Personal Care Chemistry
The personal care industry develops and manufactures products such as cosmetics, soaps, detergents, and more, which are used for personal hygiene and beautification. Take a look at the health and beauty section of your local drug store or supermarket and you’ll get some idea of the breadth of products produced by this sector—many of which 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 may design and manufacture new ingredients or combine and modify existing ingredients in new ways to create new products. Therefore, they need to make sure that desirable properties are maintained when ingredients are changed (due to changes in price or availability), and they are continually trying to develop better and more cost-effective products.
Typical job duties include the following
- Develop brand-new personal care formulations
- Reformulate existing products to update ingredients, enhance productivity, or lower costs
- Manage the product development process, from small scale laboratory to pilot plant to commercialization scale
- Monitor potential product formulations for stability over time and under varying levels of light and heat
- Test potential products for resistance to bacterial growth
- Communicate with sales, marketing, and business development teams about potential new products
- Maintain current knowledge of relevant industry standards, and ensure compliance with their requirements
In addition to sound technical skills, chemists in personal care must have an understanding of the consumers’ desires for the final use of the product. Do they want a premium product that works extremely well, or would they be satisfied with something that works adequately well at a significantly lower cost? Teamwork is important and includes working 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.
- ACS Division of Polymer Chemistry, Inc. Newsletters
- Greener Reaction Conditions Award: Kraton Performance Polymers, Houston
- Plastics Go Green
- Polymer Pulls Ion Pairs from Water
- Developing New Materials: Greener Process for a Key Ingredient Used to Make Paints, Diapers, and Other Products
Opportunities in the personal care industry exist for chemists with a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degree. There are a small number of universities that offer bachelor’s degrees or concentrations in cosmetic science, so most people will earn an undergraduate degree in chemistry, biology, or a related field and specialize at the master’s or Ph.D. level.
The location of the work will vary depending on the development stage of the product. Preliminary research is usually conducted in laboratories on a small scale, while applied research and product development moves into larger laboratories and pilot and production plants. Depending on the company, you may either move with the product through the research and development cycle or hand it off to another team as it moves closer to being ready for market.
In industry, most chemists start out in research and then advance by climbing either the research or management career ladder. The research ladder involves staying close to product development, taking on more supervisory responsibilities and larger projects. The management or business ladder involves moving away from the lab bench and more into sales/ marketing or operations/production of highly technical products that are sold to other businesses rather than consumers. Scientists in management generally have slightly more experience than those in research, and they earn slightly higher salaries.
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.
- ACS Division of Polymer Chemistry (ACS POLY)
- American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA), formerly the Composites Fabricators Association (CFA)
- American Plastics Council (ACC)
- Association of Rotational Molders (ARM)
- ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)
- International Cast Polymer Association (ICPA)
- Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE)
- Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI)
- Vinyl Institute (VI)
Future Employment Trends
The personal care market is predicted to grow significantly in Asia over the next several years. Many companies are expanding their overseas operations to address this emerging market.
Is This Career a Good Fit for You?
If you love scientific research but want to see a more practical application of your work, this may be the career for you. A strong desire to create products that people use and enjoy, as well as an entrepreneurial spirit, can definitely be helpful.
The personal care market in the United States is experiencing some growth, but the Asian markets are experiencing significant growth.
- Opportunities in the personal care industry exist for chemists with a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degree.
- Median annual wage: $72,610 (2015)
Careers A to Z
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