Home Cosmetic Science Talk Cosmetic Industry Career What skills should every cosmetic chemists / formulators have?

  • What skills should every cosmetic chemists / formulators have?

    Posted by oldperry on May 14, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    I just listened to an excellent book called Peak - Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

    It got me thinking about what skills are required to become an expert cosmetic chemist or formulator. What makes one person an expert and one not?  What do you think?

    I’ll add my comments after getting input from the community.

    johnb replied 6 years, 6 months ago 7 Members · 15 Replies
  • 15 Replies
  • belassi

    May 14, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Skills required in my opinion:
    1. A sound knowledge of inorganic chemistry, including stoichiometry.
    2. A basic knowledge of organic chemistry (fundamental properties of materials, eg fatty acids, esters, etc)
    3. Willing to spend a lot of time and effort in experimentation.
    4. Natural talent: the ability to recognise when things are going right or wrong.

  • David

    May 14, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    I would add
    5. good knowledge of statstics, so you can formulate without getting biased (fooled) by raw material suppliers’ and other marketing peoples’  graphs and brochures. It also helps when performing your own experiments.


    May 14, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    *Degree in one of  the physical Sciences preferably Chemistry or pharmacy
    *Desire to learn cosmetic science as a continuing process which leads to:
    *Versatility -learns and integrates new fields quickly IE Micro/Bio, safety  etc
    *Creativity-ability to think outside the box, experiment learn and move on
    *Markets-knows value of psycho sensory evaluation/consumer attitudes and can translate in-vitro lab work(the science) into useful and profitable consumer products.  (the art)

  • bill_toge

    May 14, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    * good practical skills - if you want to formulate good products, you have to have plenty of experience at the bench, and learn from your experience

    * strong problem-solving, deductive reasoning and attention to detail

    * the ability to define a problem or a task simply and logically, start from the beginning, and work your way through to the end (I’ve witnessed far too many colleagues and third parties needlessly overcomplicating a problem and tying themselves in knots)

    * a healthy dose of cynicism - believe what you see, not what you’re told

    I’ve always said this job is about an equal mixture of science and engineering, with a dash of creativity thrown in

  • johnb

    May 15, 2017 at 7:42 am

    I think that ALL of the above is important - especially the aspects of creativity and not being tied down to what is in the textbooks ( or online, these days, I suppose) or manufacturers literature.

    I have had so many junior staff in the past who come along thinking they are going to change the world with their ideas when all they achieve is a minor variation on some very ordinary product straight out of the Croda Formulary. Some of these same pedestrian staff have taken dedicated cosmetics science education courses and won prestigious prizes but, this most certainly does not make them a good Cosmetic Chemist or formulator. They sit (or stand) at a laboratory bench turning out the same boring variations week in, week out hoping for some great innovation which, of course, never comes as they are incapable of (dreadful expression this) thinking outside of the box.

  • bill_toge

    May 15, 2017 at 9:20 am

    also, a very important skill is the ability to design formulas which can be manufactured easily and consistently, and in the case of hot fills, stay reasonably stable at the filling temperature

    we used to subcontract for a certain well-known multi-national brander, and they had two hot-fill products which were notorious for separating or going grainy at the temperature they were filled at: because we could make smaller batches and filled directly out of the vessel, we could do a complete filling run before they started to fail

    had the formulator(s) in question taken a little more care at the design stage,  there would have been no need to subcontract it, and the brander could have saved an awful lot of money

  • Bobzchemist

    May 15, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    @Bill_Toge brings up a great point. To me, an expert cosmetic chemist incorporates aspects of chemistry, chemical engineering, packaging/mechanical engineering, project management, microbiology and skin physiology into their practice (among others, but those are the most important).

    I don’t think a degree is totally needed as a credential, but the body of knowledge required to be an expert cosmetic chemist would easily top what’s required for a master’s degree, and school is frequently the most efficient way to learn what you need. It’s just not the only way.

