Starting a cosmetic line with no money- Practical tips

Luisa, how can I start a cosmetic line with no money?

Simply put, you can’t. 

Starting a cosmetic line is no different than starting any other business. You’ll face many different expenses; therefore you must have some money to start off.  I used the word “expenses”, but they’re actually investments, but still a little bit of money is required.

Thanks to what you’ll learn in this article, you’ll minimize the risks and initial financial investment.

Before we move on, I must introduce my credentials and why I am writing this article. My name is Luisa. I am a cosmetic chemist and former pharmacist. Born and raised in Italy, I moved to the US in 2015 with just one luggage and no money. I worked a few years for a L.A based cosmetic company called L.A Splash Cosmetics till I decided I wanted to start my own skincare line. I started Luisa True Skincare in 2020 with only a few thousand dollars, no investors, no previous business knowledge, and no connections…If I managed to do so, I guarantee you can do it too. And this is why am writing this article. I want you to believe it’s possible first and then I want to give you some help- the help I wished someone would have given me back then.

Ok, now we can start…Let’s see what they are.

Starting a cosmetic line with no money, tip #1: FORMULATE YOUR PRODUCTS

Formulating and producing your products instead of hiring a chemist or working with a manufacturing company will help you save tons of money. 

The bad news is that you need to master the art of making cosmetics before the products you make are good enough (and safe) to be sold to the public. 

Sorry, you can’t improvise. 

While there’s nothing wrong in starting by formulating your own products, they might come out with an excessive “artisan” look that can discourage some buyers. Additionally, if you don’t have enough experience with preservatives, and lab equipment you risk your products not being safe and stable. Nevertheless, formulating your own products is something you should attempt, when on a low budget. 

Surely you don’t need to be a chemist to be able to formulate good quality products. You can be pretty successful as a self-taught formulator. But, the point is that if you’re just starting out with zero experience in formulation or production, it’s going to take a while (months/years) before your handcrafted products will be good enough to be presented to the public.

Not only you need to learn how to properly formulate, but you’ll also have to learn about GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices) and put them into practice while manufacturing.

Furthermore, you should acquire a minimum knowledge of how the beauty industry works, what makes a product a best seller, marketing,and other insights. Finally, you should have a solid understanding of some math and physics principles because you need to grasp them to formulate. When you put all these aspects together, you might feel overwhelmed- that’s normal.

You might be tempted of buying some “Learn how to formulate” course online to scale up the learning curve fast. 

 I’ve seen so many out there. Some are even crazy expensive!

Online courses are great, yet they only scratch the surface of what you really need to know to properly formulate cosmetic products.

Let me explain.

At least once a week, I receive an email from someone who took the “XXX advanced course in formulating skincare” asking for advice.

The problem with these courses is that once they’re over, students are left alone trying to figure out whether what they’re doing is right or not.

Yes, there are Facebook support groups where you can ask questions, yet the answers you’ll receive rarely come from the “professors;” they come from students like you so what’s the point? 

I understand you can’t pay a formulator or you wouldn’t be reading this article! The solution must be in between (and it is). Keep reading!

Starting a cosmetic line with no money, tip #2: use “modified stock formulations”

Whether you’re aware of it or not, many formulators out there simply use stock formulations and make minor changes to differentiate them enough, one from the other. 

What are stock formulations?

They are formulations that anyone can use for creative cosmetic projects. Usually they’ve been developed by professional formulators and are contained in searchable databases. 

If you have read my other posts, you probably noticed I always discourage people from using formulations easily found on DIY blogs. With stock formulations, like I mentioned, there’s no such issue, as they’ve been created by professionals rather than by hobbyists.

The downside of stock formulations is that they’re accessible to anyone. If you follow my content, you know that I always advocate for unique products when starting a cosmetic line.  That’s why using stock formulations is not enough. Make an extra step! 

Replace/remove some of the ingredients, add a nice custom scent, and the formula will become your own. 

What makes a huge difference when it comes to successfully selling cosmetics products are “marketing ingredients.”

They’re usually present at very low percentages, and this is why they rarely affect the formulation’s performance drastically.

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How to customize a stock cosmetic formulation

To replace ingredients and customize a stock formulation, you must first identify those ingredients that are not 100% necessary, a.k.a the marketing ingredients.  Then think of possible replacements for the other ingredients. 

For example, let’s say you have a lotion formula with jojoba, almond oil, and a bunch of marketing ingredients.  If you replace these 2 oils with equivalent ones, the effect on the final product will be minimal. On the other hand, if you touch the water content, emulsifier, % of main ingredients and so on, you are going to alter the whole thing (which you don’t want to). When you’ll be confident about your skills as a formulator, you’ll want to move one step forward, but when you’re a beginner this procedure of making small changes can take you far.

