Which skills are required to be a cosmetics NPD manager?

Karen Ho     

NPD Managers build the future. You are responsible for managing cosmetics products that impact people's lives. You conduct market research, define the product formulation, build the product launch calendar, and orchestrate the manufacturing work that brings it all together. And you do this while coordinating a cross-functional team of marketers, chemists, suppliers, and customer support experts.

This impactful work directly contributes to the success of your organization. And it requires a broad skillset to do well. If you are new to the field, it is normal to feel intimidated by the weight of this responsibility. But do not get discouraged. Most cosmetics new product development managers are stronger in some areas than others. And it is rare for NPD managers to have formal training — you learn and sharpen your skills on the job.

The key is to familiarize yourself with the skills you need to succeed in NPD management. And to focus on incrementally improving. Over time, you will gain confidence in your ability to make a greater impact on your organization.

Important skills for cosmetics NPD managers

NPD roles can look very different at each cosmetics/skincare company. Many NPD managers have responsibilities that overlap with brand marketing, chemists, retail and operations. No matter your job description, there are essential skills that every NPD manager needs to excel. Chances are, you already stand out in many of these areas:

  • Business strategy skills
  • Research skills
  • Cosmetics science skills
  • Project management skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Financial skills
  • Communication skills

Business strategy skills

Business strategy is critical when defining cosmetics product vision and the formulation you will choose to achieve it. The success of your cosmetic product ultimately relies on your ability to think beyond the day-to-day tactical work and deliver an end-to-end product experience, from product claims to formulation to packaging. Use product briefs to have a single source of truth that connects strategy to the launch.

Research skills

Great cosmetics NPD managers deeply understand their customers and market. It is important to know how to untangle and interpret all the information that comes your way. Consolidate research into shared documentation (e.g., ingredient research, competitive benchmarking, new product launches, formulation analysis) that the team can reference and learn from.

Cosmetics science skills

You may not create the formulation, but you do need to understand the chemistry behind your cosmetic product. You also need to know what ingredients are used and not used. Familiarize yourself with the methodologies, processes, and tools that the formulation team uses.  This will make it easier for you to estimate product features, define requirements, and commit to product launch plans.

Project management skills

Launching new cosmetic products to market takes tremendous coordination. An endless list of internal tasks, dependencies across suppliers, and important due dates can be overwhelming. Strengthen your project management skills to get organized.

Presentation skills

Cosmetics NPD managers give a lot of presentations — to the leadership team, marketers, and even users participating in sample trials. You might also be responsible for giving expert interviews, leading webinars, or presenting at conferences. A successful presentation is concise, engaging, and tailored to the audience. Challenge yourself to get better with each presentation you give.

Financial skills

In many ways, you are like a budget manager for your product. You need to understand how to analyze financial information — budget, key product development milestones, manufacturing costs, pricing, and revenues. Work with colleagues in finance, retail, and brand marketing to deepen your knowledge. Financial skills can help you evaluate your product holistically.

Communication skills

Keeping your cross-functional team in sync requires exceptional communication skills. You need to translate critical information to executives, manufacturers, laboratories, marketers, and customer service teams. The better you understand the details each team needs to do their jobs well, the better you can communicate with them:

  • Executives: Product launch plans and progress against goals
  • Customer service: What is new and how it benefits customers
  • Manufacturers: Detailed product feature requirements, sample feedback and timelines
  • Marketers: Go-to-market timelines and how to communicate the scientific stories and key features of the new cosmetic products

Traits of successful NPD managers

Successful NPD managers are intrinsically motivated — you are always looking for ways to improve, fill in the gaps in the organization, and continually deliver a better cosmetic product.

That is why most NPD managers have a mix of personality traits that are especially suited to this role. See how many of these traits you relate to:


NPD managers have a desire to constantly learn — about the cosmetics industry, market, market, competitors, and customers. You are relentless in identifying the next product to meet customer needs.

Work ethic

You always give your best effort. You push yourself to deliver the project on time and you help keep everyone focused on the future.


You have self-assurance and you make difficult decisions. But you balance decisiveness with humility. And when you do not know the best path forward, you seek input from others. Your confidence energizes the team.


You are sympathetic to time-constraints and supply chain frustrations your manufacturers and laboratories face. And you find ways to alleviate their stress — maybe you aim to communicate key information as early as possible or you work to manage internal expectations and set realistic deadlines.


You do what you say you will do. Teammates trust your ability to get things done — for the good of your customers and the organization.

Of course, you may find that you need to flex additional traits and skills to grow into your role. Each organization defines its NPD roles differently — it is up to you to strike a balance that helps you succeed.

How do I develop cosmetics NPD skills?

You cannot get a degree in NPD just yet — but many undergraduate degrees can prepare you for this work. Many Cosmetics NPD managers have backgrounds in the scientific and business fields, including cosmetics science, formulation science, chemistry, biochemistry, brand marketing and strategic marketing. You can also earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree to level up your business skills.

Preparation aside, you will do your best learning on the job. It takes time and real-world application to develop as an NPD manager. You are entering an exciting and fast-growing field. What matters most is your drive to reflect on skills and continually enhance them.

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