What are different types of cosmetic ingredients used for?

When creating cosmetic formulas, we need to use different types of ingredients for different functions, or roles, in the finished product. This table summarises some of the key functions that ingredients have in cosmetic formulas:


Highly active ingredients with proven results; these are different to added extras because they have proven clinically efficacy.

Added extras

Materials that have a nice story but not proven results. They can add to your point of difference and product story.


Help protect a formula against ‘rancidity’ – colour or odour changes that can occur to plant or essential oils. They are NOT preservatives.

Chelating agents

Bind to metal ions that may be present in hard water or formulas. They can also help boost antioxidant and preservative performance. We’ve made these essential in formulas where they are absolutely necessary; optional in formulas where they are not absolutely necessary and left them out of formulas where they are not necessary.

Consistency factors

Make balms ‘harder’ and creams ‘thicker’. We’ve set these to suit different product types.


Help hold oils and water together to make lotions, creams and conditioners. We’ve set these to be the right types to suit different products. You’ll see some chemical descriptions so we can classify them properly and this will make more sense if you study more with us later.

Essential oils/fragrances (or flavours in lip balms)

Make products smell (and flavours taste) nice. We’ve set the limits to ensure safe and suitable use for different product forms. We also help you know which essential oils blend well with each other.


Provide hydration to formulas. They give moisture, suppleness and smoothness to the skin.


Are oils and butters. We call them ‘lipids’ to cover the whole class of ‘oily substances’.

pH adjuster

To make products suit the preservatives or actives selected, or suit the skin, we need to adjust the pH of a formula. Please watch our video on how to adjust pH and then use the right material to achieve the right pH depending on the formula you create!


Help protect against microbial contamination. We’ve set the limits to ensure safe but effective use for you.


Are the materials that create bubbles and clean well in wash off products. You will see more technical terms to describe the different types of surfactants that we use, but we’ve set these up so you don’t need to know about the different types to be able to choose the right materials!

Water alternatives

Used to make your product smell and feel nicer than just using water, they are completely optional and can add to your point of difference and product story. If you use too many water alternatives and have problems with your water calculation, it means you have gone over 100% for your formula. Reduce the water alternatives until the formula totals 100%.



New to cosmetic formulating, and want to get your cosmetic formulas and ingredient selections right from the start?



  • Create almost limitless cosmetic formulas!
  • Pick and choose what cosmetic ingredients your products contain
  • Be guided on how much to use of each ingredient type
  • Take the guess work out of the cosmetic formulas you create
  • Follow our step-by-step instructions to make perfect samples, every single time
  • Know the safe and suitable inputs of preservatives, actives and all other ingredients
  • Make your own skin care and hair care formulas, and products, CONFIDENTLY.