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B2B beauty formulators today: a driving force for innovation

B2B beauty formulators today: a driving force for innovation

Dario Ferrari, founder and CEO of Intercos, tells in the 1970s how he “bought an Italian lipstick company (…) 10 people in Milan on a site of 2000 m2” (1). At the time, Intercos worked by producing its customers’ formulas as they are. The company then expanded outside Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, especially in the United States, thanks to its strategic partner EstĂ©e Lauder. The company therefore began to carry out its first color matching operations and became more involved in the distribution of final products… So the R&D were the customer’s executors, both technicians and color experts in the field of make-up.

Given the exponential growth of the global beauty market since 2000/2010 and increasing competition, subcontractors have had to reinvent themselves. Marketing or new product development (NPD) teams collect customer requests and commission the manufacturers’ applied research to develop customized formulas with personalized texture, sensory characteristics, active ingredients, fragrances and colors. This R&D structure is often similar for some customers. The formulator is therefore a complete part of the entire product development process. In addition to the scientific and technical aspects of the formulation, he or she is responsible for verifying the viability of the formula with the raw materials department, regulatory compliance and industrial conversion. With the development of raw material suppliers and the first master’s degrees in cosmetic sciences (doctoral schools such as ISIPCA or IPIL in France, etc.), the role of the cosmetic formulator has been emphasized, strengthened and made better known.


Nowadays, in addition to applied research, upstream exploratory research plays a key role in subcontracting. A subcontractor can produce for both mass market and luxury customers, or for the backstage of a fashion show. This leaves a very broad creative field for the formulator. To anticipate market trends and customer needs, the formulator is free to create a new foundation or a revolutionary conditioner. They are not only an integral part of product development, but also become a real source of ideas. All these innovations are brought together in collections and presented, for example, at international events.

Besides exploratory research, open development and joint development projects between subcontractors and customers are increasing. For example, Intercos formulators work hand in hand with polymer and materials science researchers from the University of Milan Bicocca to design the cosmetics of tomorrow. (2).

Formulation companies and their customers always have a confidentiality agreement. As a result, the customer does not always realize the amount of work and creativity that has gone into the design by the formulator, the color matching by the colorist and the industrialization and production by production teams.

From a personal point of view, it is always a great pride to see a product that you designed based on your own ideas sold by a major, well-known customer brand!