- by Luisa
It’s time to start a cosmetic line for yourself!
I wrote this article to explain step by step the process of creating a cosmetic line or a cosmetic product.
If you’re a little worried about the process being intimidating, you’re not alone.
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 project, and figuring it out can be tough. While information about chemistry is abundant, not everyone has the background or the time to study it.
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, I can say that the top 2 motivations are:
- Create something that helps people feel and look good AND that is gentle to the environment. Do something meaningful.
- 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.
People also want to make some money, obviously. Yet, money is never the #1 factor people consider when they decide to launch a cosmetic line. However, don't forget that the cosmetic industry is constantly growing , so a business in this field can also profitable, if you follow some common sense advice.
What people do to start a cosmetic line?
Starting a business from scratch is never easy especially if you don't have any experience. You'll encounter challenges.
Luckily, these challenges don’t make starting a cosmetic line impossible, even with no experience. What’s more, you can get busy starting a cosmetic line even if you don’t have any knowledge of formulating!
Let me explain.
The cosmetic market is ever-changing. In addition to big producers, there are many high-quality cosmetics produced by small and mid-sized warehouses or even one person home-based businesses. These people didn't necessarily have any experience in chemistry or in cosmetic formulations.
But they had a vision.
How did they turn their vision into a goal and then into a reality? They hired different professionals to help them with every step of the process or they partnered with people who already had experience in the field.
This guide will teach you the exact steps AND the fastest way to start a cosmetic line or single products.
Gaining the necessary know-how is faster when you are guided by knowledgeable experts. 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:
1) Develop your idea.
First things first: you need an idea (that works). If you’re like me, 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. 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. These are your number 1 resource for research. 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.
Validate Your Idea Before Starting a Cosmetic Line
Ideas are worthless if they do not generate sales.
Remember: ideas are worthless if they do not generate sales.
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, 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
2) 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.
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.
3) 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. You need to choose from these samples. In the meantime, you need to coordinate your team about packaging, designs, how to present the samples in your online store, etc. 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 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.
5) Perform Stability Testing
I don’t know why but this is a step people 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
5) Wrap up Manufacturing and Miscellaneous Duties
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.. boom 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.