One can enter cosmetics science with a graduate degree in organic chemistry or polymer science, but another way to learn how to develop products for hair and skin is to enroll in a graduate program explicitly focused on cosmetics.
For instance, the University of Cincinnati College of Pharmacy in Ohio offers an M.S. in pharmaceutical sciences with an emphasis on cosmetics science. This program, which, according to Professor Randall Wickett, dates back to the early 1970s, involves about 9 months of course work, plus a thesis. All told, it can take about 2 years to finish.
The course work involves statistics, pharmacokinetics, and lab experience in the formulation of products. Other modules focus on the skin, its structure and function, and how skin care products work. Students also learn about various skin diseases, "especially ones like acne that are treated over the counter," Wickett says. Emulsions, suspensions, and surfactants are also looked at in detail, which requires a fair amount of physical chemistry. "That's something people need to be ready for. You've got to be able to do some math," he says.
Another part of the program focuses on hair structure and growth and the range of hair care products, including straighteners, bleaches, conditioners, and sprays. Like most cosmetics science, this part of the program is interdisciplinary: "It has some basic biology, some physical chemistry, and some physics," Wickett explains.
The University of Cincinnati's cosmetics science program typically accepts between two and four new students a year. Students enter with a variety of science backgrounds, says Wickett, including biology, chemistry, chemical engineering, and biochemistry. After they complete the program, many students find themselves working at companies with easily recognizable names: Alberto Culver, Estée Lauder, and Kimberly Clark are just a few examples.
Another pharmacy department, at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, offers an M.S. in cosmetics and personal care products technology. Three students take this option yearly, says Serpil Kislalioglu, who directs the program. The program includes physical chemistry, surface chemistry, and the three specifically labeled cosmetic science offerings: "Fundamentals of Cosmetic Science," "Basic Research in Cosmetic Science," and "Cosmetic Product Formulation." Kislalioglu says, "We are concentrating on the formulation aspects, for example the effect of chemical polarity on emulsion formation." With a focus on problems that are at once basic and applied, students can easily get jobs in the pharmaceutical industry or in cosmetics.
The graduate program in cosmetics science at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey, is aimed at people who are already working for cosmetics companies, of which there are many in the area, explains program director James Dougherty, an organic chemist. Dougherty worked in industry himself for many years before taking the helm of this program, which has about 50 students. "About 90% of our students are already working in the cosmetics industry at the bachelor's level, then come to our program, which runs exclusively in the evenings. They come to advance their careers ... [and have] several years' experience within the cosmetics industry," Dougherty says.
The program, which dates from 1982, attempts to give students grounding in basic science, such as colloid chemistry. There is also training in skin care and hair formulations and the raw materials used in such products. "It's really a broadening kind of thing. I think what happens in industry is you tend to get very comfortable in your small area, and very uncomfortable when you step out of it," he says.
Many students aim at moving into management positions, says Dougherty, but others are more interested in staying in research and are in the program to enhance their scientific knowledge of the field. "Then we have a few who, in their free electives, tend to migrate to marketing courses. They feel their R&D background may serve them well," he notes.
Colleen Rockafort, global head of personal-care technical services for Ciba Specialty Chemicals in High Point, North Carolina, is an early graduate of the Fairleigh Dickinson program. Holding an undergraduate degree in chemistry, she was already working in the cosmetics field when she enrolled. "We were batching and formulating different products, and I wanted to [better] understand the raw materials. I saw this course advertised in the Society of Cosmetic Chemists newsletter, and it looked appropriate," she says. She praises the program for providing both a theoretical and a practical grounding, and she notes that the instructors were employed in the cosmetics industry.
Rockafort's additional training has, indeed, advanced her career. In her present job she not only provides technical information, but also teaches sales and marketing personnel about the science involved in cosmetics. "I think it opened up doors for me, especially in the personal care area, because I had a program that was very applicable to this industry."