Are Cosmetic Chemists An Endangered Species?


I was sorting out some slides for a presentation to a company about the future of the cosmetic industry while listening to the Beauty Brains podcast earlier when a thought struck me.  The Brains were discussing a project they had worked on in the nineties, and chance had it that I had worked on a very similar project at about the same time.   But it made me wonder, just how long will there be such a thing as a cosmetic chemist?  Most people who do the job start it fairly early in their working life, typically just after graduating.  And it is very often a job for life.  I have clocked up 30 years and although I now do lots of other things beside, I still get into a lab and do lab work.  But is this how things will be in the future?

What Are Cosmetic Chemists For?

The reason that the job of cosmetic chemist exists at all is a function of the way the industry is structured.  Big companies have big brands.  They are continually bringing out new products and modifying their current ones, so they employ scientists in labs to do the necessary spade work to keep the show on the road.  Or at least that is what they have always done.  But there are more and more small companies out there coming out with products and sometimes shaking things up in the process.  Can the big boys rely on always being in control of innovation?  And maybe more significantly, should they need to or even want to?

How Is The Personal Care Industry Going To Change?

There has been a tendency in other industries for the big players to concede the field to smaller ones at the cutting edge.  This is very obvious in technology, where every month there seems to be a story of some guys in a garage creating a sensational project that sells for billions to one of the Silicon Valley top dogs.  But a similar effect can be seen elsewhere.  Big pharma companies are always on the lookout for ideas from smaller start ups.  In fact pitching ideas to big pharma companies is almost an industry in its own right – I have been involved with some of that kind of thing  myself.  (Tip, don’t do your powerpoint presentation until you know how long you have to talk for.)  Record companies have a similar relationship between big companies and  smaller labels.  In fact many of the so called independent labels are actually owned by the big ones, but are allowed more or less total freedom of operation.  That turns out to be the best way to make sure the best talent gets signed up.

Mergers and Acquisitions – How Do They Affect Cosmetic Chemists?

So is this the direction the cosmetic industry is moving in?  I am certainly seeing signs of it.   A couple of good examples are the purchase of the Body Shop by L’Oréal and Liz Earle by Avon.   But buying whole companies is just the most noticeable aspect.   Companies can and do buy in brands and individual products.  I still find it slightly jarring that Boots no longer owns E45, but it must have made sense to them to sell it on.   I think this kind of thing is still on the increase, and the days when a company developed all or even most of its products in house might be numbered.

If I am right the idea of working in the lab of a big company doing nothing but product development for decades may well be something that no longer makes sense.  The typical cosmetic chemist of the future may well be working for a much smaller organisation.  They may well not find themselves spending time in meetings with project managers getting the products that have been requested by the executives.  They could well instead be out explaining their ideas to potential partners.

These partners might be the traditional companies that already sell cosmetics and personal care products, but they may well be different people altogether.  There are a lot more ways to sell units now than piling them up on shop shelves.  There are also now plenty of people out there with ideas for cosmetic products who may well be onto something that us insiders haven’t spotted.  I can imagine that a lot of cosmetic scientists will find themselves coming into contact with these kinds of people in the future.

Is Change Good Or Bad For Cosmetic Chemists?

Change is rarely cost free.  They may not have the time to fully develop the lab skills that us old timers did.  And they may not have the job security that comes with working for a big company.  And if someone is not spending as much time in the laboratory and reading the scientific literature will it still be fair to call these people scientists?

But it does sound like working in cosmetic product development might be a more diverse and interesting occupation than it used to be.  I think it might be a more interesting world. Traditional cosmetic chemists might be an endangered species but cosmetic products aren’t.

Photo credit: pixbymaia via photopin cc

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