a few months ago

Start a cosmetic line. The ultimate guide.

Tired of selling other companies’ products? It’s time to start a cosmetic line yourself!

The process can be overwhelming as there is little available information on the steps to take to transform your idea into a physical product. While information about chemistry is abundant,  not everyone has the background or the time to study it.

If you already own a cosmetic business and are currently re-selling products, this may be the opportunity to dramatically increase your profit by starting selling your own products. Even if you don’t have any knowledge in formulating! 

Let me explain.

The market is ever changing, besides big producers, there are many high-quality cosmetics produced by small to mid-sized warehouses or even home-based manufacturers.

If you want to know the exact steps AND the fastest way to start a cosmetic line or single products, then keep on reading.

Surely, you can start researching all the information you need on the internet, but imagine you have an expert guidance. A professional that knows the business insights and is willing to transfer them to you. Wouldn’t it be much better?

The fact is, it is faster to gain the necessary know-how when you are guided by knowledgeable experts.

Let’s see the basic steps to finally be able to sell your products.

1) The Idea.

You need an idea (that works).

Idea

If you are like me, you are probably bombarded with hundreds of ideas. However, 99% of these ideas are probably not feasible. Too little budget, no expertise, no previous business experience, and no market are some of the reasons why the majority of projects fail. So, when I said, you need to start with an idea, I meant a realistic one!

Do not try to be hyper-creative nor re-invent the wheel. Instead, start small by defining what would you change in a product that you already like.

Start with these questions:

Would you add a specific ingredient to it?

In your opinion, which changes would improve the product’s overall performance?

What can you do to improve the customers’ perception of this product?

Which ingredients should/ could be replaced?

Read your competitors’ negative reviews…These are your nr. 1 learning source. Dig into forums and take note of everything people complain about (product is too drying, doesn’t rinse off well, doesn’t smell good etc).

Ideas are worthless if they do not generate sales.

How to validate your idea.

  • Research about your target audience and the latest cosmetic trends. This may sound like something complicated but thanks to the Internet it is not. The web offers you diverse tools for your research. Among the others, Google Trends and Reddit.com are the greatest.
  • Is it really a cosmetic under the FDA regulations? For example, any product that claims protection from the UV rays is listed both as a cosmetic and drug. A vaginal lubricant is another prime example; it is a medical device and not a cosmetic. If you are uncertain about the classification of your product, simply ask an expert or visit the dedicated section of the FDA website 
  • The product you pick must be easy to manufacture if you don’t have any experience nor equipment. Ideally, it should contain a limited number of ingredients with either water or oil phase only.Examples of these products are facial oils, body scrubs, or beard balms. In the case of a body oil or body scrubs, only simple mixing is necessary and no additional equipment nor knowledge is needed.  On Sephora.com there are body oils for $46! The manufacturing procedures consist of blending and mixing different oils together. Just because a product is simple, doesn’t mean there’s no margin for profit. Actually, this is right the kind of product you should be looking into!

Case Study: start a cosmetic line

Karl is the CEO of a special effects makeup company. He was reselling from different vendors when he first contacted me. At the time, he wanted to create his own label, generate more sales and cutting down the costs. In less than six months after our collaboration, he had his own labeled product manufactured. He invested money in buying machinery and raw materials, while I was working on the formula.

His preferred sales channel was Amazon. He used some paid advertising campaigns to give his products the visibility they deserved. Needless to say, he started making more profits as people found his line to be equivalent, yet cheaper, to the reference brand he used to sell.

 2) A (custom) formula.

Surfing the web, you’ll be able to find formulas for your products…do not use them! 90% of the times they are just a bunch of ingredients mixed together. Even if you do find a good formula, being on the Internet, everyone could replicate it.

Hire a chemist to create a formula for you. With a professional working for you, your first product can be potentially anything and you’ll get the most accurate and high-end formulas.

To develop your own product, your budget should be somewhere around $6000 (for the formula). If you think to start a business with 50 cents, it’s not going to happen!

This is not an expense, it’s an investment.  An experienced chemist not only can create a custom product just for you but also teach you the formulation procedures step by step. When deciding who to hire, important factors to consider are the timelines, signing an NDA (None Disclosure Agreement), and of course, the chemist’s background and experience.  It is highly recommended that you work with a chemist who is an expert in your product’s field. The communication should be frequent, and the expectations and timelines should be clear.

3)Prototypes

You ‘re now in this situation; the chemist you’ve worked with provided you a custom formula and some samples. You need to choose among these samples. In the meantime, you need to coordinate your team about packaging, designs, online store etc. You probably feel overwhelmed and start having doubts about the whole project.

Don’t.

The first thing you should do is to make sure you are able to replicate the prototype you choose. Read this article on how to set up a cosmetic lab and spend some time becoming familiar with the instruments and techniques. The chemist should have provided you all the means and knowledge you need to make some very small batches. Yet, if you’re uncertain about something, ask for a video recording.

Once you feel comfortable with all the manufacturing procedures, have other people test the product and take notes of their impressions. Here are some ideas:

  • Send the prototypes to some (trusted) bloggers.
  • Give away a small sample of the new product every time a customer buys something. You can then re-contact them with a brief survey.
  • Start selling on Etsy or similar websites.

I know some of you might be tempted to ask friends and family for an opinion. You can surely do it; however, strangers’ opinions are always more reliable as they’re unbiased.

If people express a positive opinion about your samples, go ahead and perform stability tests on it (see below).

If they didn’t, go back to the chemist and ask for adjustments.

4)Stability testing.

I don’t know why but this is a step people tend to skip… Stability tests consist of both physical and microbiological stabilities. The latter is the most important as the safety of your products must always be your priority.

You cannot assume your product is stable. You must prove it.

Cosmetics don’t have to be sterile. However, they cannot be contaminated by pathogen bacteria either.

Fungi and mold are not very appealing too, am I right?

Do not be stingy on stability testings and always perform them. If you don’t, you are risking serious troubles.

I know, there are tons of vendors out there that don’t perform any kind of test. People always ask me “How come they get away with it?”. It’s because with so many companies selling on the internet, it’s almost impossible for the FDA to audit them all. Therefore, if you do perform stability tests, why don’t making it a marketing claim? It can help to differentiate your brand from the others. Also, stability tests are a must if you want to sell to countries other than the U.S.

After the test results, write a list of procedures that allowed you to create a stable and pathogen-free product. These procedures are called GMP (Good Manufacture Practice). Their goal is to ensure every time you manufacture a batch, its quality and safety will be approximately the same as the previous one. GMP allows you to perform stability tests only once.

Many factors can be involved if your product fails the stability tests. If this is your case, I suggest you consult with an expert to understand why.

Stability tests are mandatory. There are some other tests that are not, yet they might be necessary to sustain the marketing claims you make.

If your product contains an SPF filter, this is also the time for in vivo tests as well (mandatory).

5)Finally

While you are waiting for stability tests’ results,  fix and address other issues related to packaging, labeling, authorization and certification. Cosmetic labels must be written according to FDA regulations, and some claims are not allowed for cosmetics. As a general rule of thumb, everything concerning the modification of a body function is not allowed.

Work with a consultant to understand which machines you need to invest into and how to organize the spaces for an effective production. Besides this, you’ll need to order and properly store raw materials. Here you can find my FREE guide on sourcing raw materials.

You’re all set and can start bulk production. Begin by making no more than 5-8 kg and scale-up gradually. When manufacturing, follow the exact procedure the cosmetic chemist provided you.

Set up a new online store or add a sales page to your existing one.

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