Do you dream of starting a cosmetic line and selling your home made products ?
Would you love to create your own makeup brand but don’t know where to start?
Keep reading because this FREE guide explains step by step the process of creating, testing, and selling a beauty product (even if you don’t have a lot of money).
First things first who am I to talk to you about starting a cosmetic business?
My name is Luisa, I am a former pharmacist now cosmetic chemist. In 2021 I created my own skincare brand, Luisa True Skincare, with no investors, no connections, no prior business knowledge. Additionally I’m the owner of Luisa Fanzani Cosmetics Lab LLC that creates and sell custom formulations. The latter has given me the opportunity to work with hundreds of clients (including some celebrities!) learning the most effective tactics to succesfully create and launch a product.
In this article I want to show how you can do it too!
If you’re a little worried and intimidated, you’re not alone.
See, a few years ago I started selling beauty products myself and went through the whole process.
I didn’t know anything about business and not enough about beauty products.
The result was pretty much a disaster.
I had to learn a lot.
In my case I knew everything about how to make products, but I had no idea of everything else (team leadership, marketing, sales, etc etc).
The fact is, the process can be overwhelming. After all, there is little information available regarding the steps needed to transform your idea into a physical product.
Why starting a cosmetic line?
This is something only YOU know. I can’t tell you what are your motivations. Having worked with hundreds of clients in the last few years, these are the most common scenarios:
- Create a natural & environmental friendly product. People are becoming more aware of topics like global warming and plastic pollution. When you start your own line, you can design the products as you please. Folks also want gentle products free from ingredients that are controversial.
- Create something that really works ( people are becoming more aware of the marketing fluff that plays a huge role in the cosmetic industry). This is very true especially among professionals, for example dermatologist and cosmetic surgeons.
- Start a fulfilling career. You might be fed up with your current job ( I was too) and want to work on something you’re passionate about while spending more time with your family, create a legacy. For me it has never been about the money, it has always been about the freedom.
This is a business and we have bills to pay so obviously people that start a cosmetic line also want to earn money. Yet, money is never the #1 factor considered when they decide to launch a cosmetic line. Nevertheless, the cosmetic industry is constantly growing , so a business in this field is highly profitable, if you follow some common sense advice.
How much does it cost to start a beauty brand?
I read somewhere online that the minimum investment to start a beauty biz is $35,000…if you have that kind of money, great, but if you don’t , it’s okay.
I started to sell my products with less than a thousand.
I know what you’re thinking…Yes, being a chemist who formulates and makes her own products cut the costs, but keep reading because I’m going to show how you can do that too.
The first real expense I had was the mixer and other lab equipment which cost me roughly around $10,000. I purchased it with a loan and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Nowadays entry barriers are low. Let’s try to summarize costs to give you an idea. However, costs are affected in many different ways so this is going to be only an estimate.
Formulation: $0 if you already have a formula or find a suitable one online. Prices vary when you hire a chemist to create a custom one (my fee is $4,000- there are obviously both cheaper and more expensive options).
Packaging: when starting out, you’ll pay more for jars and bottles because you’re going to order less. Once your business grows and you buy thousands of jars at once this cost will diminish. When I started I used to pay $1.30 / bottle (which is a lot). Buying trays of 100 at once, I used to spend around $169 (including shipping).
Labels: you have the double option. DIY or hire a designer. I started with the DIY method using a website named Canva. Yes my labels originally sucked to the point I’m actually ashamed of them now. But I didn’t let that stop me! I see too many people not even trying or quit after a month. Don’t let that be you!
As far as printing, I use Avery labels or have the labels printed from Stickermule
Manufacturing: this is really impossible to tell as it depends on the formula, number of units, cost of ingredients, contract manufacturer etc.
A cheaper option is DIY. Depending on the formula, you’ll have to purchase different tools. When starting out you don’t need the top of the range…
Bypass months of internet research
Get the ONLY checklist that can help you start a SAFE & ETHICAL cosmetics line within months
Let’s see the basic steps to start selling your own products and finally realize your dream.
