How to use natural extracts in cosmetic formulas

How to use natural extracts in cosmetic formulas

Natural extracts have a huge appeal for consumers: using herbal extracts for medicinal purposes has been around for thousands of years, and consumers are increasingly looking to integrate a more wholistic approach to their skin care routines. But how do you choose which natural extracts to use in your cosmetic formulas, how much do you need to use, and how do you add them to your cosmetic formulas? Follow these steps to make great herbal extract choices – and get the best performance – in your next cosmetic developments.

How to choose which natural extracts will work best in your cosmetic formula.

There are two broad categories of natural extracts from which we make our starting selection:

  • those with clinically proven efficacy data – considered active extracts; and
  • those without proof – considered ‘added extras’ (not actives).

The natural extracts with clinical proof from the suppliers will give you the stated performance, when used in the same way, and at the same amount, as the supplier. For example, if your cosmetic ingredient supplier has a green tea extract with clinical data to show improved radiance by say, 12%, when used in a cream formula at 5%w/w input with directions for use twice a day – then if you use that exact material in your cream formula at 5%w/w, you could expect your cosmetic formula to have the same results.

However, purchasing a green tea extract (as an example) from a different supplier, where they don’t have this sort of performance data does not mean you can expect the same result.

Natural extracts can be obtained using a variety of extraction methods, and each different extraction method – not to mention the source of the natural ingredient to begin with – can have incredibly different performance results.

Where there is no efficacy data from the supplier for their specific material, then not only should you not expect visible results, you also can’t make performance-based claims. Even with the efficacy data from the supplier, remember that in some regions, like South Korea, you will need to hold your own efficacy data specific to your formulation before you can make visible results based claims.

Watch this video for guidance on evidence to support cosmetic claims, and learn how to prepare labels and claims to comply with your country requirements with this Certificate program. You can also see how to conduct your own performance testing with this video, and how to check for efficacy and input data in this video.


Many natural extracts have known medicinal uses – can I use these claims to promote my cosmetics?

The short answer is no. Just remember that a cosmetic product is to maintain and improve the appearance of the skin or hair, not treat disease or a health condition. This means that even though there may be very strong evidence for the medicinal properties of a herbal extract, you can’t use that information to promote your cosmetic product, or the use of that natural extract in your cosmetic formula.

Consumers can conduct their own research – and many may already know about the traditional benefits and uses of certain natural extracts, so don’t risk breaking the rules with claims you can’t make. Instead, focus on the benefits the natural extracts have in your cosmetic formula and application, they still hold immense appeal, because they are natural, for consumers.


How to add natural extracts to cosmetic formulas.

Most natural extracts come in a liquid form which is usually water soluble, such as glycerin or a glycol. When they come in this way, it is easy to add them to the cool phase of a cosmetic formula.

Most natural extracts should be added below 40˚C; you can check the suppliers information for details on pH compatibility, temperature of addition and any other important processing steps – where this is not mentioned, always add at cooler temperatures to protect the phytonutrients within the extract.

Some extracts may be oil based; if this is the case they are better suited to cosmetic formulas where oil is the continuous phase, or small additions may still be stabilised in an o/w emulsion. In some cases, you may need additional solubiliser for stability. Watch this video for additional tips on how to add herbal extracts to cosmetic formulas.

If your natural extract is in a powdered form, you will need to solubilise it first in an appropriate medium. Check its solubility and you may even need to filter out undissolved portions before adding to your cosmetic formula. Watch this video which explains how to add powdered fruit, vegetable or herbal extracts to cosmetic formulas.


Which natural extracts have the most appeal to consumers?

The natural extracts that have the most appeal will depend completely on the target market you are focusing on. Every region of the world has their own traditional extracts which are highly popular, and there are so many newly discovered extracts from exotic and even remote regions of the world. Think: what is my consumer interested in? Which product stories will resonate with their desires and ignite their sense of curiosity? Which cultures will they resonate with, or find appealing? You might be surprised to find that some consumers love their local culture and history, while others will be inspired by far away cultures and traditions.

Either way, you’ll find a variety of cosmetic ingredient suppliers have a multitude of solutions to suit every type of consumer. Start researching which ingredients or regions appeal to your target market, then use database searches such as UL Prospector or your meetings at in-cosmetics events to find the suppliers with the natural extracts that will suit your specific consumer groups.

Natural extracts are an excellent addition to cosmetic formulas because their use resonates with consumer wants for a more natural and wholistic lifestyle. The use of natural extracts has been favoured for thousands of years and they provide a fantastic marketing story – and potential performance benefits – for your consumers.

Remember to talk with your cosmetic ingredient suppliers about their latest launches and explore the world of natural extracts at the next in-cosmetics exhibition.

Happy formulating! 


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Belinda is the Director of Institute of Personal Care Science, leaders in on-line Internationally Recognised Training for Cosmetic Formulation and Regulatory Affairs. She holds a Bachelor of Natural Therapies, Diploma of Cosmetic Science and Certificate in Training and Assessment. She has written 5 books on Cosmetic Formulation from Beginners through to Advanced levels as well as Organic and Colour Cosmetic Formulations and Brand Management. Belinda provides training to all levels of industry, from Beginners through to Advanced Diplomas both on-site and via distance. She has also developed thousands of personal care formulations and document dossiers over the years. She specialises in training on innovative and compliant product developments.

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