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Making Natural Skincare Products – It’s Not Easy Being Green…..

Post by Sandy Powell on September 8, 2015

“It’s not easy being green… ” I hum this with an impressive Kermit the Frog imitation all the time.

I’ve been making natural plant based products since well, before most consumers realized that it might be important, trendy or fashionable; using ingredients like essential oils, minimal preservatives and plant based emulsifiers that most conventional chemists still shy away from.  Too expensive, too unstable, too unpredictable they all say; and they’re right.

This is where consumer Idealism meets manufacturer realism.

Still, many of us do our best to meet the challenge of what the industry seems to dictate as natural and, balancing the sometimes impossible requirements to satisfy consumer demands.   All this while maintaining sanity and a sense of humour.  To demonstrate this, I have complied a list of what many customers over the years want or ask for during product development along with some of my responses ( in green of course).

The Customer Wants:

Their Own Proprietary Formulas Developed

I know this may be your dream to own the recipes but at least get your feet wet with proven formulas that work. Most of us in the business have these.  It’s less expensive and easier on everyone’s nerves. We can work to re-engineer some of your formulas to actually work better and more cost effective but it takes time.

A Line of 10-15 Products to launch All At Once

Good grief! Even big companies with truckloads of money don’t do this.  They know better. Be realistic and take your time to develop product lines carefully and slowly.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The Customer Wants Ingredients Which Are:

  • Plant Based or Sourced
  • GRAS – Generally Regarded as Safe
  • Certified Organic
  • Non petroleum
  • Non paraben
  • No phthalates
  • Hypo-allergenic
  • Non-solvent extracted
  • Approved worldwide
  • Eco-Cert ©
  • Fair trade
  • Ethically grown
  • Vegan Certified
  • Cruelty free
  • Not tested on animals
  • Hah! You forgot “Kosher Certified”

And  … Documentation to verify all of the above

It is physically impossible to verify all of these claims for ingredients unless you are able to journey from crop to production to final destination with various global companies; and I know that they won’t allow this. It would also become financially overwhelming.  You just have to take their word and provided paperwork as true. Should you go on a quest to verify everything, be prepared to spend a lot of time in exotic and dangerous places. You will also rack up a lot of air miles.

The customer would also like… minimal preservatives (or none) which are naturally Sourced.

Can you spell L-I-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y  or  L-A-W-S-U-I-T  or  G-O-V-E-R-N-M-E-N-T  P-E-N-A-L-T-I-E-S?  I hope you can. ( an ode to Mr. Rogers)   There are many good proven preservative systems out there that are used in less than 1% which, while not totally natural, will do the job with no side effects.  The safety of your product should be top priority.

Oh, and the customer also wants:

  • No synthetic fragrance
  • Natural fragrance
  • No fragrance
  • Unscented
  • Scent Free

Oh, please just pick one! “No scent” is nearly impossible as all ingredients have some sort of aroma. This is very misleading for the unsuspecting public.  The only real option for natural aroma is essential oils which are far more expensive than most fragrances, unstable as the aroma will dissipate over time and can alter the consistency of the product. However, they are healthier for you than synthetic fragrance. It does require skill to incorporate essential oils on a large scale production especially if it is a detailed blend.

They also want us to use… deionized,  reverse osmosis or distilled water

We totally agree with this as water is a big part of most formulas yet taken for granted. Very few manufacturers have or are willing to spend money on the quality of water, so if you find one that provides these water sources, you should consider working with them.

They also want to…

Change their mind about ingredients part way through development because they read about some new plant derived ingredient they now want to use; or remove a current  ingredient because they read some unscientific, non-cited  information from a vague source on  the internet.

This one is a contract breaker as we have to research the ingredient, source it, re-experiment, and alter other things about the formula to accommodate your now emerging expert opinion. Things can get testy….

Have products made in a GMP, ISO, Organic Certified or Vegan Certified Facility

This is involves a lot of money, documentation and time for manufacturers to attain for their facilities.  Therefore it adds to the price of compounding and other overhead costs which we must pass on to you; all because you want to put those little icons on your label.  Cha Ching!

Manufacturer and or Formulator to have full product liability insurance

This is also very expensive for the manufacturer to have.  Many customers do  not have it because they can’t afford it or it is not financially viable when starting out which is understandable; however,  remember the issue with preservatives and liability?  If our insurance is at stake, we will make sure the product is completely safe or you will have to sign off and use your own insurance, if you have it.

They also want their products to…

  • Have a long shelf life
  • Look perfectly white, clear or maintain colour
  • Stay consistent in extreme heat and cold
  • Have a strong lasting stable aroma

Just like the products that are petroleum based, solvent extracted, full of paraben formaldehyde donor preservatives and synthetic fragrances. Yippee!!

Have Nice Packaging

Yes of course, because after all of the prodding, experimenting and negotiating back and forth to get the ingredients sourced to your specs, tweak the formula  and develop a great natural product, many of your customers are initially going to buy the product only because of that nice frosted glass bottle with a three colour silk screened box which costs more that the contents.  Thankfully those contents will be great and natural.  We understand that presentation is important but please work with a designer to get it right and then have us approve the decision.  We have to make sure it is a container that is appropriate for the product and easy to fill.

Have correct labeling including proper order of ingredients

Very difficult when you keep changing your mind on those ingredients.  Every adjustment means that we have to change the order on the label.    This is more time consuming than you think.  Any chemists reading this are nodding right now in approval.

They also need it ASAP!! because of the coming season, a great opportunity, celebrity endorsement or some other panicked reason

To this I say…Whooaa Seabiscuit!  if you have a good product, then take the time to develop and market properly.  Believe me, those opportunities will always be around.  Rushing doesn’t make it better.  Slow and steady always wins the race.

Then the Customer Wonders…

Why we charge consulting and development fees?

Because you probably don’t work for free and neither do we.  Time is money and if we charge fees upfront, it separates the serious from the tire kickers.  It tends to focus the customer’s mind and reduce the back and forth decision changes as they now see how much the product is going to cost.

Why we don’t just magically stock all the ingredients ever produced in the history of mankind available in the right amounts to start the project NOW?

Sorry, we’ll get right on that right after I call my investment adviser to liquidate all my stocks and other assets.

Why do we have to do stability testing? It’s all natural right??

Because it is natural, the shelf life is shorter with less stable ingredients; therefore it is even more important to do testing

Why we can’t just give them a ball park price long before all the details and costs are worked out?

Because you will try desperately to hold us to that original figure if the project rises by even 10 cents. Been there, done that.

Then they ask…

Why is the whole process taking so long?


And the biggest one…. Why it is so Expensive??!

OK, now I have completely lost it!

As you can see, I had a bit fun writing this piece but all of these situations are ones I deal with all the time and all requests are valid.  I understand that it is someone’s passion to bring products to market and realize their dream.  This is what I do for a living and love it.

Those of us in the business just ask for a bit of understanding that when you go down this road there are so many variables to have in order along with time and money to get your product out to consumers.

There are reasons why companies use petroleum based, cosmetic grade standardized products; It’s easy, cheap, fast and simple; but it won’t be natural.  You can’t have it both ways.  So please listen to us while we hold your hand, walking down that road.  We’ve been at this a long time and want you to be successful as well.

It’s not easy, or cheap, or fast, or simple being Green….

Sandy Powell

Nascent Naturals Inc.

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