Beauty is in the eye of the cosmetic chemist, discovers Yfke Hager as she learns about the job satisfaction of picking up a formula you created in a shop

Beauty is in the eye of the cosmetic chemist, discovers Yfke Hager as she learns about the job satisfaction of picking up a formula you created in a shop

If you’re a ’hands-on’ scientist with an entrepreneurial streak, a career in the cosmetic chemistry industry might just appeal to you. It also helps if you enjoy cooking, says Perry Romanowski, who has worked as a cosmetic chemist, writer and educator for the past two decades. He started his career as a cosmetic formulator responsible for inventing new hair and skin care products at Alberto Culver. ’Formulators are the chefs of the cosmetic world,’ he explains. ’Creating prototypes of new cosmetic products is all about developing recipes, testing them for performance, and then repeating the process until you have a product that is superior to the one you started with.’

While chemists are the inventors of the cosmetic chemistry industry, you can’t expect to live it up in the lab all the time, Romanowski warns. ’One of the challenges of working as a cosmetic scientist is that you have to be able to repackage the science in a way that a non-scientist can understand and get excited about.’ You’ll need excellent people skills; cosmetic chemists should feel just as much at home chatting to consumers or presenting to marketing colleagues at a business meeting as concocting the next big beauty product. ’It’s not just about science,’ says Romanowski. ’It’s about turning your ideas into products that people will buy.’

Marketing your skills 


The unique skill set that characterises a successful cosmetic chemist provides extensive opportunities for career progression. Those with a strong scientific bent might start out as a formulating technician or chemist and work their way up through research scientist and principal scientist positions to project leader, while those with a flair for business may opt to branch into management or sales and marketing. ’Many cosmetic chemists end up working in sales,’ Romanowski says. ’If you can communicate well and understand the chemistry of the ingredients you are selling, you could do very well for yourself in sales.’ Other possible career paths include quality control, analytical services, process engineering and regulatory affairs. 

Romanowski stresses the importance of networking to land that dream job. ’Get involved with a professional organisation like The Society of Cosmetic Scientists or The International Federation of Societies of Cosmetic Chemists,’ he advises. ’Then do some online networking. Create a free profile on LinkedIn and join some of the cosmetic chemistry discussion groups on the site to help you identify potential employers and build up a network.’ You can also follow companies that you might be interested in working for on Twitter. Full-time jobs may be scarce in these tough economic times, so consider signing up with temping agencies that specialise in scientific vacancies, as temporary jobs can sometimes lead to full-time positions. For more career advice, visit the website Chemists Corner, a resource for scientists in the cosmetic industry that Romanowski regularly contributes to. 

Cosmetic qualifications 

An undergraduate degree in chemistry or chemical engineering is the basic requirement for a job in the cosmetic chemistry industry, but some larger companies may favour those with a masters or PhD. A handful of universities offer specialised cosmetic chemistry courses, including the University of Cincinnati and Fairleigh Dickinson University in the US and London Metropolitan University and Leicester’s De Montfort University in the UK. The Society of Cosmetic Scientists offers a distance learning course to obtain a Diploma in Cosmetic Science, which is validated as a Certificate in Higher Education by De Montfort University and recognised by the Royal Society of Chemistry for the purposes of Continuing Professional Development. While these courses can provide a useful head start, it’s not essential to take a specialised course, and it can be just as effective to learn on the job. 

There’s a certain job satisfaction in picking up a bottle from a shelf in a shop and seeing that it contains a formula you created, says Romanowski. ’There are still interesting challenges waiting to be solved by cosmetic scientists, including anti ageing,’ he says. ’Sure, you won’t cure cancer, but as a cosmetic chemist you have the opportunity to make people feel good about themselves. It’s a fun job, and someone has to do it!’ 

Yfke Hager is a freelance writer based in Manchester, UK 

Further Reading

Chemists Corner
The Society of Cosmetic Scientists
Distance learning in cosmetic science
The International Federation of Societies of Cosmetic Chemists