Should Cosmetic Chemists Publish?

I’m a huge believer in the idea that cosmetic chemists should be active participants in the cosmetic science community at large. This means you should join organizations like the Society of Cosmetic Chemists (both nationally and locally), you should publish articles in magazines, participate in the cosmetic science forum, write blogs, publish on Twitter and other social networking sites, and generally communicate your love and knowledge about cosmetic science. These are all excellent things to do and I think they are valuable for advancing your career, your company’s stature and the field of cosmetic science.

Pressure against publishing

However, the cosmetic industry is different than Academia, and you will find that not everyone at your company shares my philosophy of “openness.”  I first learned this just before publishing my first article in Cosmetics and Toiletries magazine.  This was in the days before the Internet.  It was a non technical article about how a cosmetic chemist should keep a notebook.  After we turned in the article to the publisher, my co-author, who was more senior to me got nervous and decided to run it by our boss (an R&D director).  He was not exactly pleased about the article and while it didn’t give away any secret information, I believe that if we had pitched the idea to him before publishing, we would have never done the article.

From the company’s standpoint, there are good reasons that their chemists should not publish.  First, it helps teach cosmetic chemists at other companies how to perform their jobs better.  This could theoretically improve the quality of the formulations coming from your competitors.  Second, you might accidentally disclose some proprietary information.  This could lead your competitors to knocking off your formulations.  Third, you might inspire some new idea in your competition which will lead to new formulation avenues they hadn’t considered.  And finally, publishing might boost your own reputation in the industry which could attract job offers from other companies and they might lose you.  All of these are legitimate concerns.

But despite these concerns, there are a number of benefits that companies can realize if they allow their chemists to publish in magazines, at industry trade shows, and on the Internet.  Here are 5 ways cosmetic companies benefit from actively publishing chemists.

1.  Get new ideas.  Publishing, especially on the Internet, can directly lead to the development of new product ideas or new formulation avenues.  Many times when you write a piece there will be others who will comment on it.  These comments can lead to new ideas and new industry connections that can help you in the future.  Also, just the act of publishing about a subject causes you to have to study it in depth.  Publishing then becomes a way to train your employees.

2.  Solve formulation problems. Perhaps the best reason to publish is that you can get your problems solved.  There are a number of people who have found solutions to their formulation challenges by participating in discussions on the cosmetic science forum.  And if you are worried about someone finding out secret formulation directions, just post your questions anonymously.   The time saved in solving problems is well worth the publication risks.

3.  Attracting better talent.  When someone sees an article published by a chemist from a specific company, they will get the impression that the company is a place where openness is encouraged.  And when trying to attract the best formulators and chemists in the industry, this positive image will go a long way to encouraging people to give you a second look.

4.  Improving morale of your best people.  Typically, the people who care enough about cosmetic science to publish about it are the ones that are your best employees.  Average employees do not spend their personal time thinking about the subject of their job.  It is the high performing employees that are the ones inspired to publish.  When this need to communicate is squelched it can lead to reduced morale of your best people.  Publishing should be encouraged, not discouraged.

5.  Building the reputation of your R&D organization.  Finally, publishing will improve the reputation of your R&D organization within the industry and even outside the industry.  Our marketing department frequently pointed to the fact that their scientists were published authors and that we had patents.  This helps with PR efforts as well as with HR efforts to attract the best talent.

What is a chemist to do?

Unfortunately, these benefits may not be seen as significant to your boss, or your boss’s boss and there may still be pressure against publishing.  If you want to publish using your own name, you should ALWAYS talk to your boss.  They will likely be discouraging but see if you can convince them of the positive reasons you should publish.  But remember, when you work for someone else you have to follow their rules.

For some things, however, it is unlikely that you would ever get your company’s permission.  My solution was to continue to publish but to do so on the Internet anonymously.  When I started the Beauty Brains I knew my company would not allow me to do it and keep my job.  So, I wrote it anonymously.  This worked well for a few years, but it was definitely less satisfying than publishing under my own name.  It is also much more difficult to use publishing to build your reputation in this way.

I’m a believer that scientists should be able to publish whatever they want.  The benefits outweigh the risks and companies have to trust their scientists.

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