Being able to use stock formulations will allow you to save a lot of money. Formulation development is one of the most expensive steps in starting a cosmetic line. My advice is that If you can afford it, hire a chemist to create a custom formulation unique to your brand. This will always be the best option.

Manufacturing & Sourcing ingredients

When it comes to manufacturing, it’s hard not to spend anything. This is one of the steps that requires money.

To spend as little as possible, I would suggest the following:

  • Manufacture yourself.
  • Start with a few units (250/500) to test the market before scaling up.

It’s also true that the simplest the product you need to manufacture, the easier it is to do DIY. So, again, be very careful, what product you choose to develop because it can make a huge difference. To learn how to set up a cosmetic lab for small/medium batches manufacturing read here.

And here’s a video where I describe 3 products that are super easy to make. Each one of them is a great starting point. 

People object all the time when I say this; they ‘re passionate about a specific product and don’t want to develop another one only because it’s easier to make.

BUT you need to understand that sometimes compromises are necessary to succeed in the long term. Start small with a product that’s easy to make and has a simple formula. 

Once you start making your first sales (one of the best moments of your life…) invest the profits into another product and so on.

When you want to start a cosmetic line with no money, you can’t expect to launch the perfect product!

Be patient!

 Trust me, this is the way to start. Once you have some cash rolling in, you can focus more on product development, if that’s what you want.

As far as the ingredients, the best way I know to source them when you’re on a tiny budget, is to ask free samples to suppliers. You can use an ingredients database such as to find suppliers within your country. 

Lately I’ve seen a lot of common ingredients being sold on Amazon , too. The advantage of buying from Amazon is that you don’t have to pay for shipping which is super fast too.Beeswax

Decyl Glucoside

Natural Oils

Essential Oils


Starting a cosmetic line with no money, tip #3: DIY LABELS

To save as much as you can for labelling and packaging, do as follows:

  • Forget about US suppliers when it comes to packaging. Go to or or instead. Oversea suppliers have a huge variety of packaging at a fraction of the cost. Always remember to negotiate the price and to ask for samples before placing a big order.
  • Launch a design contest or hire a designer. Design contests are when you have designers from all over the world sending you unique ideas based on a brief. Price is around $600 for a contest, and I highly recommend the website 99designs. They also released a cosmetic branding guide that you can find here. If you prefer to hire a designer, the best way to save money would be going on Fiverr or Upwork
  • Use a website like to design your own labels and then print them out using a professional printer and labels from
  • To check whether you have all the required information for the label to be FDA compliant, design the packaging according to this table below. Then, go to the store and buy the same product as yours to make sure all the information are there (and they’re in the right position).


From the FDA website

Starting a cosmetic line with no money, tip #4: Focus on what really matters and learn to save money.

While there are expenses you cannot avoid, some others are totally useless.

Completely useless are expenses such as: business cards, brand new Mac for your office, new desks and furniture, and, in general, everything that is not directly related to your cosmetic product, yet only serves the purpose of letting you feel like a “real” entrepreneur.  

If you subscribed to my newsletter, you know that spending too much money on unnecessary things is what I consider the #1 mistake when starting a new business

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For example, starting a legal business entity doesn’t have to be complicated and expensive.

When making the first steps, you definitely don’t need to hire a lawyer and you surely don’t need to waste months creating a business plan.

Websites such as Legalzoom allow you to create your business entity effortlessly with a few clicks. Legalzoom is the service I used to register my business so it’s 100% guaranteed. 

Use all your financial and physical energies to focus on product development. Everything else needs to come (and will come) at a later stage. 

If you have read this post, you’ll probably don’t have much money (yet) to invest in a cosmetic line. That is totally fine and shouldn’t discourage you. The good news is that if you have a job, you can start saving some money right away. It doesn’t matter whether you’ll be launching your line next week or a year from now; what matters is that you don’t stop pursuing your dream only because of money. Saving money requires sacrifices, yet is doable. Start by saving a little each month.

One passion I have, besides cosmetics, is finance. One app that has helped me tremendously to save money is Qapital. Qapital allows you to set automatic deposits and round up each transaction so you save money automatically and effortlessly.

The average annual amount saved by its users was $1,400 per year, enough to make your first steps in the cosmetic industry. 

I want to spend a few words on credit cards. Way too many people end up in debt when starting a business. As minimalist, I stay away from debt; at the same time, I understand that sometimes it’s a necessary step to get started. My suggestion is to use your brain when making a decision. To be 100% honest, credit cards have saved me many, many, times because of the delayed payment. I’m also a fan of credit card bonuses which I regularly use to pay for flights or redeem as statement credit. 

