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Comparatively Speaking: Minimally Disruptive vs. Functional Formulation

Contact Author Tony O’Lenick, Nascent Technologies Corp.
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Shorter deadlines, more regulations and fewer chemists are all hallmarks of our industry, which as Tony O'Lenick, et al., previously reported, have resulted in the need for formulators to adapt and look for new approaches to develop cosmetic products.

In this installment of "Comparatively Speaking," O'Lenick proposes two such approaches to save formulators time and effort: minimally disruptive formulating and functional formulating.

Minimally Disruptive Formulating

The concept of minimally disruptive formulation was introduced in 2015.1-4 This approach depends upon the formulator’s skill to create products that impart consumer-perceivable differences to meet a market need. Since esthetics are a key attribute of personal care products, the ability to alter their sensorial characteristics and provide a different consumer perception—with minimal changes to the formulation—is a very cost-effective way to develop new products.

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As an example, adding a particular polymeric surface active agent (including silicones, polyester or other polymers) to an existing formulation creates a consumer-perceptible change in the formulation. The fact is that polymeric surface actives, properly chosen at a concentration of 5% or less, will lower the surface tension of the formulation, altering its feel, cushion, play time and gloss such that the customer perceives the product to be very different from the original formulation without the additive. This trait makes surface active polymers valuable at low concentrations in formulations to create “new” products.

I have often said that if a personal care product is compared to a gourmet meal, polymeric surfactant additives are the spice, not the meat or potatoes.1 This means that small amounts of surface active polymer added to already-great formulas will bring out the desired properties to the consumer, amazing and delighting them.

'If a personal care product is compared to a gourmet meal, polymeric surfactant additives are the spice, not the meat or potatoes.'

This approach allows the formulator to make small but major modifications to formulators in a very efficient way by modifying well-known formulations to provide new products with different aesthetics. Much of the original work in minimally disruptive formulation has been completed using silicone polymers but has expanded to other surface active polymers.

Functional Formulating

The concept of functional formulation was introduced in a webinar in 2020.5 This approach is different from minimally disruptive formulation in that it is not adding a new surface active polymer to an existing formulation, rather it is replacing existing surface active polymers in the formulation with other polymers that have the same function.

This approach stresses the function of a polymer in a formulation rather than the chemistry used to make it. If a polymer is in a formulation as a rheological modifier, the replacement chosen will be a wetting agent as well; the same goes for foaming agents or emulsifiers. This approach acknowledges that there are a variety of surface active polymers that provide the same function in a formulation but may or may not share the same chemistries.

Functional formulating acknowledges that there are a variety of surface active polymers that provide the same function in a formulation.

For example, a PEG ester may be either an emulsifier or detergent depending on its structure. The same goes for a silicone quat, which has many different functions depending on structure. The differences will only become apparent in a formulation.


Both of the described techniques offer the formulator a focused approach and provide for the efficient use of time by maintaining the platform formulation used while subjecting it to two types of changes in ingredients.


1. http://www.scientificspectator.com/documents/Olenick%20Compilation/Ch%201%20Dimethicone%20Soluble%20Polymers.pdf
2. http://www.scientificspectator.com/documents/Olenick%20Compilation/Ch%2030%20Min%20Dis%20Tech%202.pdf
3. http://www.scientificspectator.com/documents/Olenick%20Compilation/Ch%2031%20Min%20Dis%20Tech%203.pdf
4. https://ifscc.org/publications/videos-and-webinars/minimally-disruptive-formulation-in-skin-care-tony-olenick-webinar-29-april-2020/
5. https://www.scconline.org/scc-webinars-innovating-with-minimally-disruptive-formulations-mdf/

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