The Realities of a Cosmetic Chemist Career

We get lots of career questions about cosmetic chemistry related to salary, how much education you need and how easy it will be to advance in a cosmetic chemist career. So, I thought you might find my experience interesting.

Becoming a cosmetic chemist

When I first started in the cosmetic field (1992) I didn’t have an advanced degree. I came in as a formulating chemist. I had no plans to become a cosmetic chemist while in school rather, I was just looking for a job…any job.

I even remember thinking as I left the interview that working for a “shampoo” company didn’t seem very important. I was a “scientist” after all and i should be using my brain to work on more pressing problems. I figured I’d work there for a couple years then go back and get a PHD. That never happened. Mostly, because I liked the job and had no burning desire to study anything in particular. Also because I got over my arrogance.

My starting salary was low. $26,000 per year. I actually created a bit of a scandal because the offer was for $25,000 a year and I countered them with $28,000. They never had a beginning chemist do anything like that and that story stuck to me for a half dozen years after I was on the job. The R&D VP frequently referred to it whenever he would see me.

But I digress.

Chemists Salary

The truth is if you wanted to make a lot of money, cosmetic chemistry is the wrong field. Jobs in Finance or Stockbrokers or Hedge fund managers make the big bucks. Chemists…not so much. If money is your driver, go get an advanced degree in Finance or something like that. (This is actually a problem in the US as people who would have traditionally gone into science & engineering are chasing the big bucks on Wall Street.)

However, you can still make an excellent salary as a cosmetic chemist. When I left my job after 16 years I was making over $120,000 annually.

And I wasn’t particularly ambitious in my career nor did I have all the right skill set for moving up the ranks of corporate America.

I should note that my experience is probably not typical because I was able to increase my salary without moving jobs. Most people need to move jobs to increase their salary like I did.

Realities of being a scientist

If your focus is being a cosmetic chemist and doing a good job at that…you won’t advance much in a corporation. Corporations value things like pleasing your boss, being bold and decisive in meetings, and making good presentations. They don’t particularly value being a good scientist. To advance in a corporation you need to become a manager & you need to be a good “people person”. Sucking up to your boss and your boss’s boss helps too.

Many scientists have a hard time doing this.

Should you get an advanced degree?

I’d direct you to Kelly’s thoughts here since she has actually gone through the experience.

There is certainly value in getting an advanced degree. But I’m not certain it will improve your prospects for starting a career in cosmetic chemistry. My advice would be to get a job first then start school after you’ve started your job. This way you can get your company to pay for your schooling. Many / most will.

That’s what I ended up doing (as did Kelly).

In the cosmetic industry, a bachelors degree is crucial. Then getting an entry level job and impressing your bosses is next in line in importance. Just find that first formulating job, learn everything you can, then change jobs to improve your salary prospects. And If you can get an advanced degree, do it.

August 7, 2020

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