This is a guest blog post written by cosmetic chemist Mica Oba. She is currently an undergraduate in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and spent some time working with a contract manufacturer in the Bay Area (California). You can read more from her on her blog Geek Makeup Wisdom
For this guest post on Chemists Corner, I decided to dedicate this to the future cosmetic chemists–to the high school students and undergraduates who read this blog.
Becoming a cosmetic chemist
As an undergraduate, I understand how difficult it can be to get your foot into the industry. I have been struggling with that problem since my senior year in high school. I emailed cosmetic companies around my area (Northern California) for internships. At one point, during the beginning of my junior year in college, I was offered an internship, but a month later they told me that they could no longer offer me the position. As discouraging as that situation was, I picked myself up and continued inquiring about internships with other companies. Finally after years of persistence, I was lucky enough to be offered an internship position with a company in my area.
So what did I do in that span of four years before obtaining my internship? Acquiring a B.S. in chemistry and applying for positions in the industry or graduate schools are a given, but here are some other things I did to prepare myself for a job in cosmetic chemistry.
Network, Network, Network
I cannot emphasize networking enough. I think a big mistake a lot of undergraduates make is keeping to themselves and waiting to network until after graduation. I think it’s important for undergraduates to realize that not only can you network with people in the industry or from academia, but also with your classmates. It’s good to network with a variety of majors aside from chemists. Networking with biology, business, art, design and communications majors is a great idea. Remember that getting a product out onto the market is a collaborative effort and takes more than just chemists. Be sure to keep networking with a variety of people in other fields even after you graduate.
Power of the Internet
The internet also makes it easy to network with people around the globe! My blog and Twitter alone has put me in contact with a lot of cosmetic chemists that I never would have been able to network with had it not been for the internet (Perry for example!) Sometimes people will leave their e-mails in comments on other people’s blogs. I’ve made contacts this way as well. Networking doesn’t even need to lead to a collaboration. Contacts can share their experiences with you, give their opinions, and even inspire you. Even if a contact cannot have a job for you right away, keeping in touch with this person may present a new opportunity down the line. If you decide to utilize social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter to network with people in the industry, be sure to present yourself as professionally as possible.
Sign up for a cosmetic seminar or class
In the second year of my undergraduate career, I was becoming more and more anxious to learn about cosmetic chemistry. I spent my freshman year talking to counselors about opportunities around my area, but to no avail. I decided to take matters into my own hands and searched online for any seminars or classes I could take. Finally, I found a skincare ingredients seminar taught at UCLA extension. I took both parts of the class, and the experience was both amazing and overwhelming.
I got to meet a lot of different people from the industry, including formulators, lab technicians, estheticians, raw material suppliers and even dermatologists. I also learned the basics, like reading ingredient decks, interpreting marketing ads and skin anatomy. Seminars and classes similar to this are great ways to expose yourself as to what the industry is like. Aside from doing online seminars and classes, I would recommend doing some of them in person. From experience, and what everyone else in this industry will tell you, I’d like to say again that networking is key. Live seminars and classes will give you this opportunity.
And trust me, I know that networking sounds scary the first time. It was definitely frightening for me to talk to anyone at the first UCLA meeting since almost everyone there was already a part of the industry. You can see that these classes not only taught me the basics, but also gave me my first opportunity to work on my networking skills!
If you can’t afford to take a class or it’s difficult to travel, you can teach yourself a lot about cosmetics on the internet. Aside from this blog, I often frequent specialchem4cosmetics.com and The Beauty Brains. Specialchem has a really great INCI directory and has other great resources.
The UCLA teacher, Rebecca James Gadberry, really inspired me to self-study most of what I know. Even after coming home from the lab, I always looked up MSDS’s or articles about ingredients I used that day so I could understand their function in the product. I also enjoy reading a lot of scientific literature about skin biology. I remember Rebecca talked about educating herself using a variety of resources, such as chemistry and biology books as well as the internet like Youtube videos or even Wikipedia. I personally find Wikipedia a great resource for scientific information.
Seek cosmetic related opportunities
If you have time to get a part time job, one thing you can do is to work at a cosmetic counter in a department store, or get a position at a retail store. Not only will this experience help you to understand what customers these days are looking for, but you can also learn a lot about the latest trends and advancements. To make the most out of this experience, I would definitely recommend doing your own research about new innovations in the industry so you can educate yourself on the science behind it (or lack thereof).
In addition, if you are at a research university you could try to get an internship related to skin biology or polymer chemistry. Polymer chemistry research could be helpful for understanding the thermodynamic concept of emulsions, but such extensive knowledge is honestly not that necessary for formulations. If you think you wouldn’t mind working for a raw supplies company, however, research dealing with organic synthesis would be a great experience. As an aside, if you conduct research at your university I highly recommend participating in a scientific conference by giving a Powerpoint or poster presentation. Even presenting at your lab’s group meetings will be helpful in making you comfortable with public speaking, an invaluable skill for this industry.
SCC Student membership
It’s pretty easy and cheap to get a student membership with the Society of Cosmetic Chemists. Having a membership will give you full access to their published archives, which is helpful in keeping up with the latest topics. The SCC also gives the opportunity to do poster sessions if you conduct research. If you cannot afford a membership, you will still have access to the job postings on the website. That’s how I found my internship!
Before I conclude this article, I would just like to stress the importance of having a back-up plan. I was very, very fortunate to land an internship with a cosmetic company, and as I mentioned before it took me four years of applying. It is not easy to get into this industry as a fresh graduate. Keep your options open and don’t be afraid to take on positions not directly related to cosmetics. Before acquiring my internship, I was simultaneously researching at a genetics/ecology/evolution lab and inorganic chemistry lab on my campus. I can’t say that my work with Drosophila and fullerenes will have any direct correlation with being a cosmetic chemist, but it definitely taught me the work ethic of being in a laboratory. It also helped me to see that I was much happier working in industry than being involved in research.
I hope that this article was helpful to the future cosmetic chemists. If you have any questions about applying to graduate schools, looking for internships, or would just like to network, leave a comment and I’ll be sure to get back to you! Thank you and I hope to hear from some of you soon!
You can follow Mica on Twitter here.