The Challenges of Creating Cosmetics For Modern Consumers

Cosmetics consumers today seem to want it all: natural, safe, effective, planet-friendly, organic, sustainable, and

(pause for effect)


That last one is a bit of a biggie and might be why this has had my (and several of my clients) interest for quite a while now. Imagine being able to create preservative free (or self-preserving) skincare products that can 'stand alongside traditional creams and lotions' and perform and feel in such a manner that a user would not be able to tell the difference – either with application or general storage. They also have to have a shelf life comparable to traditionally preserved products.

Obviously, this kind of work does not come without challenges, but that's what makes it so very interesting.

Loosing the Water is a Start

One way of approaching a preservative free requirement is to start by excluding all water (and water-based liquids such as hydrosols and floral waters) and stick exclusively to anhydrous ingredients.

This nearly does away with the need of preservatives.

I say nearly because many products risk exposure to water or moisture because of they way they are designed to be used. Products such as scrubs, bath products of all types,  cleansing balms, and anything one might dip into with wet fingers fits this category.

If you're making products for personal use, you're probably already willing to take the necessary precautions during use (carefully reapplying the lid immediately after dipping into the product with a dedicated scoop, etc).

Selling these types of products without an added preservative is do-able, but it will require additional instructions (and cautions) on the label, added disclaimers, and a shorter shelf life expectancy than a similar product with added preservative.

And that's OK if your customers are willing to take the extra precautions when using the product.

But let's be honest here: most people just can't be bothered.

Even if they think they will be super careful to keep the contents moisture free and abide by all the carefully written instructions on the label, it won't take more than a mere moment before they don't.

And the next time they look for a scrub, they will in all likelihood migrate towards a different brand.

Don't Ignore the Can't-Be-Bothered Factor 

In my experience, unless you are presenting something earth-shatteringly new and different, it is unwise to ignore the 'can't-be-bothered' factor when you are developing and making products for sale.

Most consumers (myself included) suffer terribly from it.

Over the years, I have made and used many different cosmetics products. Some have had staying power, and some haven't.

Earlier, I didn't pay attention to the why and would just move on to newer and different things, but when I started analyzing the why, the same reasons kept popping up:
  • the product was too fiddly to use (example: must be kept moisture free and/or requires scoop or other instrument to dispense product)
  • the product had impractical requirements (example: must be stored cold, but warmed in hands before use)
  • using the product always came with extra clean-up (example: scrubs that leave an oily film on tiles, or colored products that look great in the bottle but stain towels)
Products like this will almost always have a short life.

Not always, but really really really really often.

Getting a preservative-free product past the can't-be-bothered factor is major – especially when it has to stand alongside 'normal' cosmetics products.

But it is do-able.

Back to Work

Happily, I love what I do and going to work feels more like a reward than a chore, so I continue.

Speaking of which...

Pictured at the top of this post: something several of you keep asking me about (and thank you for your interest!). It's batch number scadrillion of a series of anhydrous 'creams' I am (still) working on. We're almost there. Shelf life is acceptable (12 months). Stability is too so far.

Do Tell

Do you think your customers would be willing to deal with the 'can't be bothered' factor if you were selling preservative free cosmetics that came with 'extra rules' for use?


Anonymous said…
Hi there

Thanks for that post, I'm just starting out and had found a vegan friendly preservative, which I was going to use. I think I will just in the beginning have to keep things really simple. I am just really struggling to get some smell in a body oil using only a 1% dilution of essential oil. I have a long way to go but I'm really glad I found your posts

thank you
LisaLise said…
Hey there Anon - thanks for your comment. You are probably doing the wisest thing by taking it a step at a time. There are so many options at each stage of 'step at a time' that it shouldn't even feel like a hindrance! Your body oil could have plenty of scent coming through via the essential oils if you opt for neutral smelling carrier/fixed oils such as sweet almond, apricot kernel, and fractionated coconut oil. These all have a reasonable shelf life as well. Best of luck with your project!
Again, you have hit the nail squarely on its ugly head. I always enjoy reading your commentary on making cosmetics, as it is always to the point.

This is just my take on the conversation, but I find younger customers not seeming to have a high tolerance for doing all the little extras, which would extend the life of their product. The older the client, the more likely she will be to place the item into the refrigerator for safekeeping or to keep water from entering a jar of scrub, and she will more likely honor "Expiration Dates." Also, mature buyers are much more likely to read the cautions before using a product.

We have reared a generation of skincare enthusiasts who see the words, "natural, organic, vegan," and think, "it's all good," without fully understanding the differences in off-the-shelf brands and those made to order. Every new customer must be educated before we let them dive willy nilly into our latest moisturizer.

Thank you, Lisa.
LisaLise said…
Hey there Karen - Thanks for your comment. I think you are right about younger folks being in a bit more of a hurry when it comes to skincare (and maybe many other things as well)

I also agree about educating customers. It's understandable though. Not everyone has the time (or inclination) to go into as much detail with skincare products as those of us who make them. We are perhaps the strange ones in that respect (insert laughing face emoji!)
Consider This said…
Hi Lise, thanks so much for your blog post. I'm trying hard to make a go of totally natural (meaning preservative and emulsifier free) anhydrous products. And yes, perhaps I need to explain to customers that very little should be used so as not to create an oily film. I almost feel that customers need to be educated to appreciate the texture of the product. It feels a bit like when everyone ate white bread and whole grain come along, lol.
LisaLise said…
Hi Consider This - Thanks for your comment! I know what you mean about instructing/educating clients. The difference between a balm and lotion also makes a difference in amount needed for application, but we creatures of habit tend to go with what we know. Your bread analogy is spot on 👍🏻