Product Development: Massage Oil

I’ve talked a little about my product development process before, and I thought I might take a closer look at it. I picked massage oil as a starting product for this because it’s relatively straightforward; no complicated manufacturing techniques or chemistry, just ingredient selection and blending.

The development process in action.

The first step in any product development is to come up with a detailed list of what qualities the product needs to have. First and foremost, a massage oil needs to reduce the friction to allow the masseur to apply pressure as needed without causing pain or damage to the skin over the muscles, while not reducing it so much as to eliminate the efficacy of the massage. Secondly, it should be a lightweight oil, easily absorbed by the skin but not absorbed so quickly as to need to be frequently reapplied. Thirdly, the effect of the oil on the skin itself should be considered; it should be non-comedogenic, nourishing and gentle to the skin.

Even for a simple and straightforward product, then, we start out with quite a few restrictions! The last one is likely to be the most restrictive, so let’s start by ruling out all the oils likely to cause clogged pores and breakouts. There are several ways to get this information, but for these purposes a chart like this one should do nicely. So, it looks like we’ve got quite a few low-comedogenic oils to choose from. Bringing in the “lightweight” criterion cuts the field a bit further; after all, anhydrous lanolin is luscious in its way, but it is in no way a lightweight oil.

At this point it’s time to start experimenting a bit. It’s no secret that I love to use sunflower oil in pretty much any context I can get away with, so let’s put that in the mix. Avocado oil is lightweight, easily absorbed by the skin, rich in vitamins A, D, and E – absolutely, bring that on, too. Jojoba oil is a fantastic oil for the skin, due to being similar to our skin’s natural oils and easily absorbed, but doesn’t have a lot of “slip” as oils go, so we’ll add a little of this one for the beneficial stuff but not enough to reduce the main function of the product. Castor oil would ordinarily not qualify due to being a very thick oil which might easily make the blend feel too heavy, but it adds great slip and is really fantastic on the skin, so a bit of it in the formulation is probably worth the risk.

And I think that’s enough for an initial formulation. There are plenty of other oils I could have chosen (sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil), and if the initial trial formulation proves problematic in some way which sends me all the way back to the drawing board, I’ll consider swapping some of my choices out. For now, though, we’re starting with:

  • 1.5 oz sunflower oil
  • 1 oz avocado oil
  • 0.5 oz castor oil
  • 0.2 oz jojoba oil

Having blended these together, I can already tell I’ve almost certainly used too much castor oil and am very likely to want to scale that back in future iterations of the development. But for now, I need to finish this batch off so it can be tested, so I have another question to resolve: What shall it smell like? None of the oils I’ve used in this formulation have any overpowering smells of their own to do battle with the fragrances I choose, and I do love to use my test batches as playgrounds for fragrance combinations I haven’t tried before. So today I blended vanilla and rose to create a remarkably sensual effect, which blend I’m now considering putting into wider usage. I had considered using a eucalyptus and mint blend intended to help sore muscles, but I knew what that smelled like and wanted to test this out, so it won instead.

Ready for testing!

And now the product is ready for its first round of tests. But wait! That’s only a 2 oz bottle, and we made 3 oz of test product! Well, the remaining 1 oz is in another bottle, to which I also added 5% cyclomethicone, a silicone “dry oil”. After all, it’s not really Science! unless we have some variables, right? The purpose of the cyclomethicone experiment is twofold: It might increase the slip a bit, and can in some formulations reduce the feeling of greasiness which can be associated with heavy oils. I look forward to determining whether the addition of this small amount of cyclomethicone counteracts the heaviness of the castor oil, or whether I will still need to reduce the proportion of this oil in future formulation refinement.

There you have it – the product development process from drawing board to its first trip to the testers. Sometimes, as today, this process takes about an hour. Sometimes, it takes months – some products fail so obviously for their first few variants that it’s quite a while before they’re ready to be tested properly.

What happens next? After testing, the product is either reformulated and re-tested, or it is sent live and made available for sale.  We’ll see which way this one goes in a week or three.


About Amy Young

Founder of Foam on the Range soaps. View all posts by Amy Young

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