When people start making there own formulation most people struggle with some or all of these mistakes, I know I certainly did.
- Buying (and using) all the ingredients
When most people start out you want to try and test everything so they buy all the fancy ingredients and its end up costing you a lot of money. A far better (though definitely more boring) approach is starting with the basic, functional ingredients. Learn what those ingredients do, how to work with them, and what they’re for. Then, slowly add more ingredients that interest you, researching and experimenting as you go. Knowing why you are using each ingredient and what each ingredient is doing in a formulation will make you a much better formulator, much faster.
- Not working in weights (and percentages)
If you don’t have a scale, we would suggest you get one, they are not expensive and can help you in the long run. Unfortunately using teaspoons and drops is really inaccurate. Why is working in percentages super important? Because percentages are universal and relative. “Percentages (by weight!) are a universal language. Once you start to think and formulate in percentages you will be able to instantly understand so much about formulas—not only yours, but ones you find online, in reference books, and from suppliers and manufacturers. Working in percentages is the first step to understanding how different types of formulas are structured.”
- Making big batches
It can take a while to get a handle on how much of a formulation is enough to get a feel for if you like it or not. By making big batches it will end up costing you a lot of money especially if you don’t like the formulation. Always remember a little goes a long way.
- Not understanding and following usage rates
Have you ever purchased an ingredient and wondered “how much of this am I supposed to use for it to work?”. That’s where the recommended usage rate for that ingredient comes in!
part of using ingredients safely and effectively is using them within their recommended usage rate. This is information your supplier should provide.
- Not understanding when a preservative is likely required
Some new makers believe every formulation requires a preservative while some believe none do. The general rule of thumb is that if a formulation contains water and is not designed for immediate consumption or
if an otherwise anhydrous formulation might be contaminated with water throughout its lifetime, you probably need a preservative. This is a very broad rule of thumb, but it’s a good place to start.
- Lotions: emulsified lotions require preservatives because they contain water.
- A clay face mask that contains water but is being used up immediately: because it isn’t being stored, it doesn’t need a preservative.
- Bath bombs that are made with water that evaporates off: while the bath bomb is definitely “contaminated” with water during use, it is used up straight away, so no preservative is needed.
- Scrubs: if you portion off single-use amounts you don’t need to add a preservative, but if you plan on storing the whole batch in the bath (or gifting it to somebody who might), a preservative is a good idea as the product is likely to be contaminated with water.
- Bar soap: even though it contains water, the high pH and high anionic surfactant content mean it is self-preserving.
- Jumping straight into selling
Selling your creations to the public is a big deal; it’s a lot of extra work and bureaucracy above and beyond formulating and making the products. Precisely how much paperwork is required will depend a lot on where you are planning to sell your products, but you will need to tackle challenges like insurance, legally compliant packaging, inventory management, shipping, customer service, and more. If you’re a new maker, I really encourage you to wait for a few years before you start selling to the public (especially if you aren’t taking a course to speed up your learning).
- Looking for one answer to questions that are giant “it depends” situations
If you’re researching a question and you cannot find anything even vaguely resembling a suitable answer, it may be because the question you’re asking is really big and doesn’t have just one answer.
As a formulator, you have to get used to “it depends” as the answer to many questions. Questions like “What is the best preservative?”, “How much essential oil can I use?”, and so many more do not have one answer. It’s a great big mess of “it depends”.
- Being too afraid to fail—try it and see what happens!
Wondering what will happen if you swap one carrier oil for another, or add X ingredient to a formulation that doesn’t call for it? Try it! Start small, make sure you’re following usage rates, and take lots of notes. Try it and see—it’s a wonderful way to learn.