Spreading Clean Beauty

Personalised formulations and functionalised make-up phenomenon, by Serena Zanella (Laboratorio Cosmopolita)


Serena Zanella

Serena is a licensed Pharmacist with a Master in cosmetology by the Università degli Studi di Pavia. She has always worked in the technical side of the cosmetics industry, from quality control to research and formulation, until she founded Laboratorio Cosmopolita, an specialized cosmetics R&D laboratory settled in Lombardia (Italy), where she and her technical assistant, Ludovica Ferrari, can cultivate their knowledge and creativity through vibrant and cutting-edge formulas.

Laboratorio Cosmopolita has a very proactive and original way of formulating, with a lot of color and themed formulations. Your formulas are playful and quite unconventional, always expressing a story or trend though a peculiar texture and/or color. 

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Serena, we would love to know a bit more of the story behind your laboratory. How did you come up with the idea? What exactly is the value you are adding to contract manufacturers or third parties that want to develop a new line?

It all started in a small room in my home. I just bought some small machinery to be able to reproduce the formulas I had in mind. I had always been eager to try the ingredients and play with their concentrations and different combinations to see what happens, to achieve unexpected results. Because to me, every single ingredient has its own potential in the formula. By experimenting and combining them in different ways, I was able to obtain numerous synergies that lead to many different textures out of the same ingredients.

I kept on experimenting until I decided to go one step forward and create Laboratorio Cosmopolita. The idea was to keep on the same direction, to continue experimenting and researching on actives and ingredients to obtain these textures, sometimes ‘extreme’ textures, in order to show their potential and the possible synergies on a formulation.

We create these formulations linking them to a certain concept. The concept is our inspiration, and it could come from determinate periods or special dates during the year, or from a trend, from certain food or even from other sectors. In this way, we develop personalized formulas for every client.

And we also learn from every client, during every single development. We have a very international panel of clients, and each of them has its own culture, environment and consumer needs. We take that into consideration when selecting the ingredients, as well as the story behind each their brands, in order to really understand their needs. We make an effort to make every formula special in its own way. We don’t want to just change the fragrance or the color and say that is a new formula, because each active or functional ingredient can make a difference in the final product. We develop real and entirely tailor-made formulas. Therefore, our specialty, our added value, is creativity and personalization. We intend to maintain this direction and keep on experimenting and learning with every development.

Italy owns almost 80% of the worldwide makeup manufacture volume. So, we could state that you Italians are the expert in makeup. How do you think this Italian inheritance is influencing your creations? 

Indeed, the laboratory is settled in the middle of this makeup “center” based here in the North of Italy. In fact, I have always been fascinated by the big makeup companies around here. However, I have never worked in any of these big corporations. My first experience was in a middle-sized contract manufacturer, where I had the opportunity to understand every phase of the process, from laboratory to regulatory, to production, etc. The most interesting outcome I extracted from this experience was that, in Italy, everyone is specialized in something, with a unique know-how. There is a specialized know-how or technique in every step of the way, even when it comes to the industrialization or production processes, where more and more makeup companies have their own tailor-made machinery. There are always new textures in this industry, what gives you the freedom and encouragement to create and innovate.

During my second experience I was in technical sales, so I had the possibility to interact with lots of makeup formulators from big and smaller companies. What I enjoyed the most was the cooperation established between us and the product manufacturers, where the exchange of opinions was always enriching in both directions.

In the meantime, my house-laboratory was growing. I started to have more requests from clients until I finally decided to make it official.

So, maybe it is due to my experiences that I am convinced that the best solution is to collaborate with the different players, because everyone is specialized in something. Actually, I set up the name of the laboratory under this conviction. Laboratorio Cosmopolita stands for a laboratory opened to the world. And this not only applies to clients or costumers, but also to other formulators all over the world, who we are always open to collaborate, with the ultimate goal to create the best formulation possible.

We have seen an increasing relation between active ingredients and make up and textures. It is no longer a matter of only functional ingredients, we now talk about a “functionalized makeup”. Could you tell us about this concept? How is it linked to the evolution of the current Italian cosmetics market?

In the last years, we have seen several new brands developed by makeup artists. I believe this “functionalized makeup” revolution comes from here. These makeup artists had spent their entire professional lives applying the products to the final consumer, so they understand their real needs. When they extended their makeup lines with skincare products, they started to create hybrid products that would prevent the consumers of using too many products. By having makeup and skincare in one product, they were duplicating the benefits of a product for an everyday-more benefit-fixated consumer.

