How To Become A Cosmetic Chemist

Lucy Bell-Young

by Lucy Bell-Young

11th December 2020

Wondering how to become a cosmetic chemist? You’ll need a degree in chemistry and to go on and work for a cosmetics company. To succeed on this career path requires excellent skills in both organic chemistry and biochemistry, as well as a good foundation in inorganic chemistry. Continue reading to discover what a cosmetic chemist does, and the steps you can take to become one.

Cosmetic chemist checking beauty and make-up products

What Does A Cosmetic Chemist Do? 

Cosmetic chemists specialise in the development, formulation, and testing of various skincare and cosmetic products, like makeup, shower products and skincare. They ensure that products are safe for humans and environmentally sustainable. 

The exact scientific or technical duties of a cosmetic chemist will vary depending on several factors, such as academic background, seniority, areas of specialisation, and the requirements or needs of a company. For example, cosmetic chemists who are assigned to work in research and development will help in the development and testing of products. In this context, a cosmetic chemist will be responsible for:

  • Synthesising various pigments from organic and inorganic chemicals
  • Experimenting with and developing new colours and shades of cosmetics
  • Testing cosmetic products to ensure they meet cosmetic safety regulations

Other responsibilities of a cosmetic chemist can include working with the purchasing department, regulating quality assurance, using research to develop new cosmetic formulations, supervising lab assistants, and overseeing sanitary manufacturing conditions.

If you’re an inexperienced, fresh-out-of-uni graduate, you may start your career as a cosmetic chemist by taking an entry level position, such as a laboratory technician or assistant. As you become more experienced, you’ll gradually be able to assume more responsibilities and focus your career in your area of expertise.

Quality control of cosmetics. Laboratory test of the quality of creams
Cosmetic chemists specialise in the development, formulation, and testing of various skincare and cosmetic products

Becoming A Cosmetic Chemist

The process of becoming a cosmetic chemist or a cosmetic scientist isn’t too dissimilar from other career paths: as long as you have the right academic credentials and experience, it’s just a matter of applying for jobs, working hard, and crossing your fingers! Here’s a few steps you can take to get started.

Step 1: Earn a chemistry degree

The first step in becoming a cosmetic chemist is arguably the most difficult: you must earn a degree in chemistry. To get accepted onto a chemistry degree program, you’ll need to have the right aptitude: you must be analytical and good at logic, maths, and science. Your grades must also meet the entry requirements of your specific university. 

A chemistry degree is important in becoming a cosmetic chemist because the role requires you to be skillful in subjects like organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, statistics, and calculus. A chemistry degree will refine your skills in all these areas and more. 

Step 2: Gain work experience

If you’re a fresh graduate, your main goal should be to gain work experience. As an entry-level worker, you can start with fellowship programs, apprenticeships or temporary jobs. You may want to also try working as a laboratory technician or assistant, which are positions offered at many universities and cosmetic companies.

You can gain more knowledge and skills if you work as an assistant for chemists who have experience and expertise. At first, you might perform simple and routine laboratory tasks, but more responsibilities will be given as you progress in your position. This should eventually lead to you getting promoted to a permanent position.

If you want to have connections in the industry, you should also consider joining professional organisations related to your field – and doing some networking. For instance, you can join the Society of Cosmetic Scientists if you’re in the UK. This society has more than 1,000 members, with its main objective being to advance the science of cosmetics. It attracts individuals with both academic and industrial experience, and can put you in contact with a very useful network. 

Additionally, if you’re a member of a professional organisation, you’ll have the opportunity to attend national and international conventions where you can meet professionals in your field as well as potential employers. The best part is you can do all this whilst improving your knowledge and learning about the latest cosmetics developments.

Step 3: Earn a postgraduate degree

While having a master’s degree or a PhD isn’t a requirement for entry-level positions in cosmetic chemistry, a graduate degree in Cosmetic Science can help if you’re looking for career advancement opportunities. With a graduate degree in chemistry, you can apply for higher positions that provide more responsibility and challenge, and better compensation. In fact, some companies even specifically recruit chemists with advanced degrees for leadership and managerial roles. 

The main difference between a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a graduate degree in cosmetic science is the heavy focus on research in cosmetic chemistry. You’ll need to use advanced statistical analysis in your research, and all your efforts will culminate in your thesis or dissertation. Some specialisations for a graduate course include skin and hair, colour cosmetics, and polymer chemistry.

Graduation cap on stack of books in library
To become a cosmetic chemist, you’ll first need to earn a degree in chemistry

How Long Does It Take To Become A Cosmetic Chemist?

How long it takes you to become a cosmetic chemist depends on the length of your university course, if you pursue postgraduate education, and how much work experience you have. Since the minimum requirement for an entry-level position as a cosmetic chemist is a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, it will take you at least three to four years to earn that degree alone and get hired at an entry-level position.

Some degree programmes combine BSc and MSc degrees, which take longer to earn. If you pursue postgraduate education, it may take up to six years before you graduate, and if you want to earn a PhD, it will require at least an additional two years of academic study and research work. After you’ve completed your studies, the amount of time it takes you to get hired as a cosmetic chemist entirely depends on your education record, your experience, and the company you’re applying to. 

How Much Does A Cosmetic Chemist Make A Year?

The annual salary for a cosmetic chemist varies depending on the industry, the company’s compensation package, location, level of seniority, academic qualifications, and professional experience.

In the UK, the compensation for chemists tends to be higher in the cosmetic industry compared to chemists in other industries.

Find out more in our careers in chemistry resources hub.


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