After reading this post, do you still believe it’s impossible to start a cosmetic line with no money? Let me know in the comments below!

33 thoughts on “Starting a cosmetic line with no money- Practical tips

  1. Alena Sheriff says:

    Hello. Thank you so much for this article. This is the best site!
    We are selling sugar scrubs from a home-based business and doing pretty well. We want to make sure that our labeling is FDA compliant. I noticed that there is no link in the article for the table to create the labels. The article states: “To check whether you have all the required information for the label to be FDA compliant, design the packaging according to this table.” But I couldn’t find a table. Would you please be able to share that information?

  2. Manuel de Jesús Estévez Santana says:

    Me gustaría iniciar una linea de cosmeticos de belleza para exportar desde.mi.pais de origen Republica Dominicana , quiero trabajar de la mano con usted para tener productos propios.

      • Luisa M Leonardo rodriguez says:

        hey luisa my name is also luisa
        hey well he said what I ve been wanting to do he wants to be able to make hes own beauty cosmetics line and ship it to the dominican republic and he wants you to make hes products and have hes own merchandise own label ….. 🙂 witch is the same questions i was going to ask you ?

  3. Jimmy Ng says:

    Hi Luisa,
    This is a good site for someone (like myself) trying to start a private label for cosmetics products (ie skincare). I’ve been reading a lot on your site and am grateful for such a good write up sharing by you.

    I am keen to start my own private label (skincare products) under my own brand/trademark (I already owned the trademark), and dropped you an email. Looking forward to receiving your email.

    Happy new year and thank you.

    Jimmy Ng @ KaizenOne
    E: /

  4. Earl says:

    Hi Luisa,

    Great article! Loved it!

    What is your opinion on “Formula Botanica” course or “Perry Romanowski’s course? Please let me know.


  5. Carolina Turcan says:

    Hello Luisa, such a great article thank you so much.
    I love that you are honest about what is really important when you wanna start your own cosmetic line.
    I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years but, i never had the courage to really look into it, and how to get started because i always thought that you need thousands of $$$ and to be honest the competition out there is insane.
    So, here i am, finally i had the courage to do some research which landed me on your site and your article gave me hope. I have the passion and drive and its been one of my “silent dreams” which now i feel optimistic that I CAN DO IT!!!

    Thank you so much 🙂


  6. Guru says:

    I like all the tips which you listed in this post about starting a cosmetic line with no money. Thanks for sharing these useful tips with us.

  7. Luna says:

    Thank you so much, I look forward returning to your site often. I am in the very early stages of starting my own business and would probably have given up, except for a couple of “customers ” who rave about the difference my products have made for them. It is neither easy nor quick, so thank goodness it is (usually) enjoyable!

  8. Ginette Ventura says:

    Thank you kindly for the article and the knowledge. Starting my own makeup line with a couple of products to be realistic is something I’ve thought about for yrs. I started wearing makeup later in life bc your skin changes with time and I wanted to feel beautiful. I’ve been told numerous times that it’s not worth it and I gave up . But the truth is I don’t want to have any regrets and I want my son to be proud of me.

  9. Kimberly Conley says:

    Awesome. Cant wait. You covered everything. Once im satisfied i have a safe and marketable product, should i offer small free test samples? Also whats the easiest item to start with? I have tins for lip balms. I have soap and i also love the idea of awesome lotions beard products etc. im a big fan of quality essential oils, so i will include them in all of my products. Im excited but i think i should start with practicing my new trade. I will be the guinea pig because i dont want anyone to get sick because i did not follow best practices. Its covid now and my husband is not working. We are far from starving, yet i want to help bring in $$$. The sooner i start, the better. Ive had successful businesses before. If i follow your advice i know i can do it. Im thrifty with money and already shamelessly ask vendors for free samples. I bought pipettes gloves hot plate seperate utensils , but i dont have the ph meter. Do people sell used ones? And do you offer any free recipes you think are winners? Can i buy your boojknvia venmo please? Or paypal zellie etc?! Lmk asap.

  10. Danielle Johnson says:

    Hi are you familiar with the face masks that comes in packs???… I’m interested in those for my masks and I’m ordering the kit off of amazon… I will be able to mix up any ingredients I need too for all skin type with the kit… I really like the idea having ready to use masks in the packs…. Are you familiar???

  11. Michicko says:

    You are the best! This is very helpful for me as an aspiring entrepreneur and beginner in cosmetics.
    Take care and God Bless.

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