a few months ago

Cosmetics lab at your place; here’s what you need to know.

“Which equipment do I really need if I want to set up a cosmetics lab in my apartment or in my warehouse?”

“How much space do I need?”

“How much money do I have to invest? “

Sounds familiar? Probably because these are the most common questions I receive from my clients.

If you want to know the answers, keep reading.

First, the function of the lab is to create pilot batches and/or to perform stability tests. Bulk production requires a dedicated site and cannot be performed in a lab. As a general rule, I would say you can do up to 3/4 kg in a lab. For bigger amounts, consider a contract manufacturing facility or move your business to a bigger place.

The advantages of working with a contract manufacturing are numerous:

1) products manufactured by trained personnel, high reproducibility.

2) large scale production.

3) higher rate of production.

It is a more expensive route, but definitely worth of consideration when the business is still in its embryonic phase. In fact, all productions part are taking care of and this can surely help a lot.

However, for small batches up to 5 kg the contract manufacturing is not an option (they usually have a high MOQ).Making the product at your place, it’s a good option.

  1. You save money and optimize spaces.
  2.  You can try different formulas and directly scale-up in a few days.
  3.  You are completely independent and can proceed at your own pace.
  4. Test the market reaction’s to your product and eventually adjust.

I have had clients that only wanted me to develop a new formula and they would have taken care of making the samples and then scale up.


Well, for some of them was just a matter of challenge, while some other had the desire of building their brand, yet weren’t ready to invest a  considerable amount of money. Instead, they invested what they had: their time.

When you don’t have enough money to outsource, you have to invest your time and figure out a way to do it yourself.

Kristy wanted to launch a skin care line of products. Her current job was to sell cosmetics to beauty salons and she forecasted it would have been much more profitable to sell her own skin care set. With so many other products on the market, she didn’t know whether salon owners would have bought her line or not. I remember talking to her during our first consultation; she was so worried about losing money and time pursuing an uncertain project! What I told her, is the same I tell you now: start small. Test the market first. She, therefore, decided to set up a small lab area in the back of her showroom and we worked together on her project. And yes, she succeeded.

You can start by setting up a cosmetic lab in a room of your apartment, or you can reserve a dedicated section of your warehouse.

All the stuff you buy for the lab must be properly maintained and checked periodically, including all the raw materials.

Your Shopping list

Stainless steel desk. About $130 on Amazon.com

Hot Plate: used to heat solid or liquids. Oftentimes, it also allows to maintain a fixed temperature. Can or cannot be coupled with a magnetic stirrer.

Mixer or homogenizer or stirrer?  The magnetic stirrer is a device that employs a magnetic field to make a small bar spinning, thus stirring the liquid. It usually comes with the hotplate but it also exists as a separate unit. Choose the stirrer if you need to mix liquids only, or liquids with a high soluble powder. This could be the case of facial/body oils, some skin care products, and some bath products.

Overhead mixers have an electric motor and the mixing tool is attached to a metal rod. The mixing speed is adjustable within certain ranges. Choose an overhead stirrer if you need to mix more viscous liquids, emulsions, and pastes.

This kind of mixer is great for makeup too and comes with different impellers. Each impeller has a different purpose. I’ve tried almost all impellers and I noticed the most versatile being

Flat impeller with sawtooth edges for dispersion (see photo) sawtooth_impeller

Turbines with a rotor and stator to make emulsions (also great to disperse pigments in the case of makeup). Note that the latter is not suitable for products that are too viscous (thick).

Emulsions can be done successfully with an overhead mixer (rotor/stator impeller). You can find very good deals on Ebay.com for used instruments.  The amount of material you will be making determines how big the mixer should be.

Pipettes: to handle liquids. Those made of glass are usually reusable, while plastic ones are disposable. Pipettes are excellent to avoid waste when picking up liquids from inside a bottle. Make sure you use one for each material to avoid cross contamination. If you’re not discarding them after use, use a  solution of water and ethanol or rubbing alcohol to clean and sanitize them.

