Hey, It’s Me! Kevin! Your Favorite Cosmetic Chemist! Because You Asked, Let’s Talk About What I Do

It involves wearing lipstick for a living. And a snazzy lab coat. Curious, aren’t you?
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Publish date:
March 19, 2014
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Tags:
science, careers, cosmetic chemist

I'm a man, and I’m wearing lipstick--and I'm getting paid to do it. Sounds risqué, doesn't it?

Well, instead of being caught in the back seat of a car with a minor celebrity in the Hollywood Hills, I am actually surrounded by a group of people in white lab coats. I'm wearing one, too. I'm a cosmetic chemist, and this is just a typical day at work.

So, how did I get here?

I've been in the cosmetic industry for about seven years now. I was fresh out of college, and, like many students, instead of jumping into the real world right away, I had high aspirations and went to grad school. The plan was to become a dentist, spending my days pulling teeth, playing golf and driving a Saab. After a 3,000-mile drive from California to New Jersey with my somewhat reluctant girlfriend with me, guess what I found out after six months: I did not like dentistry.

Broke with tuition payments due, I got a job. The good thing is I had graduated a with a B.S. in biology; I focused on biochemistry and physiology in my four years before grad school, and New Jersey has a lot of labs.

I started working in a toxicology safety lab testing the safety of chemicals. Everything from materials to baby onesies to pesticides to food additives, and specifically the raw chemicals that go into some cosmetic formulations. This soon became my specialty. I was testing for skin irritation and skin toxicity.

But there was a dark side: I was testing on animals. Initially, it’s a shock, but the scientist in you takes over and starts to make justifications--it’s for the safety of your fellow man, your future children, your grandparents--but the reality is that it’s depressing work. My girlfriend never wanted to hear what I did on a daily basis, and I had to defend my job to almost anyone who found out what I did.

After two years, I decided it was time for a change. I enrolled in a master's of public health program and was working on a degree in epidemiology. My thesis work was on lead contamination in imported cosmetics from India, and with this background in cosmetics, I began looking for a new job. Two short months later, I started as a formulation scientist at Johnson & Johnson.

This opened my eyes to a whole new world. I started formulating on J&J’s soon-to-be launched Naturals line; I was making safer cosmetics for babies. Trust me, if there were ever two back-to-back jobs that were entirely different, these were it! This was a different approach to science, an amalgam of art and chemistry, and it was rewarding work. There is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing something you created on a store shelf at Target or on Amazon.

To this day, you can still buy the first formula I ever worked on. It was a labor of love; it took me almost a year to finish it, but it was fun. I knew that I would never need to set foot in another animal lab ever again.

After that, I was hooked on the cosmetics industry. Being so closely linked to fashion and trends and the people who are attracted to those industries, cosmetic chemistry is a science that relies heavily on creativity. It requires staying ahead of fashion and working with the latest molecules to achieve a great formula.

So after two fast years and one really crummy winter, I had finished my master's and was itching to move back to California, where I currently work for a contract manufacturer here. We provide research and development to many clients across the globe. We formulate for high-end “cosmeceutical” brands, and mass-market brands alike. I really enjoy this type of work, because it’s fast-paced and it's constantly stimulating my creative nature. I focus on innovation chemistry.

And this is the work that brought me to xoVain.

I came in search of a place where I could observe and learn from what educated consumers want in their products. I have learned a lot from all of you while reading the stories and comments on this site, and it has already changed the way I approach my work.

So, now that you have learned a bit about me and my career, do you think you'd like to spend time behind a lab bench and be a cosmetic chemist? First, you are going to need to go to college, and getting a degree in chemistry is a great start; other alternatives are biology, biochemistry, chemical engineering, or polymer science. After you graduate, the next step is getting experience. School will only give you a basic foundation; formulating mostly comes from on-the-job experience. But, like everything else in this economy, it can be frustrating trying to land that first job.

The good thing is, the Society of Cosmetic Chemists is a great place to start networking and is a great place to find jobs. There are 19 chapters in North America, you can visit them at SCConline.org. (It’s kind of like that club that all the nerds were excluded from in elementary school. Well, we finally banded together and set up our own club. It’s... quirky.)

Other resources can be found here:

Happi.com

GCImagazine.com

Thomasnet.com

What I like about xoVain is that I feel you are a very receptive community, and I love educating you guys about the ingredients in your cosmetics. It’s my opinion that cosmetic sales are too often driven by marketing stories and not enough by the formula. This, in a way, trivializes what I work so hard to achieve (a great formula) and the opportunity to enlighten you guys is wonderful. So if you have any ingredient or formula questions, fire away in the comments. Let the SCIENCE begin!