Tips on Testing Active Ingredients for Your Cosmetics

In the previous post, we discovered that it took me a bit, a while, a few years to get organized with my ingredients testing methodology.

Today, I'm going to share a few of my testing methods and tips with you.

I realize some of these may seem too obvious for words, but if you also suffer from excessive exuberance and sudden lack of control when it comes to trying new ingredients and making cosmetics in general, you may just find them helpful.

Divide and Decide

Instead of letting wild abandon take over upon opening a shipment of new active ingredients, take a deep breath and prepare to divide and decide. 

Start by getting your notebook out. 

(Did I hear a quiet little moan and detect a bit of eye-rolling there?)

Don't skip this bit – it's the difference between unorganized chaos and organized 'I-totally-got-this-ness' (I know that's not a word, but I think you get the picture)

Now, catalogue each active ingredient. 

Is that anti-wrinkle active water-soluble? Oil-soluble? 
Does it require certain temperature or handling when adding to your formula?
What's the recommended dosage minimum and maximum?

As your notebook fills with useful, valuable, relevant information that you alone have brilliantly created for your own formulating needs, you'll discover you are already starting to feel familiar with the ingredient. And when you feel familiar with an ingredient, it becomes easier to know how (and in what) to implement it.

Cool, huh?

Now that you've sorted your ingredients, you're ready to start testing.

Next step is all about the base!

All About the Base

You'll need a few different bases in which to test your actives. Each base should be as neutral as possible so the active has the full possibility of showing what it can or can't do.

I have developed my own standard test bases with as few ingredients as possible

  • a hydrosol 
  • an aqueous gel 
  • an basic emulsion 
  • a few favorite oils

For the oil-soluble actives, I normally just use a fixed oil as the base, add the active and try it as a simple face or body oil. Jojoba, apricot, fractionated coconut, and almond oil are all suitably neutral.

You don't have to develop your own base formula. You could use a formula you have made trillions of times and are completely comfortable with - a favorite lotion, cream, gel, etc. Or, if you have a white label base cream, lotion etc you know well, use that.

The key is to add the active as the ONLY new ingredient into a base you already know inside out.

A/B Testing

It can be advantageous to prepare 2 versions of your base: one with and one without the active so you can perform an A/B test. This is a great way to get serious about testing an active - even if you are the only test subject.

A/B testing gives you an up close and personal result on whether the active is something you want to continue working with.

A/B testing is pretty straightforward: if testing an active for the face, use version A on one side of your face and version B on the other side of your face for a week (or whichever period of time is relevant).

Keep track of everything in your notebook.

Starting in the Middle

Every active ingredient has a recommended dosage. This information should be provided by the manufacturer. Sometimes a recommended dosage is listed as a maximum, but more often than not there is a recommended range, such as 2% - 5% of the total formula.

I normally start with the middle of the range for my initial test, then work toward either end of the scale in subsequent tests.

Starting in the middle usually gives me a clear indication of whether or not the ingredient has anything measurable/noticeable/tangible to offer.

Research While You are Testing

Because I am a bit of a sucker for new actives and will often order before doing any serious research on whether or not the claims are true, I often use my testing period to do some digging around for scientific evidence and other nerdy stuff that may enlighten.

The Notebook

Remember the notebook you started with? If it has been by your side during your choice of base, dosage amount, A/B testing impressions, and research notes, then you've got the beginnings of a proper ingredients encyclopedia right at hand.

Do Tell

Do you have a testing methodology for testing ingredients?

Read the first post right here.


aida_anthony said…
Good day Lisa. I have really learnt a lot from your blog as I just started making my own organic product. But will love to know how to make a hydrosol. Thanks.
LisaLise said…
Hello Aida - A hydrosol is a plant distillate and requires special equipment. I don't make my own hydrosols. If you google hydrosol or hydrolate distillation you will find information on how these are made. There is also a post on this blog if you type hydrosol production into the search field :)
Unknown said…
I already do some of this! Woo hoo! I am not as organized and methodical about it as you seem to be, though. I definitely need to work on that. Thanks for some great tips Lise!😃
LisaLise said…
Hi Belinda - thanks for your comment! It sounds like you have things organized perfectly for your needs already :)
Unknown said…
Lise, I have to be a bit methodical in testing new ingredients because of my darned allergies. I take a base recipe where I know all the ingredients are my friends and put the new ingredient in there, just like you recommended. That has worked well, or sometimes not so well, for me. I have a great list of my allergens and their reactions to share with my allergy doctor, though! Nature is not very nice to me at all!😟
LisaLise said…
Thanks for sharing Belinda. I wish you the best in your allergen pinpointing efforts - it can feel like an endless battle at times.
chaya888 said…
Great and very helpful post, I am a formula botanica student and this will definitely help me organize better the tons of ingredients I have aquired since I started. Love your posts , thanks for all the wonderful information !!
LisaLise said…
Hey there Chaya - Glad I could help! :)