A few months ago I shared Ten pieces of equipment for new formulators (Part 1 & Part 2), where I covered ten must-have (and a few bonus/optional) pieces of equipment you need to start formulating skincare and cosmetics. Today we are looking at equipment you’ll want to add to your formulating kit as you grow and progress into an intermediate formulator. Some of these items are upgrades, some are expansions, and some are brand new. Let’s get started!
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A quick note: this list is not about equipment for manufacturing in large batches—it’s for doing lots of making, testing, iterating, and experimenting in small batches. I do not do any sort of bulk manufacturing and cannot provide from-experience advice on what you should get for that sort of thing. Larger vessels + more powerful mixers would be a good place to start, but I’d recommend seeking out advice from makers who actually do big-batch making if this is something you are interested in 🙂
Intermediate equipment principles
When should you upgrade? There’s no hard timeline for when you should start investing in the items discussed in this post, but I’d generally advise you to wait until what you are currently working with no longer works for you. If you cannot create the things you want to create because your equipment is getting in the way, it’s time to start thinking about upgrading.
Shop second-hand where possible. Thrift shops are great, but I’ve never seen a set of beakers at the Goodwill! As you start looking for more specialized equipment it can be more helpful to turn to second hand websites like Kijiji, GumTree, and Facebook Marketplace to see if you can get some good deals on niche items you’re unlikely to find at a charity shop.
Keep in mind what you like to make when choosing what to upgrade, and only upgrade/invest in items that will get lots if use. For example; I’ve chosen to invest most of my beaker budget into beakers that are 500mL and smaller, mostly focussing on 50–250mL sizes, as I mostly make small batches. Jumbo sized beakers simply wouldn’t get much use in my studio.
I’m assuming you already own the all items (the 10 + the optionals + the honourable mentions) covered in Ten pieces of equipment for new formulators (Part 1 & Part 2). They’re foundational and essential—start there!
A better scale (or two)
You should already have a scale (or three), but if you’re still working with a starter battery-powered scale, I highly recommend upgrading. Not only will a better scale make your formulating life easier, but it’ll also last longer. My battery powered scales rarely lasted more than a year or two with heavy use, while my more expensive scales are going on 5+ years and are still happily chugging along.
What to upgrade (and why)
Upgrade from battery-powered to plug in. I love my plug-in scales because they don’t automatically shut off if I’m taking too long to weigh something out, or if I’m trying to weigh out a super teensy amount of something. Depending on the scale you may need to break out the manual to learn how to disable auto shut-off, but once that’s done… what a relief. No more worrying about the scale blinking off with no warning as you’re working!
Upgrade the precision. The more precise your scale is, the smaller your batches can be. I use a scale that’s accurate to 0.01g for almost everything I make, and I love it!
Upgrade the maximum weight. My favourite scale is accurate to 0.01g and has a maximum weight of 500g (1.1lbs), and it’s the combination of the relatively high maximum weight and the precision that makes it so useful. My first 0.01g scale had a maximum weight of 100g (3.5oz), which really limited its usefulness. For example, I couldn’t use it to top off my heated water phase for emulsions as the weight of the beaker + the water phase was almost always over that 100g maximum weight.
I have these scales and I’m happy with all of them:
- 0.01g x 500g: Jennings TB 500 (USA / Canada) (I use this scale for 95% of my formulating)
- 0.1g x 700g: My Weigh iBALANCE 700 (USA / Canada) (I used this a lot when I first got it, but it’s been mostly replaced by the TB 500)
- 0.001g x 60g: My Weigh GemPro 300 (Canada) (I only use this for creating tiny batches of colour cosmetics)
A mini fridge
As you grow as a formulator, your ingredient collection usually grows with you. I highly recommend picking up a second-hand mini fridge to store your more expensive and delicate ingredients to help extend their shelf lives. I keep most of my carrier oils and all my hydrosols in the fridge, plus any ingredients suppliers recommend refrigerating. Make sure you purchase a mini fridge that can accommodate tall-ish bottles; my first one was a cube mini fridge and the bulk of it was too short for 400ml+ bottles.
