Does It Really Take Two Years To Build A Blockbuster Beauty Product?

No beauty brand wants consumers to think it hastily whipped up its formulas overnight. A lengthy product development process connotes care and quality. But, in the beauty industry, it’s not necessary to belabor behind-the-scenes labor. While many companies report the journey from product concept to store shelf is two years, a Business of Fashion article in May called out that timeline for being a marketing myth. Is it actually a myth? And, if it doesn’t take that long, what does the timeline from idea to execution really look like? We asked industry experts for their thoughts on the duration of product development and whether it matters to consumers how drawn out the incubation process is.

Andrea Rodriguez, account executive at Indigo Private Label Cosmetics

To take a product to market can certainly take two years. However, the development period depends on the complexity of the project. If a brand wants to receive certain certifications and clinical testing, they should be looking to launch a couple years down the line. Otherwise, a brand can typically launch a product in under a year, but rarely can they do so successfully in under six months.

Brands are so often rushing the development process. They want to be ready by a certain launch date, but don’t realize this could be detrimental to the vitality of their product. Brands have come to us with a launch date already set before they even receive their first sample. You can’t expect to receive a custom formula in just a couple weeks. Remember, you’re working with a chemical lab, not ordering something online.

Be patient with your manufacturer. There are so many factors that come into play behind the scenes. Not only are they most likely coming up with several varying formulations, they are also making sure it passes a number of tests you would probably never think about. Before development even begins, the lab may be doing a good amount of research, then spending quite a bit of time sourcing ingredients. And, if you think it takes a while for private-label companies to get back to you, you should start emailing the chemical companies they’re usually waiting on.

Some formulas require more rigorous testing than others. Nevertheless, every formula requires at least a few months of testing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lip gloss, a simple moisturizer or an advanced anti-aging serum. Leave it in your hot car, ship it to multiple locations, throw it in your travel bag, let other people sample it for feedback. Take the time to test. You don’t want your customers to be the one’s telling you it melted in the mail, crumbled in their suitcase or changed color after it sat for too long. You can opt for stability testing, but that can be timely and expensive, and you still won’t know for yourself how your product holds up. Enjoy the process, understand proper development takes time, and it will only make the product better.

Andrea Rodriguez, account executive at Indigo Private Label Cosmetics

Scott Kestenbaum, SVP of Maesa 

The reality is that the amount of time it takes to develop a beauty product depends on a multitude of factors. Category is one. Skincare and haircare generally speaking take longer to develop than color and fragrance. Packaging customization is another. Timelines can vary depending on whether the brand utilizes stock off-the-shelf packaging or decides to craft a more unique/proprietary custom packaging form.

Formula complexity and differentiation is another factor. Brands that utilize off-the-shelf bases for their jumping off point of course can claim a faster speed to market than brands that are pushing the boundaries of formula, integrating new ingredients, new technologies and genuinely creating a product that is new, better [and] different than what’s already on the market. Then there is risk tolerance. Each individual brand and company has a different tolerance for risk. It is not possible to speed up a safety test, compatibility test or stability test, but a brand may opt to take the risk of going to market by curtailing the length of these tests.

Almost 80% of beauty purchases are researched before they are purchased today. I don’t believe that the length of time it takes to develop a product is a primary consideration in the modern beauty consumers’ buying decision-making process. She craves products that work for her, that solve a problem for her, that she can identify and form an emotional connection with.  Design, efficacy, rates and reviews along with trends are factors that are primarily driving her to choose one brand or product over another. We seldom hear consumers talking or see consumers posting about how many hours a product developer spent in a lab.

Longer does not mean better, any more than shorter means better. Associating a numeric length of time as an indicator of product quality or performance is a misleading indicator in and of itself as it does not take into consideration the brands’ efficiency and level of expertise during the product development process. At Maesa, our speed to market is driven not be curtailing the development process, but rather by being incredibly efficient, being able to accomplish more in less time. Some companies that tout longer development cycles as a selling point may simply be slow and inefficient.

Scott Kestenbaum, SVP of Maesa 
Scott Kestenbaum, SVP of Maesa

Rose Fernandez, CEO of Algenist

At Algenist, our product development timeline varies. Often, we are able to turn around a product very quickly because we are working in parallel, always playing with formulas and thinking of our next ingredient level innovation. We are constantly thinking far out, big picture. It’s key that, at the ingredient level, our formulas align with our core principles of efficacy: delivering 10-day results by leveraging algae and plant-based ingredients through biotechnology, staying loyal to our DNA. We strive to formulate to the EU standards that are clean and safe at a global standard.

