Cosmetic industry is growing at an unprecedented pace thanks to social media and our desire to have selfie ready skin, hair and makeup! So of course, it’s no wonder that new (and albeit successful) cosmetic brands are popping up left and right and who creates products for those brands?
Well. A ton of people… but one of the critical roles that works behind the scenes is the cosmetic chemist. Cosmetic chemist, formulation chemist, cosmetic scientist or just simply referred to as hey-can-you-make-this.
Hi. I’m Sherry. I’m a cosmetic chemist.
Just like every other job out there, starting a career in cosmetic chemistry has it’s own rules and steps. I’m going to answer some questions around how much does a cosmetic chemist get paid, what does the day-to-day of a cosmetic chemist look like, who would be a good candidate for the role of a cosmetic chemist and give you 5 steps PLUS a bonus shortcut step that will help get your foot in the door.
How much does it pay?
Not enough to make you rich and not too little that you wouldn’t want to consider it!
Of course everything is relative and my numbers are anecdotal from my experience and those of my colleagues (that I hope answered truthfully). This information was collected in years 2016-2019. Also, myself and those I polled are all based in North America so these number may not be applicable to other parts of the world.
Junior cosmetic chemist- Less than 1 year experience- 50-60K
Mid-level cosmetic chemist- 60-80K
Experienced cosmetic chemist- 80-120K
What does the day-to-day of a cosmetic chemist look like?
Your day starts with opening your inbox and reading your emails.
You may have emails from business development asking for quotes on certain projects or asks for samples for new projects.
You may have communications from clients telling you how they felt about the latest samples you prepared for them.
You may have emails from marketing to review documents that are about to be sent out.
If you work at a medium manufacturing facility that doesn’t have a night chemist, you may have to answer questions related to the batches that were made the night before when you were off.
You might have emails from quality, upscaling, regulatory and even logistics. Emails are almost never ending.
Then you get to start your experimental batch(es) for that day. You prepare your formula, collect your ingredients, setup your equipment and get the batch running.
Meanwhile, you might run to check formulations that were prepared days before, check samples that are being put through stability testing or run to see new ingredients at a meeting with a supplier.
You go back and forth to complete your sample batch and answer emails and formulate again several times throughout the day.
You may also have to prepare marketing copies, technical copies, specification sheets, certificates of analysis or submit regulatory documents to various regulatory organizations.
Of course many of these duties depend on your organization and your defined role but I hope to give you a quick overview of what you may need to be comfortable with.
Who is a good candidate for the role of a cosmetic formulator?
Do you follow the cosmetic industry closely? Do you follow beauty trends passionately?
Do you like experimenting? Even if it’s a failed experiment?
Are you ok with smelling 10 different fragrances from every corner of the room? This might sound nice but I know colleagues that have left the lab because of various sensitivities.
Are you passionate about mixing science and art? Because that is cosmetic science.
How can I get in the industry as a cosmetic chemist?
As promised, here’s the 6 steps that help you find your way in.
1- Enjoy science and study a science related degree.
In the past 10 years I’ve spoken to many cosmetic chemists and not two have shared the same path but every single one had the same starting point. All of them (and myself) had a science degree.
Studying chemistry seems to be a given considering the job title has ‘chemist’ in it but virtually any science will too. Cosmetic chemists come from a biology, biochemistry, chemistry, microbiology and I even know one from an environmental sciences background! This is a field where a science undergraduate/bachelor degree is not just helpful, but also required because the formulator needs to understand how products interact with skin and hair or how ingredients interact with each other at a granular level.
2- Learn and love about working independently.
The image most people have of cosmetic chemists is often the image of the brand owners. They think of Kylie Jenner and Kat Von D or they think of Sephora and MAC. The reality is that a cosmetic chemist is far from being at the center of all things sparkly and bright. Cosmetic chemists work in the labs, often behind closed doors and with minimal interaction with the outside. They spend their days reading literature, formulating, reading technical sheets, formulating, reading emails, finalizing the formula, make a batch, running stability and microbiology tests, ordering ingredients and potentially lots more (or less- depending on the size of the organization).
The extent of a cosmetic chemist’s responsibilities varies significantly from organization to organization. Smaller companies offer more chances for interactions with suppliers, production personnel and customers while in larger corporations responsibilities may be limited to just the lab. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the cosmetic chemists to not even see what the final product looks like when it’s all nicely packaged up. The products get made in the factory, get packaged and shipped out while the cosmetic chemists are busy working on the next project. Which brings us to the next point.
Cosmetic chemists might never even see the final, packaged, ready-to-ship product.
3- Get lab experience. Love experimentation.
As a cosmetic chemist most of your days start in a lab and finish in a lab. You’re a scientist after all! And just like any other scientific research the job of a cosmetic chemist has it’s ups and downs. Many times formulations fail. Other times they are meh or just OK. You may even create formulations that you will love but the stakeholders or clients hate! You have to try and try again and be OK with all of this. What’s helpful is if you get ‘real’ lab experience as part of your degrees in science. Many university programs offer ‘independent research’ studies in the scientific degrees that will help you get a feel for what it’s like to experiment, fail and try and try again.
Now you have the basic requirements and can move on to insider networking.
4- Network with your local SCC.
What is SCC? It’s the Society of Cosmetic Chemists.
Globally there’s many local SCC chapters that fall under the umbrella of the IFSCC. Local chapters have local events, gatherings and meetings and are in general a great way to network and learn about the industry. You should start with attending the free seminars and use this as an opportunity to get a feel for the industry. Talk to different people and learn about what they do. You’ll be surprised how much many of us like to chat about what we do!
5- Attend In-Cosmetics.
In-Cosmetics is the annual tradeshow (and gathering!) of cosmetic chemists, ingredient suppliers, equipment suppliers, testing labs and many others from the industry. It’s a wonderful way to learn about many of the different behind the scenes positions in the industry and network. It’s a wonderful opportunity see a variety of companies all under one roof and talk to many primary stakeholders one on one.
At the last In-cosmetics I attended in person I saw lots of companies having a ‘hiring’ sign on their stands. So both great networking and a great opportunity to find your way into the industry.
Over the past 10 years I’ve come to learn about ‘degree’ programs focused on the cosmetic industry.
The most popular program in North America is the Masters of Cosmetic Science offered by Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. The program hosts a variety of domestic and international students and is by far, the highest regarded program in the industry. You’re almost guaranteed a job upon graduation. Almost like a quick shortcut to the industry!
There’s many other related programs that I will list down here and I will leave the research up to you. Many of these programs are fairly competitive and there’s always the cost of tuition to consider but with the right goals and career plan in sight they could be your ticket in to the industry.