The extended benefits, along with the new makeup wave – where it is no longer only about colors and product performance (usually on covering imperfections), but also about the feels that this product is evoking – has really pushed this tendency forward. People want to look and feel better now, and a product that integrates the external and internal benefits of makeup and skincare is the perfect choice for them. That is why this concept has boosted and evolved positively in the last years. We even have now makeup products with claims on sensitive/reactive skin, mascaras that also promote eyelash growth, etc. The integration of these two segments has led to even greater formulation possibilities. By combining the right actives with the right functional ingredients for makeup, we can achieve a multifunctional product with a more accurate approach to the current consumer needs. I strongly believe this concept still has a high potential on the cosmetics market.

At Provital, we create natural ingredients that, besides their efficacy and safety, are intended to evoke positive emotions on the final consumer. But this wouldn’t be possible without the right formula surrounding them. What would you say are the latest movements on formulation? What will the consumer seek on a formula in the upcoming future? Any relevant textures we should know about?

It’s true. We believe it is very important to consider every ingredient in a formula in order to achieve the right synergy and create the booster effect the consumer will expect.

Nowadays, we barely see the classic white odorless skincare formula. Well, if we see it, it is intentionally put this way. Because it is now essential that the final aspect (color), texture and fragrance contribute to the consumer experience by evoking different emotions. They have to be connected to the formula’s concept so that the consumer can easily feel what the product is intended to awaken.

Of course, efficacy is important for the consumer, but the first thing the consumer senses when applying a product is texture. This texture is also given by the functional ingredients inside that formula, so depending on how the formula is structured, the consumer will have a different sensorial reach. For that, it is essential for us formulators to play with rheology modifiers, texturizers, etc., to achieve the texture that best aligns with the story and efficacy, so that consumers are able to sense the real perception of the product on its whole. From where I stand, the most important thing is to connect active and functional ingredients with the product story.

Concerning the latest trends on formulation, there is a high request of solid formulations. They can be water-free or not. We can even find environmentally-friendly liquid alternatives to water such as aromatic waters, etc., that can be used for water-free formulations. Also powders are on the rise, and the most innovative galenic form now are cosmetic tablets, which can even be effervescent. There is still so much left to learn from pharmaceutical formulations though, and it can still be a bit difficult to find a pharmaceutical company that is willing to cooperate with the most sensorial side of the cosmetics sector. Moreover, innovation can also come from packaging trends and industrial machinery’s evolution. 

Therefore, the future of formulation will rely on sustainability and personalization, always linking efficacy to holistic wellbeing.

And lastly, it’s social media time! We have realized you are very active on your social networks and have a very open and fresh approach to your production ways, putting out there many of your processes and formulas. Do you think transparency is equally important for skincare and makeup consumers? How is social media helping to your core business so far?

The reason why we try to be so active on social media is to share that there is a science behind cosmetics. Since the consumers, and specially the younger generations, want to be as informed as possible, they really appreciate when we clear up their doubts on the way cosmetics are developed and produced in a funny and understandable way. We are capitalizing on science and our thorough way of doing, while putting us out there, creating visibility for potential clients. It actually helped us contacting with various indie brands.

I personally think that cosmetics give to people the possibility to dream, and it is a pleasure to be part of that, to help them in this way.  

It is indeed a pleasure to serve as an inspiration. For us, it is best if we have the opportunity to partner with our clients and co-create with them to meet their needs. So, we would love to hear about an idea that you may have had with any of our active ingredients. 

We really like how you present your actives at Provital, combining emotion and storytelling with a strong technical proof.

It has actually occurred to me that a potentially interesting idea could be to blend one of your ingredients, for instance, Detoskin™ (as CareActive) or any of your energizing CareMotives, with the right functional actives that built up to a light-weight makeup formula with natural finish; to formulate a specific line of makeup that was aimed to be used while practicing sport. It would combine the active’s energizing activity for the skin with the appropriate texture for this new kind of application. This way we would energize the skin at the same time we energize our body. A new healthy habit to add up to the ever-growing “healthy life” consumer mindset, where exercising and taking care of oneself are some of the main pillars. 

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