Article by: Perry Romanowski

I recently received the book Organic Chemistry for Cosmetic Chemists and am pleased to have it on my cosmetic science book shelf.  It fills in a number of gaps that I realized peppered my scientific knowledge.  If you want to take your confidence in the science of cosmetic chemistry, this book is a must-read.

Organic Chemistry and the cosmetic chemist

Before going into the formal review of the book, you should know a fact about cosmetic formulating.  You do not need to know much about organic chemistry to be a competent formulator.  It’s much more important to know about the raw materials and the properties that they bring to your formula.  Formulating is actually the opposite of the labs you might have done in Organic Chemistry.  In Organic Chemistry you mix together ingredients and hope there is some kind of chemical reaction.  In Formulating you mix together ingredients and hope there are no reactions!

While knowledge of organic chemistry isn’t critical to becoming a competent formulator, it is critical to become a good or even great formulator.  A good background in organic chemistry will make you better at

  • Creating initial formulas
  • Predicting what ingredients will do
  • Solving stability problems
  • Optimizing formulas
  • Finding cost savings ideas
  • Efficiently creating new formulation

If you are serious about a career as a cosmetic chemist, you need to have a solid background in organic chemistry.  And this book, Organic Chemistry for Cosmetic Chemists by Anthony O’Lenick and Thomas O’Lenick is the best one on the subject for cosmetic chemists.  I’ve always wanted to have a refresher in organic chemistry as it wasn’t one of my better subjects in college, but my old college organic chemistry book was just not specific enough for my job as a cosmetic formulator.  That’s what makes this book so incredibly useful.

Book Layout

The book opens with a reviewing of nomenclature of organic compounds.  This is pretty standard in most organic chemistry books and the authors do an excellent job of going through the material.  After reviewing this chapter you will be in a much better position to understand the raw materials that suppliers bring to you.  I also appreciated the quiz provided at the end of the chapter.  This is a feature of many of the chapters which adds greatly to the usefulness of the book.

The second chapter gives a high level overview of the ways in which the majority of cosmetic compounds are synthesized.  It shows you the routes of creation from starting materials such as natural oils, petroleum, and minerals.  The chapter gives handy flow charts which show clearly which raw materials are converted into which final cosmetic compounds.  It also gives the fatty acid distribution of commonly used natural oils.

Chapter 3 is more of a set-up for the rest of the book.  It simply describes the strategies of raw material synthesis and explains why knowing this information will be helpful to the cosmetic chemist.  It feels short but it does help give context to the rest of the book.

The fourth chapter is one of the longest and reviews all the raw materials made using a nucleophilic substitution method.  The chapter is thorough and includes helpful information including typical specification values and exercise problems to show you how well you understand the material.  It’s amazing how many surfactants are made via nucleophilic substitution.

The fifth, sixth and seventh chapters are modeled after the fourth and simply cover other important raw material reactions including sulfonation, oxidation, and reduction.  Again, the authors provide example questions and useful specification information.

Chapters 8 and 9 cover the important polymer reactions.  If you didn’t take a polymer chemistry course in college these will provide useful background information that might help clear up that subject.  In truth these topics could have been expanded however, that may be better handled in a book dedicated solely to cosmetic polymers.

Chapters 10 through 13 cover more important reactions and by the time you finish reading them all, you pretty much have every type of synthetic raw material covered (except silicones).

The last two chapters could prove the most valuable for some cosmetic labs.  Chapter 14 covers the theory behind the laboratory analysis of the raw materials.  Interesting.  Chapter 15 provides specific methods for analytically identifying the compounds you are using.  If you are setting up your own cosmetic laboratory, this chapter provides a step-by-step process for everything you would need to do in your quality control lab.  It alone is worth the price of the book.

Overall review

This is an excellent book that would make a valuable addition to anyone’s cosmetic science library.  It is particularly good for industry consultants and seasoned veterans who have practical knowledge but lack a theoretical understanding of the chemistry.  I thought it was great.

My only criticisms about the book was that it didn’t tie the information back to the formulating chemist enough so it wasn’t always clear why knowing the information would be important.  This could have been easily handled with a simple introduction to the chapters which most lacked.

But overall, this is an excellent book and one we here at Chemists Corner recommend.  You can get a copy by clicking the following link.

Organic Chemistry for the Cosmetic Chemist

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