If you love scientific research but want to see a more practical application of your work, this may be the career for you. An entrepreneurial spirit combined with a strong desire to create products that people use and enjoy will take you far in this field.

Typical Job Functions

The personal care industry develops and manufactures products used for personal hygiene and beautification (e.g., cosmetics, soaps, detergents, etc.). Many of these products are purchased on the basis of color, smell, and/or taste. Therefore, chemists working in this field cater to the senses of the consumer.

Personal care chemists work to understand the chemical and physical processes that describe how the raw ingredients work, how they affect each other, and how they affect the manufacturing process. They continually try to develop better and more cost-effective products.

Typical job duties include the following:

  • Developing brand-new personal care formulations
  • Reformulating existing products to update ingredients, enhance productivity, or lower costs
  • Managing the product development process, from small scale laboratory to pilot plant to commercialization scale
  • Monitoring potential product formulations for stability over time and under varying levels of light and heat
  • Testing potential products for resistance to bacterial growth
  • Communicating with sales, marketing, and business development teams about potential new products
  • Ensuring compliance with industry standards and requirements

Teamwork is important for chemists in the personal care industry. They need to work with environmental and toxicology specialists, business and sales professionals, and manufacturing experts.

Personal care is a specialized field within applied research and product development. There are many niche areas (e.g., cosmetics, soaps, natural products), each of which has their own special considerations.

Career Paths

In industry, most chemists start out in research and then advance by climbing either the research or management career ladder.

  • Research ladder - Involves staying close to product development, taking on more supervisory responsibilities and larger projects.
  • Management (or business) ladder - Involves moving away from the lab bench and into sales/ marketing or operations/production.

Scientists in management generally have slightly more experience than those in research, and they earn slightly higher salaries. But, once you move out of research and into management, it is difficult to move back to the laboratory, as your technical knowledge and skills become outdated quickly.

Getting Started

There are opportunities in the personal care industry for chemists with a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. Some universities offer bachelor’s degrees or concentrations in cosmetic science. For the most part, though, chemists in this field earn an undergraduate degree in chemistry, biology, or a related field and specialize at the master’s or Ph.D. level.

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