    Thinking about it, I’d have to say that the most important trait that differentiates an expert cosmetic chemist from a by-the-book pedestrian cosmetic chemist is problem-identification/problem-solving. Knowing what’s gone wrong and knowing how to plan out the process to fix it is invaluable.

  • oldperry

    May 16, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Thanks for all the feedback.  I agree with all that’s been said.  You have to have a solid knowledge in many different fields to be an expert cosmetic chemist. You also need to be curious, skeptical, creative, etc.

    But these traits could describe pretty much any scientist.  What are some traits or skills specifically required to become an expert cosmetic chemist?

    The thing that got me thinking about this is the notion of deliberate practice as described here.

    So what activities or skills could someone practice to become an expert cosmetic chemist?

    Here are some that I thought of.  What do you think?

    1.  Memorizing raw materials and what they do
    2.  Developing senses to evaluate formula performance
    3.  Creating formulas from a limited group of raw materials
    4.  Making batches
    5.  Coming up with new product ideas

    I remember when I was regularly in the lab I became really good at taking viscosity measurements, pH readings, and filling bottles. I’m not sure if those skills did much for my growth as a formulator though.


    May 16, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    When i was at JNJ as Mgr. of New product Development MBO s consisted of coming up with two-three new products per year, which at least reached the stage of a product test from which insight is gained into the need/wants of the  consumer(through studying the internals).Cosmetics and personal care products are continuously evolving and may have the highest turnover rate in the Consumer products arena So curiosity and creativity has to extend into the marketplace.Net/net find out what are they looking for and how to best get it to them as attitudes/demographics are constantly changing.

  • belassi

    May 16, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Two or three in a year, Bob? I’d want more like 6!


    May 16, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    good but hope you have a lot of resources

  • belassi

    May 16, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    I don’t think I am particularly quick. It usually only takes me a few weeks of work to develop a new formula. Making it into a product only takes a couple of weeks more, (label and package). Some products take very little effort: for instance the coffee and licorice shampoo, being based on a premixed blend of surfactants, only required substitution of brewed coffee for water, adjustment of viscosity and a bit of messing around caused by the licorice properties. We had it for sale 4 weeks after the first prototype was tested.


    May 16, 2017 at 7:12 pm
    under those conditions you can do at least 6—-consumer product testing depending on how you set it up(400 people minimum blinded or branded-with or without a concept:monadic or benchmark) adds about 3months/product.My comments were based on large company requirements to get to a regional test market prior to national rollout.A different scenario!The real message is what is to be learned regarding consumer acceptance and insights into consumer perception ie halo effects etc..What we think we do in the lab is not always translatable into a satisfactory product until tested via the consumer versus a commercial benchmark.
  • Bobzchemist

    May 16, 2017 at 7:39 pm


    I’ve found, personally, that being able to visualize what’s going on in a product, be it a simple emulsion, a liquid foundation, or a pressed powder, etc., helps tremendously when it comes to formulation and problem solving. But to do this, you need to develop a pretty comprehensive idea of what the structure of your product is, and the functions of the raw materials in it.

    Also, you can’t just memorize raw materials and their functions - you need to develop a hands-on appreciation of how they behave, and to do that, you need to experiment, evaluate, adjust the formula, and evaluate again. Over and over, with each material. Sometimes, you can get a sense of how ingredients will behave in a formula by evaluating them at 100% - but sometimes you can’t. The easiest way to do this is to take a good formula, and tweak each ingredient up and down individually, evaluating the changes every time.

    Constant learning is key. Not just reading, or experimenting, although those are critical aspects, but also talking to, and learning from, other people. And not just the professionals, either. Talk to the compounders, the machine operators, the mechanics. Every one of them will have something to teach you.

  • johnb

    May 17, 2017 at 6:52 am

    A vital thing that seems to have been completely forgotten so far is a knowledge and understanding of the laws applicable to cosmetic products - and even, in some instances, what constitutes a cosmetic. These laws differ from country to country so if your product is to be marketed in different countries it is necessary to for the product to comply with the regulations in force with that country.

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