Do consumers care how long it takes for us to develop our products? I’m not sure if it is relevant to them because it’s our job as the brand to be at the right place at the right time. Consumers don’t necessarily think about these things, and retailers aren’t asking these questions. They are more concerned with the integrity of the formulas, the scientific studies and for us to show what the product is really going to do to help her.

Rose Fernandez, CEO of Algenist
Rose Fernandez, CEO of Algenist

Daniel Langer, CEO of Équité

Best practices in the beauty industry around the world and across categories are between six and nine months from ideation to launch. To do this, there needs to be an integrated process in place, where marketing, sales and R&D work hand in hand from ideation, to formula identification and development to ideating and deploying the go-to-market process. As most beauty products are launched using R&D platforms that are modified for the specific needs of an innovation, those development times are possible.

For a completely new technology, a development time around one year should be sufficient. Two years will be the exception. Saying this, in many countries, retailers are the bottleneck for lead times, as in countries like U.S. and France, some retailers strategize about their shelf setups one year and more in advance. This may force companies to start their development earlier.

Daniel Langer, CEO of Équité
Daniel Langer, CEO of Équité

Katerina Yoffe Larden, founder and president of Hey Honey

From my experience, the first development process does and always will take a long time if you are determined to launch good, stable products that will really make a change. In our case, it took over 18 months to go from a concept to actually approving the first 18 formulas that we launched with. As time goes on, you master your brand’s DNA. At this point, we know what we need to add, we know what it needs to do, we know what our customers are looking for and, most of all, we know the base of the ingredients we want to incorporate. Only then does it become easier to launch faster.

Most times, we already have a product in mind, sometimes even a particular formula, and we are just waiting for the right time. This can take four to five months to achieve a full retail product. Other times, we want to launch something specific, often for a need we see or a formula that we know what we want it to do but cannot get the right results. Products like this may take longer, sometimes up to six months. We never felt the need to rush into the market just to launch a trend. We will do what’s right for the brand.

Having said that, in today’s market, you cannot have all of your products go through a multiyear process. If I had to indicate a realistic time for a new product, I would say six to seven months. I think a company that wants to win in the newness category needs to be able to read trends before they happen. Really listen to their customers, and have products lined up and set aside for new launches.

Katerina Yoffe Larden, founder and president of Hey Honey
Katerina Yoffe Larden, founder and president of Hey Honey

Casey Georgeson, founder of Saint Jane Beauty

It depends on the product and how fully conceived it is when you hand it over to your formulator. When creating our first product, Luxury Beauty Serum, we knew exactly what we wanted for the formula. I had done extensive research about what ingredients work synergistically with CBD, so we merged a blend of powerful and efficacious botanicals that deliver benefits for the overall wellness for the skin. In my experience it was less than a year from conception to bottle. Is it a multiyear process? It can be, especially when creating products such as sunscreen or products with SPF that require FDA testing. That process can slow development down considerably and a product that might have been ready to go to market in nine months or less is instead launched more than a year after initial conception.

Casey Georgeson, founder of Saint Jane Beauty
Casey Georgeson, founder of Saint Jane Beauty

Beatrice Feliu-Espada, CEO and founder of The Honey Pot Company

Typically, when I am developing something new, I would have sat on it for a while just because I am the innovator behind what we are working on. I am normally thinking about products the prior year. When it comes to taking it into development, that doesn’t that a year. That can take six months. I’ve developed in two months. It didn’t take me a long time to develop our CBD cream because I knew what I wanted to be in it. When you are working with an experienced formulator, you can get a product launched at a good pace, especially if it is a category like a topical or moisturizer that doesn’t need clinical testing. But, If I am making a product with a claim, there are a lot of details that have to happen before it hits the shelf

I have a product I am working on now. I can’t say what it is, but I literally am in talks with manufacturers right now, and I’m going to be able to do a clinical trial. The trial might take 90 days. I should be able to have it launched before the clinical trial completes. The good thing is the clinical trial will be able to back up the claims. All in all, will take about eight months to completely put this out? Do consumers have more trust if it takes more time? I don’t think consumers think like brands do.

The Honey Pot CEO and founder Beatrice Feliu-Espada
The Honey Pot Company CEO and founder Beatrice Feliu-Espada

Natalie Mackey, CEO of Glow Concept

How long does it really take? That depends on the product. Where some can be produced in as little as few weeks, others may take significantly longer. Factors that may contribute to lengthening the timeline include new packaging molds, delivery systems and additional claims testing. While it is true that skincare has a longer development cycle than color, it can still be developed in a reasonable time frame, depending on the formula and efficacy claims. Obviously, with a higher level of R&D comes a longer development period. That said, many companies do not devote an entire year to testing new skin care products. It’s often the case that marketing, manufacturing schedules and decision-making play a larger role in longer development times than does R&D.

