What do you do for a living?
Although I am trained as a biochemist, with a Ph.D., I now own my own company working as a cosmetic scientist and herbalist.
How would you describe what you do?
My job is very different from other biochemists and even other cosmetic chemists in that I as an entrepreneur I have designed my own job.
What does your work entail?
The way I have shaped my business is multifaceted. Not completely satisfied with the rigid environment of academic research, I took my hobby of growing herbs and making herbal products and turned it into a business which has evolved year by year.
I found that having a knowledge of both herbs and chemistry is valuable in creating high end cosmetic products and clients come to me because of that. Much of my work is formulating cosmetic products. This entails reading about new ingredients, how they behave and what they contribute to a product. I formulate and make my own line of products as well as consult for other small cosmetics businesses and estheticians to formulate and manufacture their unique products.
When formulating I make very small test batches based on what a client describes to me and then make adjustments to a product based on their input and feedback. Once a particular product is approved by a client we then look at preservation issues (to prevent bacterial and fungal growth) and stability issues of the product and make necessary changes based on that.
What’s a typical work week like?
Because I also farm, during the summer I am working in the fields planting, weeding, harvesting and drying the herbs for later use in botanical extracts. Outside of that I will typically spend one to two days a week doing manufacturing of 1-20 gallons of a given product. In between that I set up microbiology testing 1-2 days a week, work on new products several hours a week and do small consulting jobs in between the larger ones. I spend a good amount of time reading and researching ingredients as well as keeping up with new proposed regulations.
How did you get started?
As a do-it-yourselfer I always enjoyed gardening and making products as a hobby. I soon realized it was more of a passion. I found that my science background proved to very beneficial in understanding emulsions and how ingredients act and began making more complicated, functional products. I actually started my business by offering microbiology services to other small companies and crafters and have continued to educate and help small businesses through networking.
What do you like about what you do?
I love formulating, it is very satisfying to put oil and water together and get an emulsion that feels good on the skin. Making special products that serve a particular market such as acne prone skin, aging skin or rosacea is quite rewarding. A good deal of my job is educating clients and with a background in teaching it comes natural.
Learning the biochemistry of ingredients and how they benefit the skin comes easy with a biochemistry background. I like to say that my two favorite chemical reactions are saponification and emulsification (even though emulsification is not really a chemical reaction). I get great satisfaction from putting together a variety of ingredients and coming out with something that feels good on the skin, remains emulsified, and has other good properties. I also source my ingredients based on them being sustainable and made by green chemistry which fits into my passion for botanical ingredients.
What do you dislike?
I dislike many things about running a business including bookkeeping, cleaning, marketing and website design. There are many hats to wear as a small business. As I’ve grown I’ve been able to outsource some of those chores, but when you own a business there are always things you have to do that you dislike. Its like that with any job though.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
I am compensated in a number of ways; I charge an hourly fee for my formulating, manufacturing and consulting services, I charge for microbiology testing, and I have income from retail and wholesale sales of my own product brand. Recently I have added downloadable ebooks to my website on topics of chemistry and physiology targeted to the herbalist and small skin care manufacturers.
How much money do Biochemists make?
Biochemists make quite a range of salaries depending upon what they do. Many biochemists go into university environments where they teach and/or do research. These jobs might pay $30,000-$100,000 per year depending up the location and the school. Other biochemists go into the pharmaceutical industry where salaries can be higher. I chose not to go that route because I want to live in a place I enjoy and not be tied to a given location based on my employer.
Salaries for cosmetic chemists are similar. If you own your own business you have to expect to not make much at first but you can then watch it grow. Most people will start their business part time while keeping another job.
How much money did/do you make starting out as a Biochemist?
With a Ph. D. your first ‘job’ is as a postdoc. The salary for those jobs is usually set by the NIH and at that time it was $20,000 per year, but I know things have changed a lot.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to become a cosmetic chemist/scientist?
My schooling includes a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Most cosmetic chemists however only have masters or even bachelors degrees in chemistry or related fields. I am also a self-taught herbalist. Skills necessary are a good understanding of chemistry, imagination and creativity. Most of the knowledge of formulating actually comes with experience and trying new things. Having the ability to be creative and think outside the box is important in developing new products.
What is most challenging about what you do?
One thing that is challenging is being in an industry where the consumer has become very scared of chemistry. When consumers say that ‘if you can’t pronounce it it must be toxic’ I know there is alot of educating to do.
What is most rewarding?
Most rewarding of course is making the perfect product. There is also alot of creativity and intuition that goes into making cosmetics, as there is in much of biochemistry which is very satisfying.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Study chemistry, don’t believe everything you read on the internet and learn by experimentation. Start slow and learn from your mistakes before they become too expensive. Networking online with people in your industry is a great way to learn as well as teach.
How much time off do you get/take?
What a funny question! Those of us who own our own business rarely have time to take off. But short vacations are great and work for me!
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
Many people in the general public have a misconception that all chemicals are bad and so products that contain chemicals are bad. Even though my products are considered all natural I am constantly educating the public about chemicals. Many consumers do not know that everything is a chemical, even products that come from botanicals.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
My goals for the future are to grow my company to a point where I am able to take time off and delegate my responsibilities while gone.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
Every cosmetic science job/career is different. If you are interested in this career, scout it out and learn about the various areas of the industry from ingredient research/manufacturing to final product research/manufacturing.