Predicting cosmetic sensory properties with rheology

The first touch leaves a lasting impression: Sensory fingerprinting of Skincare

First impressions count, and that first touch of moisturising cream, the moment when you open the jar and your fingertip meets the contents, that sensory fingerprint, sends a torrent of tactile cues to your brain that generates near instantaneous judgements of the product’s quality. Does the product deform without resistance, a soft and delicate mass that adheres to your fingertip? Or do you meet a hard waxy surface that must be scraped at to pick up any product? And what about the moment the cream is applied to your skin? Do you feel a cushioning, almost ethereal bounce that dissipates instantly or a heavy lump that must be smeared and worked at?

Our Sensory Fingerprinting for Skincare can capture those very moments – numerically, objectively and repeatably. Only with our high-performance research rheometers, which barely kiss the most fragile of samples to make a measurement, is it possible to analyse and characterise materials and moments like these.

Close up of rheometer geometry

Sensory Fingerprinting quantifies the major rheological (flow and deformation) and tribological (friction and lubrication) properties of skincare products from the first touch to application to rub-out, providing an easy-to-interpret, quantified identifier that can differentiate between the richly-nuanced sensory experiences available to today’s consumer.


By way of a simple demonstration of the distinguishing ability of sensory fingerprinting, six popular moisturising creams were profiled: two prestige products, three mid-range premium products and one low-cost product.

Just one of the fingerprinting techniques available was employed to obtain a measurement of the strength and stiffness of the soft-solid structure that exists moments before and is disrupted throughout, the pick-up and application process. Modulus is the term we use to quantify the stiffness of a material. Yield stress, on the other hand, is a measure of the strength of that structure. The following results were obtained:


Sensory fingerprinting of moisturisers.
A rheology map of rigidity (modulus) against strength (yield stress) reveals a wide sensory “landscape”.


Map with descriptions
Regions of the rigidity/strength map can be identified.


What is notable from this is the wide range of the modulus and yield stress span: the stiffest cream is over five times more rigid than the softest and the strongest requires over twice the finger pressure of the weakest to pick up. Interestingly, the two prestige products are worlds apart, one being nearly three times stiffer than the other and nearly 50% stronger. This suggests the two products were each formulated with unique sensory spaces in mind for their category.

This article focuses on just the very early stages of the consumer’s interaction with a product, but the whole process can be similarly profiled to compile a complete picture of real value to the formulator looking to rapidly benchmark new and current products or the private label commercial team wanting to impress a brand owner by quantitatively defining where there product will be in the sensory landscape.

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