A pH meter
In Ten pieces of equipment for new formulators: Part 2 I recommend pH strips or a pH meter. If you’ve been using strips, you should upgrade to a digital meter as an intermediate formulator so you know your pH measurements are precise. Look for a digital meter that measures a wide range; I have the Apera AI311 (USA / Canada) pH meter. I like it, though I do not have a stable of pH meters to compare it to! I purchased this pH meter back in 2017 and I’ve been happy with it.
The more I formulate, the more I gravitate towards beakers and away from my (still wonderful!) Pyrex measuring cups. I love beakers for several reasons:
- They’re lighter than Pyrex measuring cups, so they use up less of your scale’s maximum weight allowance.
- They’re available in a much wider range of sizes; I’ve got 25mL, 50mL, 100mL, 150mL, 250mL, 400mL, 500mL, and 600mL beakers. The 50–400mL ones get the most use in my studio.
- You can put them directly on a glass-top stove or hot plate, which can be incredibly useful.
- You can buy them by the half dozen or dozen from industrial supply shops like Grainger Canada.
Lab spoons & glass stirring rods
If your collection of stirring tools doesn’t yet include some long-handled lab spoons and some glass stirring rods, I think you should get some 😄 I use mine all the time for measuring, stirring, smashing, squishing, etc. They’re great!
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I recently picked up a second hand Corning PC-35 hot plate and I love it. It’s small and mighty; it can heat from 0–510°C (🔥)! If I turn it to a notch or two above “low” it heats to 60–70°C, which can eliminate the need for a water bath. It’s also really useful when heating ingredients that are stubborn to melt in a water bath, like BTMS-25 and Polyamide-3.
You can purchase hot plates that also have a magnetic stirring function, though they’re usually more expensive.
When shopping for a hot plate, look at:
- The size: is it small enough to store? Large enough to hold a couple beakers at the same time?
- The heat range: Some of the hot plates I looked at had really low maximum heats. You are unlikely to need 510°C, but I’d look for something that goes up to at least 130–150°C.
- The heat controls: Mine is controlled by a dial without any temperature indications, so I use my infrared thermometer to see how hot the hot plate is. You can purchase heat plates with digital controls that allow you to dial in the temperature you want, though they’re more expensive.
If your home has a glass-top stove you can delay the purchase of a hot plate, but I sure love having my hot plate right in my studio!
Multiples of the tools you use the most
I adore having multiples of the items I use the most. It allows me to work on multiple formulations simultaneously, lets me save dishes for the end of a formulating session rather than having to stop part way through to wash up, and makes inevitable breakages less likely to grind my work to a halt.
These are some items I love having multiples of:
Some tools to consider & dream about
These items are more expensive & specialized; think about what you love making and what investments would really be worth it for what you make.
If you absolutely adore making emulsions, you might want to consider upgrading from an immersion blender to a homogenizer for ultra-smooth, incredibly uniform emulsions. I have the Dynamic MiniPro with the homogenizer attachment. It works well, but I find I don’t use it all that often because it’s so heavy and clunky. If I ever purchase another homogenizer it’ll definitely be an overhead model that is built into a stand for hands-free homogenizing fun!
If bath bombs, shampoo bars, and other moulded formulation delights have your heart, you might consider getting some sort of press. My press is by The Bath Bomb Press (gifted) and is powered by compressed air. You can also purchase presses that are electric and manual. I don’t have experience with any other sort of press, but I do love my Bath Bomb Press!
An overhead stirrer
This is definitely something I’m quite tempted to purchase! It’s an adjustable stirring device that’s attached to a stand, allowing you to turn it on and go hands-free. This frees your hands up to add ingredients while your formulation is being stirred by the machine. You can also just let the machine do all the stirring work on something that needs lots of stirring 😄 An overhead stirrer would be useful for heaps of formulations! Make sure whatever you get is a reasonable size for the batches you tend to create and has enough power to stir the things you’ll create with it.