Natalie Mackey, CEO of Glow Concept
Natalie Mackey, CEO of Glow Concept

Brittany Daily, global brand manager of Sultra

Launching a product or a collection within the beauty industry, in my experience, is an extended process in which the timeline can range from around nine months to a year and sometimes even beyond that. If you are creating a new ingredient blend that is typically not used heavily in the beauty industry already, there will certainly be a time that testing needs to be accomplished even outside of working internally within your company to ensure that all blends are compatible and sustainable when introducing your products into the world and out to consumers.

Sultra has formulated a new innovative haircare product line that has taken us over a year to perfect, with all six products launching in fall 2019. This collection had quite the lengthy formulation and testing process, mainly because our ingredient deck is utilizing skincare-like properties for the hair and scalp,while disrupting the beauty industry by not only crossing over the skincare industry and haircare world, but will also be bridging the gaps between the clean beauty space and cosmeceutical brands. When launching these type of never-been-done formulations, there needs to be room for error because, quite simply, the product needs to prove stable, and anything from too much fragrance or not enough of emulsions can cause ingredients to separate. Not only are the formulations something that would need time to test, but you also have the job of sourcing the correct components such as bottles, tubes etc. that allow for the perfect application.

Brittany Daily, global general manager of Sultra
Brittany Daily, global brand manager of Sultra

Alicia Grande, CEO of Grande Cosmetics

From start to finish, it can take anywhere from six months to two years, depending upon the type of product, ingredients it contains and amount of testing required. In most cases, it is a multiyear process. Taking an idea, researching trends, determining the best componentry and building a marketing plan around the new product is a lengthy process. If you are working on a complicated, product-benefit focused formulation, using rare active ingredients can also extend how long it takes a product to reach market. These often require a longer lead time since manufacturers aren’t always able to keep large quantities of bulk on hand.

Retailers also require that new products undergo intensive efficacy and clinical testing before the product is able to go to market. Stability testing alone takes three months at minimum to ensure products can withstand in different temperatures for extended periods of time. Clinical testing after prototypes are created is a lengthy process itself, but a worthwhile investment to know that your products function as intended and are safe for consumers to use. It is different based on category.

Retailers are constantly looking for what’s next in the beauty landscape, so manufacturing can be a race against the clock to perfect the next big trend before it reaches consumers. This is especially true for products that feature powerful benefits like color cosmetics hybrids or skincare. Manufacturers attempt to alleviate this pressure by creating an assortment of turnkey beauty products that they’ve already done the hard work on and all a brand has to do is claim it as its own, testing, componentry and all. This is a great contribution to the fast-paced world of beauty, but may not always work if you’re looking to make unique products to fit your brand DNA.

Alicia Grande, CEO of Grande Cosmetics
Alicia Grande, CEO of Grande Cosmetics

Christian Ferm, founder and CEO of Bevara Skin

For Bevara Skin, it is not a multiyear process as that would not allow us to be successful while staying true to our business strategy and operations. I really think that the product development process depends on the brand’s business plan. Bevara Skin developed its business structure to be adaptable to the customer’s request for trending ingredients. So, we have to be quick to respond while offering high quality solutions. By organizing a strong community of industry professionals, skincare experts/formulators, market data, vetted suppliers and pre-commercialized customer feedback, we position ourselves to have a quick and adaptive response to developing our future refined products.

Bevara founder Christian Ferm
Bevara Skin founder Christian Ferm

Cathy Kangas, founder of Prai Beauty

At Prai Beauty, we have the benefit of being nimble, so typically we develop our cruelty-free skincare products that are both PETA- and Leaping Bunny-certified in eight months to a year. We have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and are able to adapt quickly to opportunities we see in the market. There are times, however, when we utilize an exclusive technology, which was the case with our newest launch, Ageless Throat & Decolletage Night Creme. This product was years in the making, following on the worldwide success of our bestselling Ageless Throat & Decolletage Creme. In developing the night cream, we conducted an independent clinical study with expert graders to measure results on the neck skin and developed a dual retinol technology specifically formulated for nighttime use.

