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Cosmetic Product Development: From Concept to Launch

Author: Evelyn y
Mar. 07, 2024
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The whole point of a cosmetics company is to develop and sell products. As a consumer, you have likely noticed that the retail landscape is constantly changing and new products are being launched all the time. How do brands make this happen?

Today, I'd like to walk through the general product development process. It will vary a bit depending on the company and type of product, but overall the steps are the same.

There are two main groups involved in the development process: cosmetic chemists (or research and development) and marketing.

The role of marketing is to identify what consumers want or need and how to position it in the marketplace. They might have a competitor product they want to reverse engineer, an emerging trend they want to capitalize on, or something as simple as a new shade of an existing product offering.

Sometimes, the idea might come from research and development (referred to as R&D). A cosmetic chemist might experiment with their own ideas in the laboratory and come up with something new and exciting. A raw material supplier might visit and share a new material they developed that would make for a great new product.

No matter where the idea comes from, both groups work together to make the process to commercialization successful. The journey from idea to product on a shelf can take anywhere from a couple months to a couple years!

Here are the general steps:


1. Idea is identified and described by Marketing in a product brief

The brief summarizes product characteristics like product form, appearance, fragrance, benefits, claims, competitive products, packaging characteristics, price range, geographical market, etc.

2. Marketing and R&D meet to review and refine the brief

R&D helps define the specifications and determine what is technically feasible from a production and cost perspective.

3. R&D researches the product

Using the information in the product brief, ingredients are researched from a technical, regulatory, and price perspective to create a "dry lab" formula, or a list of ingredients and percentages.

4. R&D submits paper formula to Marketing

Before laboratory work begins, Marketing reviews the paper formula to make sure both parties are on the same page regarding cost, ingredients, and claims. This is the time to confirm requirements for ingredients like an extract that must be included at a certain percentage or a preservative that cannot be used.

5. R&D makes prototypes

R&D begins laboratory work to produce prototypes and test for functionality, safety, aesthetics, stability, and packaging compatibility.

6. Marketing reviews the prototypes and provides feedback

Marketing gives feedback to the technical team about changes they would like to see in the formula. This step iterates until the formula is finalized. The more specific the feedback, the easier it is for R&D to change.

For example: "The lotion is too thick" is not as helpful as "The lotion is too thick to easily dispense from the tube. It should be less viscous but not so thin that it leaks from the package orifice"


7. Consumer testing

This step can be expensive if you are testing a new product with a large group of consumers. The idea is to get consumer insights on product attributes. The level of testing could range from informal feedback from company employees to a focus group of consumers to in-home testing of prototypes. In some cases, consumer testing will be skipped completely.

8. Stability testing

The most important R&D testing is stability. Will the product change over time or interact with the packaging in a way that is undesirable? (Examples include separation, color change, change in pH or viscosity, degradation of preservatives or active ingredients) The results of stability testing determine the product shelf life.

9. Clinical studies

Clinical testing is typically done to verify a specific claim, such as non-comedogenic. Other testing may be necessary depending on the formula type. For example, sunscreen products need to be tested to confirm the SPF level.


10. Scale-Up

This is where the process engineer takes over from the cosmetic chemist. While the chemist made prototypes in a beaker at approximately one-kilogram scale, the engineer will scale the product up to its full manufacturing size which could be in the range of 500 to 20,000 kg. The process typically involves a mid-size pilot batch, a full-size trial batch, and if all goes well, the first commercial manufacturing batch to be sold to consumers. The best analogy is taking a cooking recipe designed for a small family and upgrading it for a large event.

11. Release testing

Before the first commercial batch can be sold, it will be tested against the specification created by R&D. The specification includes tests for appearance, color, odor, pH, viscosity, and levels of preservatives and active ingredients.

12. Ship to trade

If all testing passes, the product is released to market and shipped to customers. Success!


  • Marketing and R&D could be two departments in the same large organization, but other variants exist. For a small brand, Marketing might be the founder and R&D could be the contract manufacturer making the products. Even for large companies, some steps may be outsourced such as clinical testing and stability testing.

  • This process is complicated by additional stakeholders. Upper management may have a stage-gate process where cost and progress are reviewed after key milestones. Projects can be cancelled at any time if they are over budget, taking too long, or if the retailer decides not to take the new formula.

  • In addition to Marketing and R&D, many other departments provide input including: Quality, Manufacturing, Supply Chain, Sales, Procurement, Packaging Engineering, Microbiology, Analytical, Project Management, Demand Forecasting, etc.

Overall, I hope you can see that it takes a lot of time and effort to take a product from a concept to a finalized formula available for purchase. Did any of these steps surprise you? Are there certain steps you would like to know more about? Please leave a comment!

Tomorrow, September 9, we observe International Makeup Day and, by extension, celebrate all that the world of cosmetics offers us. Cosmetic and personal care products offer different benefits for a wide variety of individuals, and that’s certainly something worth commemorating.

It’s a particularly exciting time for the industry right now, too, with positive trends emerging that will shape the future of the market. For one, there’s the push for more sustainable practices and products, with 92% of consumers stating that they’d rather support businesses that espouse environmental and social causes.

There’s also the increased emphasis on offering a variety of colors and shades that work with the full spectrum of human skin tones, helping to boost inclusivity and body positivity in the world of beauty. Healthy skincare is also on the rise, with related products now accounting for 40% of the market, and men are a sizeable portion of the buyer base, with that segment expected to reach a valuation of $18.92 billion globally by 2027.