How to Start a Cosmetic Line -Checklist
Whether you’re a new entrepreneur or an existing cosmetics company looking to branch out into your own products, the necessary steps are the following:
Figure out a product
Each of the above can be divided in steps. These are the main one.
Develop your idea.
First things first: you need an idea (that works). If you’re a creative person, you’re probably bombarded with hundreds of ideas each day! Unfortunately, 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 most projects fail.
If you’re not a creative person (like me) , you’ll have to become an experienced observer. In fact, you must learn what is appealing to you and develop something similar but make it better. It’s very important that the product you’re bettering appeals to you because otherwise it will be 10X more difficult to sell it.
How can you sell something you don’t even like? For example, I know liquid lipsticks are very popular right now, but I would never start selling makeup because it is not appealing to me and I barely use it.
When I say you need to start with an idea, I mean a realistic one! Don’t try to be hyper-creative or re-invent the wheel. Instead, start small by defining what would you change in a product that you like AND that is already doing well.
Here are four questions to get the ball rolling:
- Would you add an ingredient to the product?
- 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? For example, you could decide of creating an all natural version of a popular lotion.
Still stumped? Read your competitors’ negative reviews and look for gaps you can fill.
Amazon is a gold mine for product research, competitors and reviews analysis.
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.) and look for creative ways to address them with your own products.
Be aware that improving an existing product is one of the hundreds possibilities you have. Why not offering better customers service, better shipping options, better packaging and so on? Sky is the limit.
Validate Your Idea Before Starting a Cosmetic Line
Ideas are worthless if they do not generate sales.
Remember: ideas are worthless if you don’t execute and if they do not generate sales. Everyday I see too many people concerned with someone stealing their idea instead of focusing on execution.
With this in mind, you’ll need to validate your idea.
Here’s how: Research your target audience and the latest cosmetic trends. This may sound like something complicated but thanks to the Internet it’s very simple. The web offers diverse tools for your research and makes it easy to figure out exactly who you’re targeting and why.
While there are dozens of helpful tools to use, Google Trends and Reddit.com are two of the largest. While Google Trends can help you learn which keywords are claiming the largest global share of search volume, Reddit is a great place to figure out exactly what your target audience is talking about and find creative ways to connect with them.
You’ll also need to figure out whether your cosmetic is really a cosmetic according to 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
Finally, ensure the product you want to create is easy to manufacture (if you want to start production at home), especially if you don’t have any experience or equipment. Ideally, the product you choose to produce should contain few ingredients and use either a water or an oil base.
Examples of these products include facial oils, body scrubs, and beard balms. In the case of a body oil or body scrubs, simple mixing is the only process required, and you won’t need any special equipment or knowledge to start the production process. This is fantastic because, despite their simplicity, these products can be lucrative. On Sephora.com there are simple body oils that sell for upwards of $46!
The manufacturing procedure consist of blending and mixing different oils together. Just because a product is simple, doesn’t mean there’s no margin for profit, so don’t feel like you have to get in over your head from the start.
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 cut costs.
Less than six months after our collaboration, Karl had his own 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 as good as, yet cheaper than, the reference brand he used to sell.
This could be easily you…
Come up with a (custom) formula.
Surfing the web, you’ll find that it’s easy to locate formulas for your products….
do not use them!
90% of the time, these “formulas” are just a bunch of ingredients mixed together.
Even if you do find a good formula, anyone could replicate it since it was found on the internet.
Instead, hire a chemist to create a unique formula for you or if you can’t afford it tweak an already existing formula (must be a professional one). Here’s how to do it
With a professional working for you, you can rest assured that you’ll get the most accurate and high-end formulas.
Keep in mind that getting a unique custom formula isn’t cheap: In fact, you can expect to spend about $3,000 for your first formula. If you think to start a business with 50 cents, it’s not going to happen!
This is not an expense, though, it’s an investment.
An experienced chemist not only creates a custom product but helps teach you the formulation procedures step by step. When deciding which chemist to hire, consider factors like timelines, the professional’s willingness to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), and 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.
