Cosmetic Formulations Guide: Terminology Used

Cosmetic Formulations Guide: Terminology Used

Cosmetic Formulations Guide

Dive into the world of cosmetics with our comprehensive guide to terminology used in cosmetic formulations.


You don’t require a degree in chemistry or cosmetology. However, understanding which ingredients to incorporate into your formulations is crucial. This is where our Cosmetic Formulations Guide comes in handy. It equips you with knowledge about how various ingredients interact, the processing steps involved, and how to achieve the desired end product.

In preparation for you to choose your own ingredients and formulate your creations, let’s begin by examining some fundamental principles. Before delving into ingredient selection and formulations, it’s essential to grasp the terminology describing ingredients and how to distinguish between them. As a beginner, there are specific terms that you should acquaint yourself with. If you intend to explore cosmetology in-depth, these terms will soon become a routine part of your vocabulary.

Initially, some of these terms might seem perplexing. However, remember, these key terms hold significant importance. The provided terminology will serve as your primary resource when deliberating the selection of appropriate ingredients and throughout the formulation development process. This guide is beneficial for anyone aspiring to create cosmetics, offering valuable insights into understanding formulations.


Decode the Language of Skincare.


  • Absorption: Substances can enter the body through the skin's pores
  • Adsorption:  This is the phenomenon where a substance attracts and retains molecules on its surface.
  • Amphoteric:  In cosmetology, amphoteric substances carry a positive charge in an acidic environment (pH < 7) and a negative charge in an alkaline environment (pH > 7).  Learn more about balancing PH on our blog!
  • Anhydrous: This term denotes products that contain no water.
  • Anionic: A negatively charged substance. Anionic substances are the main detergent in cosmetics because they are good at removing dirt and oil.
  • Cationic: A positively charged substance.
  • Chelating Agent:  Refers to various ingredients that bind with metal ions or metallic compounds, preventing them from adhering to surfaces and causing contamination. They enhance the efficacy of preservatives and antioxidants.
  • Emulsifier: This chemical stabilizes liquid formulations and prevents separation. Emulsifiers facilitate the blending of water-based and oil-based ingredients.
  • Emulsion: It's a mixture consisting of two different liquid consistencies, with one diffusing in the form of small droplets within the other. For example, the mixing of water and oil results in milky and white emulsions. There are two common types of emulsions:
    W/O (Water in Oil): Water droplets suspended in a continuous phase.
    O/W (Oil in Water): Oil droplets suspended in a continuous phase.
  • Esterification:  It's a chemical reaction between an alcohol and specific acids, producing oil-like substances known as emollient lipids.
  • Ethoxylation:  This process makes a substance compatible with water.
  • GMP Good Manufacturing Practice:  GMP comprises a set of rules governing the production of cosmetic products, specifying the required quantity and quality of ingredients.
  • Hydrogenation:  Hydrogen reacts with another substance, usually under pressure.
  • Hydrolysis:  This is a chemical reaction in which water molecules combine with another substance, causing it to split into two parts.
  • Hydrophilic:  These substances are water-compatible and do not mix well with oil.
  • Hydrophobic:  These substances are oil-compatible and repel water.
  • Lipids:  Lipids encompass oils, fats, waxes, mineral oils, esters, and silicones.
  • Lipophilic:  These substances are oil-compatible and do not mix well with water.
  • Lipophobic:  Lipophobic substances are not compatible with oil and are considered hydrophilic.
  • Non-ionic: This term refers to a substance that lacks an electric charge and remains unaffected by electric charges.
  • Oxidation: It's the process where an element loses electrons, often leading to discoloration and the development of an unpleasant odor, which, in turn, shortens the product's shelf life.
  • Petroleum Derivatives: These are extracts derived from hydrocarbons and processed in refineries, although they do not resemble petroleum used in the fuel sector.
  • Polymer: Polymers are large molecules made up of repeating units and can be synthetic, semi-synthetic, or natural. They play a vital role in producing high-performance products.
  • Propoxylation: This is a chemical process involving the reaction of propylene oxide with an alcohol, acid, amine, or vegetable oils to produce Propoxylated surfactants.
  • Preservative: A preservative is a substance used to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria within products.
  • Rancidity: Rancidity describes unpleasant changes in the scent of an oil.
  • Sequestrants: These compounds form bonds with metals, preventing oxidation and froth formation in water.
  • Shelf life: Shelf life is the duration over which a product retains its primary characteristics.
  • Solvent: A solvent is a solution used to dissolve a solid or liquid substance.
  • Stability: Stability refers to a product's ability to remain within specified standards.
  • Sulfonation: Sulfonation is the process of creating surfactants by introducing a sulfonic acid group to the particles.
  • Superfatting Agent: By adding extra oil to a formulation, this agent enhances the conditioning effect. It traps oil particles between the product and transfers them to the skin during use.
  • Surfactant: A surfactant is a substance that is compatible with both oil and water. It's often used in cleansers to create foam and can function as an emulsifier, primarily employed in producing lotions and creams without foaming.
  • Synthetic: Synthetic products are created through chemical synthesis to imitate natural substances.
  • Transesterification: Transesterification involves the reaction of an ester with an alcohol to form a new ester.
  • Viscosity:  Viscosity refers to a substance's consistency, measured by its ability to flow. - This notation signifies the quantity in grams of a specific substance added to achieve the desired volume. For instance, a 70% w/v solution contains 70g of solid per 100ml of the final product. - This notation represents the number of milliliters of a specific substance added to achieve the desired volume. In a 70% v/v solution, 50ml of liquid is present per 100ml of the final product.

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