How to be a Complete Cosmetic Chemist
To be a complete cosmetic chemist you need to have a wide range of knowledge and skills not taught in college. Here are the 5 main areas you need to develop to excel in a cosmetic science career.
Cosmetic science knowledge - Most of what you learned in college about chemistry was focused on topics that have limited application to the job of being a cosmetic chemist. You learned more about the construction of molecules and less about their application. As a formulator you’ll have to learn what the different available ingredients do and how to use them. Considering that there are over 15,000 raw materials listed in the INCI dictionary, this can take a considerable amount of time. Here are the main areas of focus.
Functional ingredients - These are the things that make cosmetics work.
Aesthetic ingredients - These are the things that make functional ingredients look, feel, and smell better
Claims ingredients - These are the ingredients that support the story and sell your products.
Skin, hair and nail biology - Knowledge of this helps you make products to solve consumer problems.
Consumer problems - These are the problems you design cosmetics to solve.
Controversial topics - It’s good to know what ingredients are controversial and the truth behind scare stories on the Internet & in popular culture.
Formulating knowledge - Knowing the ingredients is important but knowing how to put them together into a finished form that consumers will like is another. That’s why you need to develop a good understanding of cosmetic formulation.
Formulation forms - There are only a limited number of product formulation types in the cosmetic industry including things like solutions, emulsions, gels, sticks, pressed powders and more.
Ingredient insights - You need to learn which ingredients are compatible and which ones aren’t.
Lab equipment - It’s important to be familiar with all the various lab devices you need while formulating and testing prototypes.
Processing equipment - Formulators are involved with scaling up from a beaker to a 3000 gallon tank so you need to be familiar with the equipment needed to do that.
Raw material companies - You need to know where to get raw materials and lab supplier to make your prototypes.
Product testing methods - There are hundreds of standard industry tests and thousands more you could make up yourself.
Innovation - You need to develop skills to invent novel products.
Cosmetic Business - Being a good scientist is only one aspect of excelling in a cosmetic science career. You also need to know about the cosmetic industry and how your company (or product) fits in with the rest of the industry. This will impact the way you create products and spur innovation.
Cosmetic industry players - Learn about the different types of companies in the industry, who they are, where they are located, and how they influence the industry. For cosmetics P&G, Unilever, and L’Oreal are the biggest.
Cosmetic brands - Leading brands set the tone for product development so a formulator has to know who are the biggest and what they are doing.
Market research - This helps you know who the consumer is that you are making products for and what they want. It’s good to make products that people want.
Marketing - Become familiar with the marketing strategies of your company and others in the industry. This will effect the type of products you make in the future.
Distribution - This represents all the ways that your product gets into the hands of consumers. Often a distributor like Walmart will have a say in the types of products you develop.
Cosmetic Regulations - While there are not a lot of onerous restrictions on what you can make in the cosmetic industry there are some and you’ve got to know what you can and cannot do. The best way is to learn what group officially and unofficially sets the rules for cosmetic formulators. You also have to know these rules and follow them.
Governmental regulations - There are a number of regulatory bodies around the world. In the US cosmetics are controlled by the FDA. And other countries around the world have their own regulators.
Non-governmental groups - These are groups that set rules for the cosmetic industry and some of them are officially recognized by governmental regulatory agencies. The PCPC is the most important in the US.
Labeling rules - It’s helpful to know how to label the products that you make.
GMP - If you’re making formulations following good manufacturing procedures (GMP) is a must.
Career - To be a well-rounded cosmetic scientist you have to realize that it is a career and you’ll want to grow in that career. To do that you need to develop some career specific knowledge, skills and connections.
Types of jobs - When you’re first getting into the cosmetic industry it’s helpful to know what types of jobs are available, what they involve, and what the requirements are to get them.
Career advancement behaviors - Working at a corporation requires interpersonal behaviors that are not taught to you in school. Pick up a good book on this subject.
Professional groups - Groups like the Society of Cosmetic Chemists (SCC) can help you connect with other people in your industry so you can learn new techniques, get new ideas, and keep abreast of what might happen to your company.
Networking - Building a network of friends and acquaintances is a key activity which will help you be better at your job, solve problems, and protect you if something unfortunate happens at your current place of employment. Lots of companies are bought and sold in the cosmetic industry;
Advanced training in formulation - You should never stop learning so taking continuing education courses is a key activity to advance in your career.
Building your industry reputation - The most successful people in any industry are usually the ones who are best known. Take the time to learn how to build a good reputation in the industry.
Keeping up-to-date - Never stop learning. Using the Internet to keep up with what’s going on in your industry is an incredibly helpful thing to do.
I’m sure there are more things that I forgot but if you master most of these skills and knowledge you can become a complete cosmetic chemist.
A good way to start is to take our Practical Cosmetic Formulation course.