Pros and Cons of Pursuing a Degree in Cosmetic Chemistry

One of the most common questions I get from high school and undergraduate students are college programs with an actual emphasis in cosmetic chemistry. As you can imagine, there aren't many programs available compared to just your regular chemistry course.

cosmetic chemistry degree

Here is a list and link to some programs to explore:

Undergraduate Cosmetic Science Programs:

  1. London Arts College (BSc)
  2. University of Toledo (BS)
  3. Singapore Polytechnic (DPSC)
  4. De Montfort University (BSc)
  5. Monash University (BSPS)

Graduate Cosmetic Science Programs:

  1. University of Cincinnati (MS)
  2. Fairleigh Dickinson (MS)
  3. Long Island University (MS)
  4. London Arts College (MSc)
  5. Università degli Studi di Padova/Université de Versailles (EFCM/MBM)
  6. Rutgers University (MBS)

A bachelor’s degree should be sufficient enough to become a lab technician at a subcontract manufacturing lab or raw material supplier lab. A Master’s or PhD degree can help you land more senior positions in the lab (and more moo-lah). If you pursue a PhD program, you can take your career a step toward research of application of cosmetics or advanced formulations.

Now, are any of these programs right for you? This can be a big decision, especially if you’re applying for undergraduate or graduate programs this year. To help sort out the pros and cons of pursuing any of these programs, here are a list of reasons why you DO and you DON’T need to be a part of these programs in order to become a cosmetic chemist.

2 reasons why you should pursue a cosmetic chemistry program:

1. You’ll be ahead of the competition

Since most people in the industry don’t have a cosmetic chemistry specific degree, you’ll have obvious advantages over the competition when applying for internships and jobs. An education in cosmetic chemistry will teach you specific concepts that you probably won’t learn while pursuing general chemistry degrees. For example, you may not touch upon specific subjects such as emulsion science, polymer chemistry or in-depth skin science.

What’s great about cosmetic science programs is that they not only teach you the science, but you’ll also have elective options for marketing and business classes.

2. One of the best ways to network

Most likely your teacher has worked or has connections with the cosmetic industry. If you do a cosmetic science program, you have a great opportunity to network the crap out of it, meet the right people, and get a job right out of college. Like any other industry, networking can play a key role in landing you position in this small industry. Doing well in your classes and meeting your professor’s colleagues will definitely open a lot of doors for you.

Reasons why you should not pursue a cosmetic chemistry program:

1. Many employers don’t expect new grads to have prior experience in cosmetic chemistry lab

Again, since this is such a niche industry with very little educational programs, most employers don’t expect newcomers to have any experience in the industry. In fact, I got my first internship at a subcontract manufacturing lab with a pharmaceutical chemistry degree and no prior formulation experience!

Most employers mainly look for people with chemistry degrees (sometimes biochemistry and biology is ok). If you can demonstrate some lab competency and experience, that’s usually enough to land a lab tech position. When I was being interviewed for my internship, the first thing they asked me was, “Do you know how to cook? Can you follow directions?”

Yes. Making cosmetics is like cooking.

In order to demonstrate your competency in the lab, I suggest taking your lab sessions seriously and working in a lab on campus. This will at least give you experience in a lab environment.

2. You narrow your job prospect if you leave cosmetics

If down the road you decide cosmetics are not for you, getting a degree specifically in cosmetic chemistry may narrow future job prospects, especially since your course curriculum will be quite specific.

I currently have a B.S. in pharmaceutical chemistry and an M.S. in pharmaceutical chemistry with a cosmetic science emphasis. I’ve recently switched to the pharmaceutical industry (reasons being here) from the cosmetic industry. I honestly feel that having a broader education helped me switch between industries. Had I narrowed myself to a cosmetic science only degree, I may not have been able to make the switch.

3. You may have to move out of state (which will be expensive)

Some students can’t afford to pay out-of-state tuition and opt to only apply to schools in-state. Even though I took the Masters program online with the University of Cincinnati, I still had to pay out-of-state fees since I’m a California resident.

Evaluate your cost options if there are no programs available nearby.

My take on this?

While getting these specific degrees offer obvious advantages, especially networking, I would say that at this time it's not a necessity. The industry has been around even before these programs, and so many (if not the majority) of cosmetic chemists do not have a cosmetic science specific degree. 

So is it worth it to get such a specific science degree?

Let me be real here--if you are truly passionate about this industry, I say go for it. The networking opportunities from doing these programs is invaluable, as the professors and other mentors you come across can point you in the right direction. 

If you're still not sure if cosmetic science is for you but you're still curious about it, I recommend getting a general chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry or chemical engineering degree while exploring internships and joining the SCC with a student membership. I’ve had students approach me and ask if it’s possible to still work in the industry with a biology or biochemistry background, and the answer is definitely. Some of my friends who’ve been in the industry for a number of years have degrees in the biological sciences, so it’s completely possible. Since a lot of employers ask for chemistry degrees, you can demonstrate your ability with lab experience and skills.

Learn more about what lab experience and skills to hone in on here!

If you find during your undergraduate career that you're still interested in cosmetic science, you can always do a Master’s or even PhD program later on. And even then, a Masters is not necessary to become a cosmetic chemist. I did it because I'm very passionate about this industry. I wanted to turn my job into a career. Depending on your situation, it may be better to pursue an MBA if you want to start your own company.

In my personal network, I’m the only one I know who has a Master’s specifically in cosmetic science. A friend of mine completed her Bachelor’s with the London Arts College and got internships and jobs right out of college. All of my other colleagues have various degrees in more general chemistry.

I think that as the industry grows and more and more students become interested in pursuing this field, having a specific degree in cosmetic chemistry may be important. I believe that it will take a few decades before we get to that point, so don’t fret if you’re already in the middle of a non-specific degree.

Have any questions about my education? Specific questions about the University of Cincinnati program? Should I host a live webinar to answer some questions? Let me know in the comments below!