Problem Pages

Colin Solves Your Problems 8: How to become a cosmetic scientist

Hi Colin. I’m a junior in high school in the United States, which means it’s time for me to get serious about my college search. It is my dream to become a cosmetic chemist, but I could really use some advice on how to get there. If you could give me some information on the schools you went to, the degrees you received, how you broke into the field, etc, that would be GREATLY appreciated. I have been looking into some international schools as well so even if you went to school in the UK, any information you have would be extremely helpful.

My career as a cosmetic chemist may well not be the most typical one, and started so long ago when the world was such a different place that I am not sure how much advice I can give. I started off as a lab technician in the quality control lab of a big pharmaceutical company. I then did a degree in environmental science with the intention of getting some kind of scientific job to help improve the well being of the planet. You might well notice that I have quite a few blog posts that are more about the environment than about cosmetics. In fact I think one of the reasons I get so annoyed with green activists is that I have a pretty good grasp of ecological matters and I can often see just how flawed their thinking is. When I got my degree it was at period of very high unemployment and I ended up in cosmetics pretty much because it was a choice between that or no job at all.

So I sort of landed up in it by mistake, but I soon found that I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I was going to.

I’d recommend it as a career if you like solving problems, you like variety and you like to see how the world actually works. You’ll also find that your fellow cosmetic scientists are a friendly bunch and are good company when you meet them out at conferences and trade shows.

I wouldn’t advise it if you are looking for scientific recognition. Nobody ever got a Nobel Prize for a really nice shampoo, and in most labs you won’t have time to write papers or attend purely academic conferences.

As to what kind of qualifications you should go for, there are nowadays some specific courses in cosmetic science. One runs at the London College of Fashion which is bang in the middle of London and I imagine would be a great location to be studying in. There are others as well, the most comprehensive seems to be the one that runs at De Montfort University in Leicester. Leicester is a fine city and I lived there myself for a while. But I it might be better to do straight chemistry or biology. I don’t think that would put you at much of a disadvantage getting into the cosmetics industry, but might be better if you want to move into something else later. If you speak French, or if you would like to speak French and have time to learn I would consider studying in France. The cosmetics industry is particularly large and well developed there so that might be something to look into.

The most important thing is to keep what you study broad. Cosmetic development uses all sorts of different skills and the more different things you can study the better you’ll be able to do the job. For example I think I have used my notes on statistics more than anything else I did at university. I have also found myself looking into biochemistry, immunology, physical chemistry and on one occasion carrying out spectroscopy with a paper clip. (Someone had mixed up sodium and potassium chloride – see if you can guess the solution.)

All the best!


P.S.  A very good resource for cosmetic chemists everywhere and invaluable for proto-cosmetic chemists is

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