If you’ve been following me for the last year or so you likely know I’ve been working my through Formula Botanica’s Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation (DOSF). Today I am excited to share my Formula Botanica review of their most popular course.
Back in September of 2017 I had a lovely chat with Lorraine and Gemma from Formula Botanica, and they gifted me two of their courses in exchange for feedback and reviews, which I was more than happy to agree to! This review has not been pre-screened or approved by Formula Botanica before publishing.
What is Formula Botanica?
Formula Botanica is an accredited, 100% online, award-winning natural formulation school based out of the United Kingdom. They offer a wide variety of courses related to formulating natural skin and hair care to students all over the world. Their most popular course is the Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation (DOSF), and that’s the course I’m reviewing today.
The DOSF is priced at £600 (roughly $780USD/ $1030CAD/ €687), and promises to teach you how to formulate your own natural skin care products. Formula Botanica says it will take roughly 100 hours to complete, though you could spend an almost infinite amount of time on it if you wanted to as there are so many things to experiment with! If you’re already a fairly experienced formulator you could likely complete the course faster; if you’re completely new to making you might want to take longer to really familiarize yourself with the ingredients and processes. The lovely thing about online study is that it’s up to you! I completed the course in roughly four weeks spread out over several months (though it’s often hard to say where coursework stopped and blog work began!).
How it Works
The diploma is broken down into modules with sub-topics and projects that build on one another. The content is richly presented with illustrative videos, explanatory PDFs, and fun little mini-quizzes. I chose to keep the PDFs digitally in Evernote, but you can also choose to print them. There are also fun little digital badges scattered throughout that you can collect as you progress.
Each module concludes with a quiz; at the beginning the quizzes are module-specific, but as you advance through the course the quizzes start covering more and more modules to illustrate how everything fits together.
The first modules are about the physiology of the skin, skin care principles, the ingredients used in natural skin care, and safety—including both preservation and the safe usage of essential oils using the EU and IFRA guidelines. The basics of formulation are also covered; how to work in percentages, formulation structuring, best practices, and understanding how and why formulas work. This is continually expanded on throughout the course as well.
Once you get into working with ingredients, emphasis is placed on experimentation and getting to know them through hands-on experience. The carrier oil handbook download contains some good starter information about the carrier oils, but also plenty of room for your own notes on characteristics like scent, skin feel, and absorption speed.
The formulation projects start simple and progress towards more complex or technically difficult products. The earlier formulation modules focus on getting to know your ingredients and developing basic skills, like cold blending butters and working with gums. Later formulation modules combine skills learned earlier and illustrate how they can be expanded into a variety of different products. For instance; one of the earlier modules has you work with a variety of different butter blending methods and ratios, and I must’ve made dozens of different variations. Later on when it came time to develop some body butters I already had a few blends and methods I really liked, so I had a great starting point and could focus more on working on the essential oil blend and any other additives.
Each formulation project is structured fairly similarly. There’s a PDF and a video that explains what the product is, how it is used, and any other essential need-to-knows. You’ll be walked through the basic formula structure, with details like why certain phases might need to be certain sizes, how to calculate the amount of emulsifier needed, and any other pertinent details. There’s usually one or two very simple versions of the formula (there’s always a video so you can see the product come together and see what it looks like when it’s done), and then a few fancier versions so you can start to see the possibilities for the project. From there you’re encouraged to start simple, experiment, take tons of notes, and have fun! You could follow one of their formulations to start with, or start with your own if you’re feeling confident.
You will spend the bulk of the course working on these formulations, which I think is awesome. There are plenty of provided resources and encouragement to go off and learn more about specific ingredients and what not if you want to, but you start getting your beakers dirty fast, and that is the major focus of the course. The amount of work that you put into these experiments and formulations will greatly impact how much you get out of the course. It would be possible to pass the course putting in the bare minimum effort, but you wouldn’t learn nearly as much.
If you need help you can reach out to a tutor, or post in the Formula Botanica Classroom Facebook group (or both!). You can also search the “Ask a Tutor” forum, where you may find your question has already been answered.
