Questions To Ask Cosmetic Manufacturing Labs

In a previous post I wrote about How To Create Your Own Hair or Skin Care Line. I talk about getting very clear on what you want and asking yourself questions to help you to have focus and clarity.

One of the questions is, Are you making the product or a private manufacturer? Over the years, I have heard several horror stories of clients that have gone with private manufacturers and didn’t read the fine print of the contract. The relationship with the manufacturer went bad and my clients did not own their formula. My clients wanted to move their business to another manufacturer but they would have to start over as they did not own the formula for their product/s. It would cost them a lot of money. They said they wish they would have consulted with me first or taken one of my Pro Courses to have knowledge on formulating and developing products and before signing the contract. They would have saved money in the long run. I also have students that have come back and told me they learned so much from taking the pro course and they decided to go with a private manufacturer and knew exactly what to ask for developing the product and the contracted terms.

There are Private Label Manufacturers and Contract Manufacturers. Some do both functions and include  custom formulating services.

Private Label Manufacturers
Private label manufacturers have stock formulas and you choose from their stock bases for the cosmetic product and scent and the container. The stock bases can usually be slightly modified. They fill the container, label it with your custom label and ship the product.
Pros: This is the fastest way for product development and to bring your product to market. There are no product development costs. There are low minimums on your product and you can see how your product does on the market without putting a lot of money into it.
Cons: You have no control over the ownership of your product. If the manufacturer decides to discontinue a stock base you are using, you have to use another base of theirs and change your label with the listing of ingredients, plus it will be a different formulation that you may not like as much. The manufacturer may go out of business or you may not like their business practices but you are unable to take your business elsewhere since they own the formula. They will not give you the formula. All of these problems have happened to clients of mine that came to me very frustrated.

Contract Manufacturer
Contract manufacturers manufacture from a formula you own, fill and ship your product. You own the formula. You can contract a cosmetic formulator to create the formula, create the formula yourself or go through the manufacturer if they offer the service. Some manufacturers have a cosmetic formulator on staff and they work with you to customize a formulation for you and then at this same facility it is manufactured, filled and shipped to you.
Pros: You own the formula. If you are not happy with the manufacturer you can go to another manufacturer with your formula.
Cons: It is more expensive to have a custom formula developed  and it takes more time for product development and longer to market. High minimums are usually required.

If you are thinking about a private label or contract manufacturer here are some questions to assist you to have a clear collaborative relationship with the manufacturer and hopefully save you from heartache and loss of finances.

Questions To Ask Cosmetic Manufacturing Labs
You should know if they are a private label or contract manufacturer or both and then ask the questions below that relate to them.

1. How long have they been in business?
2. Are they a cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) facility? FDA compliant?
Water used? Is it purified to USP standards?
3. Lab Testing-What types of lab testing do they perform?: Do they do CTFA Challenge Testing? Do they do stability testing? or Does the formula need to already passed testing at a lab before coming to them? What tests do they recommend? Do they do microbial testing of every completed batch?
4. Can they produce ___________ (your product ex: lotion)?
5. Do they work with the ingredients in your formula? Can they handle your formula procedures?
6. What other cosmetic products can they manufacture?
7. What are their minimums?
8. What are their maximums for production? (If the product does very well, can they meet the demand?)
9. Pilot Run and Scaling: How do they do this?
10. How much for samples?
11. How many times will they allow you to try the product from the pilot run and tweak it before they charge more?
12. What is the turn around time from when you place your order?
13. What are the R&D (research & development) costs?
14. Raw ingredients: Ingredient Sourcing- how does this work? can they help you with this, do they have some raw ingredients they buy in bulk you can use?
15. What are their mixing capabilities?
16. What Equipment Do they have/use? Stainless Steel? Propeller agitation?
17. Filling: Equipment Used in Filling?: What type of filling system do they have? Does it work with the containers you will be using? Can they do heat fill tubes? How many containers can be filled in 24 hours?
18. Packaging: Do they do Induction Sealing? Shrink Wrap? Labeling?
19. Batching and Filling
Who will be making the product? Is the person going to be on site when the product is being made? Do they do any documentation and inspection of the product while being made?
Can you visit the facility? (most will say no)
20. Timely Delivery of finished products: Cost?
21. Payment Terms?
22. What is their Refund Policy?
23. Policy for damaged goods on arrival?
24. Cost for additional Runs?
25. Do they have a referral from another customer? (contact this customer and ask their experience)
You want to stay in complete ownership of your formula: Owning your formula: If they make any adjustments to the formula or production procedure you want to make it clear that you still own the formula, not them. Make sure to read the contract and that it states this.

Get everything in writing!

joan morais Joan Morais is a natural cosmetic formulator, instructor, author and the owner of Joan Morais Naturals. Joan assists product makers on how to make high quality, stable and effective natural body, hair and skin care products for personal use and a product making business.

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  • I’m just starting conversations with contract manufacturers. This has been a valuable resource, thank you!

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