at the end. The final question posed was, “What are the biggest challenges facing formulators now and in the future?” There wasn’t time to explore the question as thoroughly as I’d like, so I’ll do it here, along with what I think are things a formulator can do to tackle these challenges.
As far as the job of formulating goes, the biggest challenge facing scientists is innovation.
The cosmetic industry is a “mature” industry. If you look at the products available right now they are not drastically different from the products people were using 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. Sure, there have been some incremental changes. For example, some ingredients have fallen out of favor and been replaced, the production process has become more efficient, and silicones are used a lot more. But compare our industry to the cell phone industry and how it has changed in the last 30 years, and you’ll probably agree the performance and form of cosmetic products has not changed much, from a consumer standpoint.
The task of innovation is made even more difficult when your company pushes you to do things like:
- create new products rapidly
- lower costs on existing formulas
- comply with new regulations
- adapt formulas to appease misinformed consumer groups
In the cosmetic industry, being able to create noticeably innovative formulas and products has been and will continue to be one of the biggest challenges facing formulators.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s an impossible task. There are areas of research which you can study to try to uncover real innovations. Here are some areas that hold promise.
Our ability to produce polymers remains crude when you compare it to what is possible. Most of the polymers used in cosmetics are simple blends of monomers held in certain ratios without much control over the exact positioning or structure.
Think about how much more sophisticated are the polymers produced by living organisms. These polymers have a specific molecular order, fold into unique shapes and have vastly different effects. But scientists in this field are learning and improving. As a formulator and raw material developer, you should be following the developments in polymer technology for new innovations.
While cosmetic scientists have come up with a number of clever solutions to consumer problems, these solutions can have negative impacts on the environment or may not be sustainable. The field of biomimicry is an approach to innovation in which we study the solutions evolved by nature and apply them to products. There are a few technologies that have been uncovered through biomimicry which might be applied to cosmetics.
- Lotus Effect – self-cleaning surface with superhydrophobicity
- Self-healing plastics – the body can heal itself from scars and cuts. Perhaps this concept can be adapted to cosmetic films like sunscreens and hair sprays
- Diatomaceous nanotech – diatoms can be coaxed into creating novel silicone materials
- Butterly displays – these insects get their color from both pigments and the structure of their wings. Could this principle be applied to color cosmetics?
If you want to create truly innovative products, look to biomimicry for some inspiration.
Not every innovation will come in the form of new compounds or raw materials. Computer technology has radically changed a number of industries and there is no reason it couldn’t similarly impact cosmetics. 3D printing technology has already been adapted to create color cosmetics. Some apps allow consumers to “try on” products before purchasing them. There is even a device called the Ophone which lets consumers virtually transmit odors over the Internet.
When you’re looking for product innovation inspiration, keep informed about what’s possible in the technology space. The next breakthrough cosmetic product may come from there.
Of course, there are other significant challenges formulators will face such as more restrictive regulations, demands by retailers and consumers, and consolidation in the industry. But if you become someone who can really innovate in the cosmetic industry, most of the other challenges will be easier to handle.
You may also be interested in reading:
- How to be a successful innovator
- Connecting the Dots: Attending Other Industry Trade Shows for Inspiration & Innovation
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