Expert Talks – What Actually Goes on Before Skincare Products Hit the Shelves

Expert Talks – What Actually Goes on Before Skincare Products Hit the Shelves - Three Ships

Welcome to our newest series on the blog where we interview skincare industry experts! We chat with dermatologists, chemists and reporters, and can't wait to share the knowledge with our crew and help you better understand your skin. 

Our inaugural Expert Talks interview is with Hannah Ma, a Formulation Chemist. After graduating from her Master’s in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Hannah started her journey in formulating skincare. She lives a healthy and active lifestyle, and believes that what we put on our skin is one vital aspect of healthy living. She is passionate about what she does and stays current with the prompting new knowledge and trends within the industry. Yoga and books are her favourite hobbies outside of work.

How did you get started in being a skincare chemist and formulator?

I used to work in research labs and witness animal testing for pharmaceutical studies. It turned me off, and I realized my training in chemistry and physiology can be better used to improve people’s lives without the cruelty – which is personal care and skincare.

What does a typical work day look like?

There is no typical day in the lab. Sometimes I sit at a desk and spend more time researching the ingredients and formulating a new product, other times I bury myself in my lab making samples or doing testings.

Take us through the process of creating a cosmetic product.

Understanding the needs of the end users is definitely the first step. Different skin types and concerns require different attention. With this information, then I can search and eventually narrow down the ingredients that will complement each other and actually work. Then it is the chemistry, it takes a couple iterations to create a stable, functioning and  feel-good product.

Does a product go through many variations before it’s approved and ready to launch?

It really depends on the product. Different formulations have their own perks and challenges. We take as many times as we need to make sure the formula is stable and the customers will be happy with the result.

How do you balance affordability and maintaining a certain price point but also ensure it’s a good effective product?

It is always helpful to understand the end users’ needs first, because more expensive ingredients don’t automatically mean ‘better’ ingredients. To select the functional ingredients that address the customers’ needs is always more crucial than adding whatever is pricey blindly into a certain formula. I think saving cost comes down to prioritizing and focusing on what is desired the most.

Is imitating or replicating an existing product or formula common, if so, is it necessarily a bad thing or is it beneficial?

We call it reverse-engineering. It happens often enough where a benchmark product is provided as a preferred prototype. The benchmark provides a lot of valuable information like the performance, the feel, the texture, etc. The downside will be it reduces progressive innovation.

What is your favourite product to work on? Why?

I wish I could say but it's actually a new Three Ships product coming out in the next bit. I love it because it's something I use myself and is a simple yet sophisticated product. It was a lot fun researching the natural ingredients as the source of the actual active ingredients – formulation work is the best when it also educates myself.

How important is it for consumers to be educated on the science of their skincare products?

You should want to know what you put on your body and face. Nowadays there are so many controversial ingredients and myths going around the industry. No one can simply trust a single source of information. If people want to take good care of their skin and be ethical to the environment, it is essential for them to look into the ingredients. The best way of self care is to take initiative yourself.

Where can we find you (social handles that you would like to share)?

Instagram @hannaheartfelt