After receiving so many queries about cosmetics reverse formulation I decided it is time to write about it. Some people approached me to talk about how to research the formulation of a cosmetic product they really like to use it as a starting platform for a new product. Other people told me how they fear somebody might copy their wonderful product by reverse formulating their cosmetic product.

Is it really possible to do that?

The short answer is: it depends on how deep your pockets are and what expectations you have. Here I shall explain why. If you wanted to reverse engineer a car or a washing machine the first thing you would do is to take it apart bit by bit. You could then study and copy each component to assemble all the parts back together. You would probably try that a few times until you reach a nice prototype you are happy with, et voila’ the copycat is served.

In cosmetic products you would apply the same principle of dismantling your cosmetic into its parts or ingredients, however because all the ingredients are mingled together it is far more complicated than reverse engineering a washing machine. The separation of all the ingredients present could be quite a task depending on the product type, formulation complexity and the ingredients used. In fact one cosmetic ingredient can be a cluster of several molecules and even if they are listed on the ingredients list that information might not be sufficient because there are ingredients with same INCI name but different molecular weight and molecular shape. Once you manage to separate all the molecules you would have to identify from what ingredient they come from, which could be nearly impossible if the product contained natural ingredients. Natural ingredients vary in composition from batch to batch so it would be like to reproduce the 2009 valpolicella amarone wine in the lab.

As you can see it can be very complicated and you can end up spending a fortune on high tech analytical tests to get only part of the picture. It would be much cheaper to be creative and to develop your own unique cosmetic product still taking inspiration from other products on the market without copying.