Taking these developments and other shifts in consumer tastes into account, your cosmetics and personal care business will need to prioritize new product development (NPD) and conduct the process in order to remain relevant and profitable. To make sure your teams have the tools they need, you need to ensure that you have the right industry-specific product lifecycle management (PLM) software in place.

From there, you should follow these six basic steps to bring your new product to market and take full advantage of your PLM system and the benefits it offers at each stage.

1. Create the Product Brief

To begin, you’ll need a sound and well-constructed product brief—the document that outlines the business case, general product specifications and how the item will be presented to the target audience. While you won’t have exact details in this phase, you should strive to make the brief as complete as possible, covering all that you can of category, function, color, odor, texture, size and other key attributes.

Because many teams will be using the document as a reference and coming back to it often, you’ll need to make sure to include information that will help all involved stakeholders get their jobs done. Also keep in mind that it’s never too early to involve your compliance specialists—creating products to be compliant by design is the best practice to avoid unfortunate surprises down the line.

2. Perfect the Product Formulation

Now it’s time to let the creative minds in your research and development department do what they do best—iterate on the formula, fine-tune ingredient levels and determine the best processes for manufacturing according to product specifications. They’ll have the outline provided by the brief to get them started but should be given freedom to explore the possibilities.

A purpose-built PLM platform can truly empower your R&D team, giving them a single source of truth for product information and allowing them to digitally record the materials, concentrations and creation methods behind the prototypes they make. An advanced solution like Aptean’s PLM for personal care and cosmetics businesses can also flag allergen and other compliance concerns so that they’re apparent early on and can be addressed.

3. Source the Raw Materials

Once the product formula has been determined and spelled out in precise detail, you’re ready to start shopping around for the raw materials you’ll need not only to produce your new offering, but also those necessary to package it for retail. While cost will always be a factor to consider, keep in mind the importance of sustainability we mentioned at the outset as you evaluate various vendors.

In order to make sure you’ve got the right fit and are working with sources you can trust, it’s a good idea to get a number of suppliers to submit proposals complete with not only pricing but also information on origin and their own internal sustainability practices. Once you’ve found the partners you prefer, your PLM software can store and maintain all of their critical information for future reference.

4. Design the Packaging

Considering the fact that product packaging has a profound impact on perception given that it forms shoppers’ first impressions, that element can be almost as important as the item itself. Your marketing and art departments must convey a variety of different concepts in what is typically a fairly minimal space, but make sure they cover as much as possible, from use cases and appearance to any necessary health and safety disclosures.

A good PLM solution should offer a set of tools specifically for this step to help your highly qualified staff to leverage their intuitive artistic sense to choose the ideal font, colors and graphics. What’s more, a solid system will also let them share their ideas and concepts with others involved in the NPD process to get feedback and build out the best approach.

5. Dial in on Quality and Compliance

You want every experience your customers have with your brand to be positive, so at this point you need to test the quality of the finished goods in your initial production runs rigorously and tweak manufacturing processes accordingly to get consistent results. Also, for compliance, you’ll need to conduct microbiological, toxicology, stability and potentially other assessments to confirm that your product is entirely fit for consumer use.

Keep in mind that legislation on cosmetic product compliance varies from region to region and country to country, so make sure your professionals conduct the proper research and know the relevant laws pertaining to both the category of the item and the materials used in its manufacture. This is also the time to complete necessary documentation, including the Product Information File (PIF), Safety Data Sheet, Cosmetic Notification Form and more, as necessary.

Thankfully, Aptean’s PLM can automate that sometimes tedious portion of this stage and even translate the documents to different languages as the situation calls for it.

6. Validate the Final Product

Finally, we come to the last step, which is the official validation of the product and the completion of all required internal and external approvals. You’ll want to go back to the original product brief and make sure that what has been created still aligns with the goals you set out to accomplish, comparing your latest prototypes to the concepts laid out at the start.

While it’s not likely that you’ll need to make changes at this point, remain flexible and remember that preserving the hard work of everyone involved in the NPD process is of utmost importance. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to putting out new cosmetic goods, as shoppers have plenty of choices on the market and you want to create loyal brand supporters and repeat customers by offering nothing but the best.

Forming a Foundation for Your Company’s Future

With International Makeup Day nearly upon us and the cosmetics and personal care industries evolving in dynamic and fascinating ways, now is a great time to jumpstart your digital transformation and prepare for the future by putting a PLM system in place. There are several reasons you should trust Aptean and our full suite of business solutions for your company’s needs.

First, there’s our decades of collective experience and in-depth knowledge of best practices, which we’ve put to use in developing our industry-specific, best-in-class PLM software. We understand the challenges that cosmetics and personal care product manufacturers face and have carefully crafted the features that you’ll need to effectively clear those hurdles.

Of course, there are also the benefits that our PLM platform offers—namely, faster time to market, better collaboration between the various departments involved in NPD and the International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient (INCI) database built-in, ensuring you always use proper ingredient names and automatically generate your quali-quanti formula.

Finally, there’s our reputation for acting as a partner to our clients—guiding them through the implementation process and providing advice on other solutions that can bolster your modernization and digital transformation efforts.

We’re here to help your business get to the next level and meet the changing demands of the cosmetics and personal care industry. So, if you’re eager to learn more about Aptean’s PLM for cosmetic and personal care companies, contact us today. You can also request a personalized demo at your convenience to see the software in action.

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