Cosmetic Formulating - Why it is important to practise your art

People are worried about failure in this industry,  I see it in the sphere of home crafting cosmetics anyway. There seems to be a culture of people not practising and experimenting enough with ingredients for fear of not getting things right straight away. They may also fear wasting ingredients.  The thing is, if you are not in a position to get free samples then this is one of the things you have to deal with or you will never really learn the art.

Yes, you can learn from others mistakes but you have to remember two things; (a) to get to where they are they have spent a lot of their time and money learning and; (b)  Until you do it yourself, it is still just theory. For me lack of experimentation and fear of failure is a problem because in cosmetic formulating and in life, experimenting is the one thing that has to happen for learning and growth. These things have to happen for you to ultimately make fantastic products. I see that people want answers straight away and want to get it right instantly.  But this is impossible, especially if you have only just started on your journey. Experimenting is also important for even the most experienced of cosmetic scientists. New materials are coming out all the time so it is important to play around with these ingredients to see how they behave.

My experience

When I first wanted to bring a selection of soaps to market I had just started on my cold-processed soap journey and was enjoying myself. Soap making is truly a satisfying hobby. But initially I was disappointed, many a safety assessor would not agree to sign off a cold processed soap product unless I had a minimum of one year experience in soap making. Could I wait that long I thought? But the choice wasn't there and I was already obsessed with soap.

It took me another two years of experimenting and deciding how I wanted my soaps to be, before I presented my formulations to my safety assessor. In hindsight I am glad it did. All sorts of things happened in that two year journey. I realised a number of lessons to do with the art and chemistry of soaping, I also realised that all the so-called 'failures' and successes in my journey gave me the experience I needed to work effectively and safely in soap making. It taught me how the ingredients interacted and gave me intimate knowledge of the aesthetic characteristics of the raw materials in relation to the end soapy product.

I have had all sorts of things happen – I have had soaps rice, become like a volcano, separate and then magically come back together again.  I learnt some important lessons about how fragrance and colour interacts with soap batter and how to change my processes to account for them. These are just a few things.

Soap can be extremely unpredictable and even now formulas that I have worked with umpteen times can prove to cause a problem for no apparent reason, somewhat randomly.  Reading books about soaping have given me a great foundation;  don't get me wrong,  until you make a soap it is merely conjecture. Only experience has given me this knowledge and this knowledge takes the anxiety away when things do go awry. As a result I have learnt to just relax and enjoy the quirks and foibles of soap.

Why it is important to practise your art

Now, soap making is just one journey but it can be transposed onto any other type of cosmetic product development and indeed any other kind of occupation. Essentially, I am talking about the importance of experience. For me, experience is just about being around long enough to make lots of mistakes and to have lots of triumphs and to learn from both.  As long as you ask ‘what went wrong and why?’ it is all for good gain.

Experience is not something you can learn in books. Theory is theory, books are great and the written word can teach us many useful things but ultimately practise is what will make you a great formulator.    As you experiment with more materials, as you learn your art, as you experience more, you will find that in the end  formulating is almost intuitive. You will find that as you work with more materials, you will have less hiccups, less time spent on wondering what went wrong and have more formulations turn out exactly how you envisaged they would.

Rebecca xoxo