COSCI 101 – The Basics: Cosmetic Padacts

Originally Published: January 11, 2019 | Re-Published: April 17, 2020

COSCI 101-01: The Basics with Cosmetic Padacts

Learn the basics of cosmetic chemistry with Cosmetic Padacts.

What is cosmetic chemistry?

From my perspective, cosmetic chemistry is the wonderful medium of beauty & science together. It’s where beauty & science meets. 

Cosmetic chemistry is the science that deals with the mixture and combination of substances to create cosmetics and how this combination interacts with us during its use – say, when you apply it to your skin, hair, nails, etc. 

Simply put, it’s the science that goes behind creating a cosmetic ingredient and/or cosmetic product

To create a cosmetic product, you need to understand the interactions occurring in your formula to have a stable product. You’re working with chemicals that need to work together to be stable — dun, dun, dun. 

That’s right folks, you heard it here first. Cosmetic products are made with chemicals

You also need to ensure that the product is safe for use – e.g. microbial testing, toxicological data, irritation tests, efficacy tests.

Basics in cosmetic chemistry

Surfactants — surface active agent that reduces the surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved in

  • functions can include: detergency, emulsifying, foam boosting
  • examples: sodium lauryl sulfate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium c14-16 olefin sulfonate

Emulsifiers – stabilizes 2 or more non-soluble or non-miscible substances

  • examples: oil in water, water in oil, water in silicone emulsions

Polymers – substance that has a molecular structure consisting of a large number of similar units bonded together

  • functions can include: film forming, rheological modifying, occlusive agent

Silicones – (…—Si—I—Si—O—Si—O—…)

  • one of the most misunderstood ingredients & one of my favorites for added sensorial aesthetics and function
  • functions can include: conditioning, defoaming, slip agent

Preservatives — inhibit the development of micro-organisms 

  • this is exactly why a product should have a preservation system. Without it, the product will be more susceptible to microbial contamination, which would not be safe for use. 
  • some products use the “hurdle” method, but that will come later. 

pH adjusters – ingredients used to adjust the pH of cosmetics

  • use a base to increase the pH
    • examples: sodium hydroxide, TEA, AMP, arginine
  • use an acid to decrease the pH
    • examples: citric acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid

So… what is a cosmetic then?

When consumers think about cosmetic products, they tend to think of:

  • makeup, skincare, hair care, body care, nail care

As a consumer myself, these are the first things that I think of, as well. Hence, why I mentioned them. Of course, there may be other categories of products that you may think of.

On the other hand, as a cosmetic chemist, I familiarize myself with the FDA’s cosmetic definition

The definition covers any and all cosmetics that you can possibly think of. If you can apply the product onto yourself in any of the above forms to cleanse, beautify (Google definition of beautify: improve the appearance of), promote attractiveness, or alter the appearance, it’s probably a cosmetic.

This definition does not cover soaps or products that have drug claims (e.g. anti-dandruff shampoo, antimicrobial soaps, deodorants that are also antiperspirants). 

I also familiarize myself with the EU cosmetic definition to begin understanding the thought process behind the EU market and become more helpful to EU customers/brands.

I like how the EU definition includes teeth and mucous membranes of the oral cavity because you may neglect that oral care products are cosmetics — again, this does not include products that have drug-related claims. If you’d like a quick overview about drug claims versus cosmetic claims, please let me know. 

Look forward to the next sections of COSCI 101

Continue learning about cosmetic chemistry with Cosmetic Padacts in the next sections of COSCI 101. Get information on skin chemistry, hair chemistry, and more in-depth information on topics in cosmetic chemistry. Follow us on Instagram (@cosmeticpadacts) & Twitter for updates on upcoming posts. 

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