At the end of each module there’s a quiz, where you’ll be asked to do things like calculate essential oil sensitizer concentrations, work out recipes in percentages, determine what type of product you’re looking at from just reading an ingredient list, specify the roles of certain ingredients in certain products, and generally demonstrate that you know what’s going on. You do not have to submit the formulations you develop in each module (which threw me for a bit of a loop—I thought I was quite daft when I couldn’t figure out where to submit them… it turns out you don’t, ha)—the only formulation your submit is your final course project.
Later modules focus on topics like branding, marketing, compliance with government regulations, labelling, and organic certification. This is mostly focussed on the European Union regulations as 1) Formula Botanica is in the EU (for now, at least) and 2) EU regulations are so strict that if you meet EU regulations you will likely be most of the way to meeting the regulations in many other countries as well.
The course concludes with a final project, which is the only project where you have to submit a full formula to your tutor for grading. You are expected to design a product for a particular consumer with a particular need, and demonstrate how your formulation choices come together to meet that need for that specific target customer. There is quite a lot of writing involved as well as formulating to ensure you communicate everything!
Who should take this course?
From my time at the Formula Botanica 2018 conference in London, it seems most people who take this course (and the other courses Formula Botanica offers) are doing so in order to launch their own natural skin care line/brand. This course gives students a fantastic foundation to do just that, ensuring they know how to formulate safe, natural products.
Wondering if you should take it? I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to learn how to formulate, even if you aren’t planning on starting a brand of your own (though the cost is much easier to justify if you are!).
Here are some of the things you’ll learn:
- How to create a wide variety of products from scratch
- How to think critically about your ingredients
- How to figure out why certain ingredients are in a formula
- How and why formulas work (or don’t)
- How to dissect ingredient lists and determine what a product is
- How to safely work with essential oils
I am often asked about how/where to learn these skills—the Formula Botanica Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation is an excellent place to start!
Thoughts & Observations
I really enjoyed my Formula Botanica Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation course. It has, without a doubt, made me a better formulator. The course work and presentation requirements forced me to hone my skills, sharpen my decision making, and create safer formulations.
The course is (obviously) very focussed on natural skin care and natural ingredients. They do not strictly define what “natural” is, allowing their students to decide what fits within their personal/brand ethos, but this natural focus does mean that synthetic ingredients are not mentioned much or covered in the course materials. Synthetics aren’t demonized (which is fantastic), they just aren’t part of the course material.
The DOSF is also (I feel somewhat obviously) not a university degree (this is a [somewhat baffling] criticism I’ve seen levelled at it). It’s a program that costs about as much as a single university course and could be completed in a single semester if one had the time. If you are looking to complete a degree in chemistry and move into a career as a professional cosmetic chemist, this is not where you should start (the UK SCS has a page on where you should start if that is your goal).
The Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation is also a starter course; that’s not to say there isn’t plenty to learn, but it does not (and could not!) cover everything you might hope to learn or make. One area I found myself wishing for more coverage was the chemistry behind the formulations. Basic concepts like pH, solubility, surfactants, and emulsions are discussed, but not in much depth. You learn enough to get you started, but there’s definitely a lot more chemistry to dive into.
I think one of the biggest strengths of Formula Botanica is their online classroom on Facebook. The community there is very active, super friendly, and wonderfully encouraging. I’ve really enjoyed reading and participating in the discussions there. It’s an incredible resource, and the Formula Botanica team does a great job of working to give you as much of a “classroom with classmates” feel as possible. The camaraderie of the online classroom was 100% carried over in the conference as well—one of my favourite moments was when Lorraine, in her opening remarks, declared that everyone around you were friends, not competition. It’s one thing to say it, but I really felt it all weekend long. Everyone was so kind, engaged, and passionate. When you sign up for Formula Botanica you’re a member of the classroom for as long as you like, and it’s a wonderful resource to be able to refer back to if you need help finding an ingredient or specific type of packaging, or if you’re looking for feedback on a formula—you’ve got a great community to turn to.
I definitely recommend Formula Botanica’s Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation course to anybody who wishes to dive into natural skin care formulation. It is a well structured, well designed course, and is easily worth the price—especially if you want to make skin care formulation your living. The resources and community you’ll gain access to are endlessly useful, even after you graduate.