When the 99-year-old Coca-Cola company decided to introduce a new formulation of the iconic soft drink, things didn’t exactly go as planned. After consumer backlash of the likes that have rarely been seen before, the company backtracked a few months later and reintroduced the original formula, calling it Coca-Cola Classic. While not all reformulations garner as much attention or are met with the same resistance as that one, there is usually a good reason manufacturers decide to change an existing formula. Here, we explore the ins and outs of product reformulation.
Reasons to Revamp
While the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” generally holds true, when it comes to beauty products, it is oftentimes necessary to reformulate popular products. “Just like Apple continues to improve upon its wildly successful iPhone, we use the latest developments in skincare science to deliver the best products to our customers,” says Boldijarre Koronczay, president of Éminence Organic Skin Care. Here are some of the most common reasons manufacturers decide to reformulate an existing product.
“As technology advances, a product created years ago may benefit from our greater experience of working with ingredients,” says Kathy White, product and regulatory specialist at Dr. Hauschka. “Sometimes this allows us to create a product with even more stability, furthering its expiration date. This may also be about adding or changing an ingredient to enhance results.”
A change in industry guidelines can often require companies to reformulate. One prime example is the recent legislation enacted to ban microbeads in skincare products. As a result, many manufacturers have had to reformulate any products containing polyethylene beads and replace them with healthier alternatives, such as jojoba spheres, oats, seeds, salt, sugar, and more.
“As our products are all natural, we have to plan years in advance to ensure we can procure all our ingredients for each product,” says White. “Weather and nature play a major role in the sourcing of our ingredients. If we determine we will not be able to find a great enough quantity of an ingredient, we may need to reformulate.”
Like anything, sometimes a product simply runs its course. A reformulation can give it a new lease on life with improved ingredients, refreshed packaging, and new marketing and promotions.
As the Coca-Cola example shows, it’s not always a good idea to mess with success. “I think reformulating an existing product can be so much more complicated versus starting from scratch with a new development product, because you have the added complexity of a baseline,” says Anna De La Cruz, senior product brand manager for Glo Professional. “There is a known, tangible product that will be used as a comparison to the reformulated version.” Consumers often become attached to their favorite cosmetics and skincare items, which explains the rationale behind cult beauty products. Unfortunately, not everyone embraces change in the same way. “When you use something on a daily or weekly basis, you get to know it well—how it smells, feels, performs, and most importantly for skincare, the visible results it provides,” says De La Cruz. “Changing a formula is a risk in just the basic sense that it is no longer the same. You have to hit a home run with a reformulation, either matching the current formula so closely that a regular user cannot detect a difference or using the opportunity for additional formula optimization, which will be promoted and perceived as a valuable upgrade or welcome improvement from the existing formula.”
The GMO Impact
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), defined as any organisms that have had their DNA altered, have gotten their fair share of media attention. While the verdict is still out on their safety, many consumers prefer to err on the side of caution and make a conscious effort to avoid any products containing GMOs. As a result, some companies are choosing to reformulate products that may contain potential GMO ingredients. “We continually seek ways to reduce reliance on at-risk crops and increase organic sourcing,” says Dr. Hauschka’s Kathy White. Here, she shares some of the ingredients that may be more likely to be genetically modified and those that are a safer bet.
- Rice bran extract
- Peanut oil
- Wheat germ oil
- Avocado oil
- Castor oil
- Mango butter
- Shea butter
- Sunflower oil
- Wheat bran extract
From the Field
Want to know what prompted some recent reformulations? We asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts.
“This spring, Éminence is including two new formulations, customized according to skin type, in our products to provide lasting antioxidant protection and better results. We’ve seen a particular increase in skin conditions over the past year as a result of exposure to more environmental pollutants. First, our product formulators developed a new Organic Phytonutrient Blend concept. Second, we realized we could further address environmental stressors by enhancing our Biocomplex. Biocomplex2 will restore radiance, vitality, and strength to the skin through a targeted blend of nutrients.”—Boldijarre Koronczay, president, Éminence Organic Skin Care
“Efficacy and ingredient technology is what inspired the reformulation of the Acidophilus Probiotic Facial Cream. We took this cutting-edge formula designed for combination, oily, and sensitive skin types and added micronized silver, which has great topical and preservation boosting effects, to complement and enhance the visible results.”—Janae Muzzy, vice president, research and development, Epicuren Discovery
“In July, we introduced two cleansers and two exfoliants, each updated without polythelene beads. This was a major project for us that took more than two years. It would not have been such a task if the project was just replacing the beads and all else in the formula remained the same. The reality was not so simple, as any change to a formula can essentially have a cascading effect on the overall formula.”—Anna De La Cruz, senior product brand manager, Glo Professional
“Even iconic products like Rose Day Cream have experienced changes. A 2014 reformulation improved efficacy and resistance to extreme temperatures, a major challenge with the use of pure, non-synthetic ingredients. Ingredients to improve emulsion strength and smoothness were added while additional rose ingredients, such as rose water and more rose essential oil, enhance both the aesthetic experience and efficacy of this formulation.”—Kathy White, product and regulatory specialist, Dr. Hauschka
“One example I can give is that we are adding a unique ingredient technology called MASQ-tech. We created this exclusively to further optimize the anti-inflammatory, brightening, and collagen-boosting benefits that align this ingredient with Lira’s core product philosophy.”—Brenda H. Cumming, RN, founder and member of the board of directors, Lira Clinical
“In the past two years, Repêchage has reformulated more than 20 products, including our entire makeup line, the Repêchage Biolight Collection, and products in the Repêchage Vita Cura face and body skincare lines. Advances in ingredients, as well as the sourcing of the newest forms of naturally derived ingredients are key to reformulations. For example, when our researcher uncovered newer, higher quality forms of naturally derived ingredients, such as aloe and chamomile, they were introduced into our skincare and makeup collections. Another key factor has been our research in conjunction with the scientific community. For example, working with Charles Yarish, Ph.D., professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut in Stamford, CT, Repêchage is now sourcing sustainably harvested seaweeds from the coast of Maine.”—Lydia Sarfati, founder and CEO, Repêchage
“Our mani-pedi products, which are popular in the nail industry, were sold under the VB Cosmetics brand. Our Dazzle Dry customers were asking us to offer them under the Dazzle Dry label. However, Dazzle Dry is branded as a vegan and wellness line, and some of the VB Cosmetics products contained animal-derived ingredients and parabens. So, we reformulated these products by replacing the offending ingredients with plant-derived substances and non-paraben preservatives.”—Vivian Valenty, Ph.D., president, VB Cosmetics