How Do You Do That?

How Do You Do That?

When I was a kid watching “The Young and the Restless” with my grandmother dreaming about my own skincare company, I thought all anyone had to do was to get some simple ingredients, stir them together and put them in cute little containers with fancy labels the same way I created fragrances in my sister’s Easy Bake Oven.

Aaaaah, the fantasies of youth!

First, there is the training. You need a background in chemistry to become a cosmetic chemist (equivalent to a BA degree), plus extensive experience working in a lab before you can even begin to create products for the industry’s three designations: cosmetics, personal care and fine fragrances.

But wait! The fragrance industry requires an additional step. You have to become a “certified nose,” which is the equivalent of a BA in perfumery. It can only be obtained by studying under a perfumer at a fragrance house who teaches you to identify fragrances using your schnoz. Honing that essential skill is incredibly hard! My next goal is to become a “perfumer,” akin to getting a PhD in fragrances. 

The crazy process of creating products for clients begins when they ask me to develop skincare products under their brand (like Jennifer Lopez’s “Still”). Most think it’s easy-breezy and won’t take long. Wrong! Sometimes it can be done in six months, but the average length is 12 to 18. We need at least four months in development and another 90 days for compatibility and stability packaging required by the FDA. And that’s the time frame if everything is smooth sailing. When we create OTC products like sunscreen, hair regrowth, hand sanitizer, acne and hemorrhoid creams, the FDA standards are higher and take longer. 

Since retail stores don’t want to allocate shelf space if a line is not expansive, I always recommend a collection of at least four different products. On clients’ first visits I ask them to bring in samples of products they like. Let’s take hand creams. They may like two brands but think one is too greasy and the other dries their skin. Like Goldilocks, they want one that is “just right.” That’s not a problem. I can cross-engineer the two and create a new formulation that eliminates the offenders. But sometimes I have to submit 20 samples before we hit on the exact one. 

Even after clients have approved their products and signed on the dotted line, they often ask if I can “just” change one element. For instance, they want to change the color from lavender to green. I tell them there is no “just.” Every ingredient has a different chemical makeup and to make any changes at this point, we have to go back to the beginning. Most decide the products are fine “just” the way they are.

One of my more complex but super fun lines was commissioned by Jessica Simpson (a sweetheart to work with) who wanted a sexy line of edible beauty products called “Dessert.” I worked with food chemists and came up with names like Whipped Body Cream with Candy Sprinkles, Deliciously Kissable Belly Button Love Potion Fragrance, Hot Body Topping and more. We used flavors such as Cotton Candy, Vanilla Cream and Cinnamon Bun, but there was a lot of tweaking. Creating an edible line was a first for me and it was great fun. The approval process, not so much!

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