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  • Molly Fiedler

What I found at in-cosmetics Global 2023 Barcelona

I’m back from in-cosmetics Global 2023 Barcelona. It was a blast to see faces from the past, make new connections, and walk the show looking for what’s next. I have a few thoughts.

1. Our industry feels more risk-averse than ever. So what happens to innovation? Some chemists I talked to had so little curiosity about promising new ingredients. They were looking only for packaged answers (and the show wasn’t short on over-engineered, over-packaged ideas). That’s the lazy approach.

Chemists are supposed to be the people who understand every ingredient as a building block that comes to life through formulation and manufacturing processes. The real magic of chemistry is to look beyond what’s presented to see what could be—and then make that happen. If all we reach for is the tried and tested, we’ll never improve.

I’m excited about an emulsifier made from overabundant Sargassum seaweed. This is where sustainability should be headed (not more empty marketing claims wrapped in plastic, which were as prolific at the show as Sargassum is in the Atlantic). The emulsifier isn't quite there yet, but I have ideas. Get in touch if you’d like to hear more.

The real magic of chemistry is to look beyond what's presented to see what could be—and then make that happen.

2. I’m gonna say it: I told you so. For years, people thought I was out-of-touch for limiting or refusing to formulate with silicon. Early on, I saw signs that it couldn’t last as a viable ingredient in personal care. Its lack of biodegradability was a problem then and has finally overtaken the initial excitement. From the beginning I wondered if it’s so tough to wash out of vats, how will it ever wash out of the Earth? I care about the impact my formulas have on the health of the planet. I am excited by all of the silicone alternatives that are now available.

3. A stolen phone and stress relief. Barcelona was packed with tourists, and with lots of tourists come thieves. Early in the trip, my phone was stolen out of my hand. I wasn't hurt, and I knew exactly what to do to turn it into a brick. Essentially I lost the hardware. More disturbing than that was the way dozens of people just watched it happen then moved on.

The unexpected upside was that for a few days I experienced Barcelona without the distraction and constant interruption of text notifications and calls. I was surprised at how relaxing it was. I paid attention to things differently. I stopped and sat on a bench and watched the world go by instead of going head-down into a screen (what everyone else on the bench did). I didn’t miss taking selfies. Instead, I looked at amazing architecture and remembered my first trip to Spain when I was 16. Now that I’m back and have a new phone, I’m going to spend more time untethered. It’s good for mind, body, and soul.

photo: chalk wall at in-cosmetics Global 2023
  • Molly Fiedler

The art and science of resilient, repeatable formulas

The R&D lab is as close as it gets to ideal conditions. But formulas don’t get manufactured in ideal conditions. A formulator who knows about actual manufacturing conditions up front can work with that reality—rather than against it.

A Solu-Tech principle is that formulas must be resilient and repeatable. That means making sure that a formula’s chemical principles will work with the mechanical principles of the manufacturing line. Only then can a formula be reproduced, over and over, at scale.

A formula’s chemical principles must work with the mechanical principles of the manufacturing line. Only then can a formula be reproduced, over and over, at scale.

A formula that worked at a large manufacturer may not directly translate to other environments. Some ingredients (like natural, food grade preservatives) don’t perform in every manufacturing situation.

That’s why formulation should always start from the broadest possible understanding of chemical principles and related techniques. Techniques like one-pot manufacturing and cold processing are sometimes better than investing in more equipment. If your manufacturing line can’t easily fill a particular bottle, why formulate for it?

My time at 3M gave me a foundation of formulating for drugs, controlled delivery products, adhesives, paints, and coatings. When I came to cosmetics and personal care, those basic principles for assembling products and issues of reactivity gave me a deeper set of formulating options. Lean manufacturing and Baldridge quality principles added to my toolkit. Working with sales and marketing put me in the trenches with consumer needs and satisfaction. It’s a unique set of experiences that most formulators never get.

It’s easy to stay isolated in the lab, making perfect formulas that work under lab conditions but fail the test of manufacturing reality. We all know what can go wrong when formulation and manufacturing are disconnected, right down to a finished product losing characteristics that are its very selling points.

And we all know that thrill of a product coming off the line looking exactly as designed—when that spark of innovation becomes something you can hold in your hand. It’s an exciting business moment when the work of so many people turns into the real thing. Solu-Tech is here for it.

  • Molly Fiedler

Holistic approach key to how formulas succeed

Clients often ask me to fix formulas they got somewhere else. Formulas that seemed good on paper but failed somewhere down the line. From ingredient issues to COGs that don’t add up to manufacturing failures, a formula can go wrong in a thousand ways. I see launch dates delayed, profit margins vanish, and dedicated sales and marketing teams frustrated because the product didn’t come together as promised.

The question is always the same: What went wrong?

The basic answer: The formula’s technical specs couldn’t survive processing. A formula has many hurdles to clear so that a product arrives in condition to deliver a quality user experience. A formula will fail if it's not built for what happens after it leaves the lab.

The better answer: Formulas fail when they’re developed without awareness of the whole use case. A formula isn’t just chemistry. It’s not just a dream in a bottle. Inspiration only becomes real through pragmatic execution. That means combining chemical principles with mechanical principles.

This multivariable, end-to-end perspective is what I call holistic development. It’s a process that heads off problems before they happen.

Avoidable problems

Here are a few examples that came my way. All were avoidable with a holistic approach.

  • A powdered blush formula wouldn’t compress on the client’s equipment. (The formula worked fine on proprietary equipment at the large cosmetics manufacturer.)

  • A soap formula didn’t account for the foaming dispenser specified in the product concept and wouldn’t fill properly.

  • A candle formulated and manufactured in the Midwest turned liquid when stored in the South, where warehouses typically have higher ambient temperatures.

Context matters

I formulate from an end-to-end perspective for a simple reason: I’ve always worked close to the entire process. In my career, I’ve been responsible in whole or part for R&D, supply chain, manufacturing, operations, marketing, finance, and business development. From every angle, it’s more cost effective to build a successful formula up front than solve problems down the line.

A benchmark formula can’t account for your particular conditions. Even a custom formula may not perform under your conditions if it was built by someone who doesn’t think beyond the lab.

Holistic development isn’t complicated. It does mean asking relevant questions across the product process. Effective chemistry starts with the bigger picture.

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