Cathy Kangas, founder of Prai Beauty

Fernanda Gomes, CEO and co-founder of Terra Beauty Bars

At Terra Beauty Bars, our launch of new product is not a multiyear process. From formulation, production, testing and design of packaging, we can easily turn a new product around in one year. However, I will cautiously say that it did take us multiple years to be able to move at the speed we move at today. Since we are formulators by trade with a passion for green beauty, we are definitely able to shorten production times of new products but there are many variables that impact any launch timeline. Certain ingredients are harder to source. Data, testing and quality control impact timelines as well. And, then, there is the branding and marketing behind each product. At Terra, we aim to launch one innovation per year. However, we do not pressure ourselves to do so. This gives us time to really think about the goal of the product, the ingredients and what value it will bring to our line. We try to make our products not trendy, but a staple item.

Terra Beauty Bars
Terra Beauty Bars co-founders and sisters Fernanda Gomes de Oliveira, Luana Gomes Cunha and Jasmine Gomes

Kimberley Ho, co-founder and CEO of Evereden

Developing a beauty product can sometimes be a multiyear process. There are some cases where putting out a new product can take as little as six months, but that often means rushing through the crucial consumer testing and formula iteration phase and expediting safety and packaging compatibility testing. This is how quality control and packaging issues occur in the market. For Evereden’s new women’s skincare line, the formulas alone took nearly a year for our team of Ivy League-trained dermatologists to develop and test with consumers across the country. Our natural healing balm, which was formulated without petrolatum or silicone-based ingredients, for example, took over thirty tries with more than 150 consumers. Each reformulation attempt sets back our chemists by one or two weeks. Larger skincare companies with layers of bureaucracy often take several months for stakeholders to even approve the finished formulas, marketing message or packaging, which can result in a multiyear process.

Kimberley Ho, co-founder and CEO of Evereden
Kimberley Ho, co-founder and CEO of Evereden

Mary Berry, founder and CEO of Texas Beauty Labs, now The Goodkind Co.

A lot of what was shared in the Business of Fashion article is really true. For most brands that are comfortable working with off-the-shelf formulations with only a few tweaks, the typical product cycle is four to eight weeks. What really takes time, particularly in the clean beauty world, is testing to ensure that the preservatives will be effective. This typically takes another ten to 12 weeks, depending on if the product passes or fails. That timeline is often in line with how long it takes the packaging components in, so overall a brand could come to us and plan to go to market with a product in 14 to 20 weeks.

On the other end, if a brand is looking to do something really unique that we haven’t tackled before, that can take more time to perfect, especially given the testing that’s required to ensure that the product is shelf stable. The longest we’ve worked with a brand on a product is three years, although that was in the early days of clean beauty. Now, we’re confident that we can produce a great formula for our clients in a matter of weeks.

Mary Berry, CEO and founder of Texas Beauty Labs, now called The Goodkind Co.
Mary Berry, CEO and founder of Texas Beauty Labs, now called The Goodkind Co.

Suveen Sahib, co-founder of Aquis        

A new formulation can be developed in less than two years, but, to develop a meaningful and differentiated formula and a formula that is performs to all of Aquis’s expectations and passes our extensive safety and efficacy testing, it takes roughly two years. Once the ingredients have been identified and sourced, there is an R&D phase that takes anywhere from three months up to a year or sometimes more. It really depends on the complexity of the formulation and how many rounds of prototype submissions it takes to get to an approved formula.

Once the formula is approved, it moves into safety and consumer testing. If it fails any test, we go back to the R&D phase. In regard to consumer testing, with our initial Four-Step System, we tested on close to 300 subjects. The testers used the system for four weeks and answered a survey before, during and after the four-week time period to see how their hair changed over the course of the test.  This allowed us to see not only how the system was changing their hair, but how long it took to change their hair.

We also captured extensive information about hair type and current product regimen to help us assess the data. Once a package or dispenser is chosen, the product and package are put into package compatibility testing. This test takes three months. The product in package is put into various temperatures which simulates a two-year shelf life. The packaging is checked for leakage, dispensing, and overall functionality. This is the industry standard for shelf-life testing.

Suveen Sahib, co-founder of Aquis
Twila True, founder and CEO, RivalWorld

We can develop beauty brand and products as quick as 90 to 180 days and the length depends on the product. Our process is streamlined and efficient, and we’re constantly developing products that are placed within our ready-to-go library. Most of the time, we pair talents and products from the library as a base to organically design a brand together, and that’s why we are able to launch within a year. Consumers these days are very smart and want to support a brand and products who are transparent with everything it does. I don’t believe it matters to the consumer how long the product development phase takes. What matter to consumers are ingredients, performance, price and packaging that is aesthetically pleasing.

Twilla True, CEO and founder of RivalWorld

Kirsten Kjaer Weis, founder of Kjaer Weis 

I would say for a brand new product with new packaging as well, it takes about 18 months. For color extensions or a product that goes into an existing design packaging-wise, about 12 months.