Reverse Engineering

When a chemist or formulator reverse engineers a product, are they able to get the exact percentages of each ingredient? tks


  • Difficult to be exact unless one has sophisticated analytical resources ie HPLC—AA-Mass spec etc.Most approximate based on order of LOI.
  • In general I would say no but it depends. We reverse engineer many products and in many cases we can provide an equal or often times better product than the benchmark. There are certain labs that can reverse engineer products for exact ingredient amounts though. Don't be too surprised if you discover it contains products in it that shouldn't be there or if the amounts of certain ingredients aren't what they claim to be. We see it fairly often which is unfortunate.
  • thanks 
  • BelassiBelassi Member, PCF student
    The first thing I would do would be to put a weighed sample in a dessicating chamber to remove all the water. What's left will be all the lipids and solids etc.
    Cosmetic Brand Creation. Concept to name to IMPI search to logo and brand registration. In-house graphic design inc. Pantone specs. Cosmetic label and box design & graphics.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    Unless you have the formula of the competitor, it's doubtful you can reverse engineer it exactly. But in formulating, you don't have to be exact to meet consumer expectations.
  • MZHMZH Member
    Can someone suggest a good lab for reverse engineering an OTC eye drop in a reasonable budget?
  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    Define "reasonable budget" ... they type of work you are looking for is generally quite pricey.
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details
  • I agree with Dr BOB, you need a good GCMS etc and still you wouldn't get the exact %
    Dr. Catherine Pratt
    (B.Sc with HONS I , Ph.D Analytical/Organic Chem and Microbiology), Cosmetic Chemistry IPCS)
  • @MZH consider yourself lucky if you can get that done for less than $10,000

    Not only the lab will need GC-MS to identify the ingredients (with a large library to match results)–mass_spectrometry

    They'll also need HPLC to accurately quantify the chemicals found.
    They'll need to order reference standards, find a suitable method or devise one themselves, make calibration curves, repeat 6+ times to ensure repeatability, and so on.

    You'd get better results asking the FDA (or similar office in your country) about product registration forms, listing the ingredients.
    Beware of patents.
  • Bill_TogeBill_Toge Member, Professional Chemist
    with a few exceptions, I have almost never determined the exact percentages when reverse-engineering products - for the most part it's been a matter of educated guesswork, and most of the time, that's all that's required

    also if you have a mixture of essential oils, or vegetable/plant seed oils, you'll have great difficulty identifying and characterising them by chemical analysis

    @Gunther in Europe the compositions declared on the Cosmetic Product Notification Portal are strictly confidential, only visible to the Responsible Person and poisons centres/regulatory authorities
    UK based formulation chemist. Strongest subjects: hair styling, hair bleaches, hair dyes (oxidative and non-oxidative) I know some stuff about: EU regulations, emulsions (O/W and W/O), toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoos, other toiletries
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