Develop Some Prototypes
You’re making your way through the process. The chemist you’ve worked with has provided a custom formula and some samples. Or you have made samples yourself.
Now it’s time to choose a winner. In the meantime, you need to coordinate your team (or yourself 🙂 about packaging, designs, how to present the samples in your online store, and a million of other things.
You probably feel overwhelmed and may even be having doubts about the whole project.
Take a deep breath.
The first thing you should do is to make sure you (or the manufacturing company you’re working with) 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. If you’re uncertain about something, ask for a video recording or additional assistance from your chemist of choice.
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 and follow-up with the customers afterward with a brief survey.
- Start selling online. Etsy or Amazon are both good starting points.
I know some of you might be tempted to ask friends and family for an opinion. You can surely do it, but you should keep in mind that strangers’ opinions are generally more reliable as they’re unbiased. If people express a positive opinion about your samples, go ahead and perform stability tests on them (see below). If the reviews are less than favorable, go back to the chemist and ask for adjustments.
Perform Stability Testing
This is a step that people new to industry tend to skip.
Stability tests review both the physical and microbiological stabilities of a product. The latter is the most important as the safety of your products must always be your priority. Furthermore, you’re legally and morally responsible for the safety of your products.
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. After all, fungi and mold are not very appealing to your customers.
Do not be stingy on stability testing and don’t ever skip performing them. Otherwise, you risk serious problems and the potential for lawsuits down the road.
At the same time, don’t rush the process. If you cannot even sell your product to your neighbor, maybe it’s too early to commit to stability testing.
I know: many vendors don’t perform any kind of stability test.
People always ask me “How come they get away with it?” The answer is simple: it’s because it’s almost impossible for the FDA to audit all the companies selling products online.
With this in mind, use your willingness to perform stability tests to your advantage and make it a marketing claim. It can help to differentiate your brand from the others. Keep in mind that stability tests are also a must if you want to sell to countries other than the U.S.
Before sending your product to a lab for stability testing, it’s a good practice to use some microbial kits to have an estimate of the number of bacteria that are present in your sample. If the number is too high, before you perform the “official test” you should change the preservative system. Use Code FANZANI on the Formulator Sample Shop to get 20% off your entire order.
After the test results come back, 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. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you might want to take a look at this book.
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 (which are mandatory).
Wrap up Manufacturing and Miscellaneous Duties
Production line of beauty products at plant or factory. Process of manufacturing and packaging cosmetics goods.
While you are waiting for stability tests’ results, fix and address other issues related to packaging, labeling, authorization, and certification. For example, make sure you purchase liability insurance and products’ labels are written according to FDA regulations.
Here’s a link to a website where you can print labels. I use this website myself and guarantee their high quality. Plus, they are usually superfast. You send them the label artwork and before you know the labels are in your mailbox.
Some claims are not allowed for cosmetics. As a general rule of thumb, everything concerning the modification of a body function is not allowed. The FDA website collects all the warning letters the agency has been sending to cosmetics producer whose claims were too promising and reviewing them will give you a good idea of what to avoid. You can find those letters here.
When it comes to manufacturing, you have many options. A private label manufacturer could be the best solution if you’re not ready to make a huge investment on machines. The downside is that these companies usually have high MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity). I suggest starting with making 100-500 units only. The manufacturer will also store the raw materials for you (you must pay a fee) making the process flawless and simple.
Outsourcing manufacturing is not going to be cheap. Luckily there are other options. If you followed my instructions and created a product that is easy to manufacture, why don’t making 200 units at your place just to start off? The FDA doesn’t specify where cosmetics should be manufactured as long as they’re safe and production follows GMPs.
Starting a Cosmetic Line the Smart Way
If you’ve ever dreamed of starting a cosmetic line, now is the perfect time! By taking the right steps and hiring a qualified cosmetic chemist to help you, you can launch your own line in no time at all.
Have you ever dreamed of launching a cosmetic line? What has been stopping you? Let me know in the comments below.