Digital scale. Buy a good one as often you’ll have to weight small amounts and accuracy in science is everything. A good readability for cosmetics starts from 0.1g but if you are making makeup and working with pigments shades then you need something more accurate, at least 0.01g. Spend some time becoming familiar with the metric system and measure by weight  rather than volume (cups, tbsp etc). This is because the weight never changes, while volume depends on what you are considering. Measuring by weight guarantees reproducible measurements and reproducibility is definitely something to look forward to when dealing with science. Remember to calibrate your scale from time to time. Some come with the weight already in the box. If not, you can purchase one.

pH meter (only for certain kinds of cosmetics, for example, lotions). Surely, you can use the pH strips but if your budget allows it, buy good pH meters. The best solutions would be purchase one that is portable. This way, you’ll be able to use it in the lab but also at the production site.

Set of beakers: lab batches should be between 100 and 250 g. I do not recommend to go below 100 g as some product’s features could be difficult to detect under this size. Therefore, purchase the following beakers sizes: 250 ml, 100 ml and eventually 500 ml. My favorite is the 250 ml, I own 4. Bigger and smaller sizes do exist and might be useful for some applications. I also have a 50ml, and 1 L but I almost never use them.

Spatulas: buy 2/3 stainless steel spatulas. For larger amounts of powders, it is more practical to use spoons.

Weighing dishes: made of polystyrene, use it to weight powders but also liquids. Some scales have a limited capacity making impossible to weight substances directly in the beaker. These dishes are the solutions. You can even reuse them.

Cleaning tools: cleaning up the mess is the less fun part of the job, yet someone has to do it. It’s important to understand that not everything can be washed off with water. This is especially true for anhydrous products that require something else for an effective cleaning. Among the others, isoparaffin works very well for this kind of products. After all residues are gone, wash the beaker thoroughly with water and soap and finally wipe it with an alcohol pad.

Template for formulas: okay, I admit it. I am not an Excel lover. Sometimes it gives me a headache. I still remember the first time my boss asked me to create a simple Excel doc with listed some products and their relative costs. It only took me 5 minutes to realize I desperately needed help. I had to learn Excel to survive. I still prefer to write everything down using a pen and a piece of paper, but I can’t do that when I must present data to a client.

Furthermore, Having an Excel document allows you to retrieve all the info you need when you need them.

Another advantage is that all the information are written in a clear and legible way (unlike my paper notes) and Excel does all the math so you don’t have to. I like to keep all my formulas for the same product grouped in one sheet with different background colors. This way, I have a clear vision of the path and progress I ‘ve made.

For each product I develop, I like to keep formulas grouped in only one sheet with different background colors. This way, I have a clear vision of the path and progress I ‘ve made. If something goes wrong during the process,  I don’t have to start over again.

Equipment to perform some in-house basic stability tests.

Stability tests are of 2 different kinds: microbiological stability and physical/chemical stability. To test the microbiological quality of a product, including the presence of pathogens bacteria (for example Pseudomonas Aeruginosa), I recommend using a third part professional lab, unless you can handle cell cultures and have some kind ob biology lab experience.

What you can test yourself is the physical stability through the accelerated stability tests. These allow you to estimate the shelf life of your product and give you results in approximately 3 months. Accelerated stability testing consists in keeping your laboratory batches or finished goods at a set temperature and humidity.

An incubator creates this controlled environment. Best is to buy one that has a temperature range of at least -10C to 40C so you can test your sample at both temperatures with the same instrument. Chamber’s sizes vary, allowing to choose the most suitable one for your needs. Look for bargains on

Best is to buy one with a temperature range of at least -10C to 40C so you can test your sample at both temperatures with the same instrument. Chamber’s sizes vary, allowing to choose the most suitable one for your needs. Look for bargains on labx.com. A good brand of chambers is Sanyo.

Changes in viscosity are one of the signs of instability.  A viscosimeter, therefore, can really help you out.Viscosity is crucial especially for semi-solid preparations and must be recorded always at the same temperature. The most recognizable brand for viscosimeter is Brookfield and here’s the link to one of their valuable, yet affordable model.

For semi-solid preparations, another useful instrument to test the physical stability is a bench top centrifuge. The high-speed spinning uncovers any kind of latent separation issue.


If you’re serious about your business, you must invest in some basic laboratory equipment. A laboratory would allow you to create pilot batches and perform stability tests.


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