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The Science of Beauty: Cosmetic Chemistry

Many young children love playing with dolls, especially ones with long hair that you can brush and style. I certainly did.

This little girl's love for dolls could be the beginning a cosmetic chemistry career. Photo credit: flickr user valerie haslett

It’s easy to see how a child’s fascination with dolls could lead into a career as a hair stylist. But a chemist? That one took me a little bit by surprise.

According to the bio on her website, Cassandra Celestin’s career in chemistry all started with her love of dolls. She is now a hair stylist and makeup artist also known as “The Hair Chemist.”

Cassandra received a B.S. in Chemistry and a Masters degree in cosmetic chemistry from Farleigh Dickinson University. She has since worked for several different companies developing formulations for hair color products.

As a licensed cosmetologist, her work has been featured in magazines and on her very own YouTube channel. Check out a video she made about how volcanic sand can be made into foot scrub by mixing it in with surfactants, silicone and aloe oil.

Being a chemist can indeed help your hair styling and cosmetology career— Cassandra is just one of many examples. There’s actually an entire society of cosmetic chemists out there, in case you’d like to meet more chemically inclined hair and makeup people.

It makes sense, really. People who work with hair have to know what’s in the stuff they put in people’s hair. They also need to know how different hair types will respond to various treatments, such as coloring, perms, relaxers, you name it.

I, for one, have been the victim of poorly executed blonde highlights. In college, I wanted dirty blonde highlights to blend in with my dark brown hair. The result? Really tacky bleach-blonde chunks. Just awful. There will be no pictures to illustrate this point here. Maybe my stylist should have paid more attention during chemistry class!

So many chemicals, so many colors. Photo credit: flickr user San Diego Shooter

So, what does it take to become a cosmetic chemist like Cassandra? You can find gobs of useful information at the Chemists Cornerthe self-proclaimed resource site for cosmetic chemists. Here’s a link to an article they wrote, titled “How to Become a Cosmetic Chemist“, and another I found on eHow.com.

Here are the main pieces of advice I gleaned from those articles:

  • Get a science degree
  • Consider getting an advanced degree in cosmetic science– a list of training programs can be found here
  • Research companies you’d like to work for
  • Get lab experience in formulations
  • Network with other cosmetic chemists

When it all boils down, beauty (the Hollywood definition) is both an art and a science—and chemists have a role to play in the world of glitz and glamour.

Want to know more about the chemistry behind cosmetics? Check out this cool website.

Also, stay tuned for my “favorite chemical reaction” blog post, which will be part of the Chemistry Blog Carnival hosted by CENtral Science’s Rachel Pepling. Hint: It will have something to do with hair!

Bringing science to life through art and illustration

Profile: Mary O’Reilly, Ph.D., science artist and adjunct assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry

Mary O'Reilly: Ph.D. chemist, science artist, adjunct professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Courtesy photo.

Mary O’Reilly is a Ph.D. chemist who wears lots of hats.

Some days, she’s a freelance artist for her company, O’Reilly Science Art, working on assignments for various clients. Other days, she’s an adjunct assistant professor, teaching classes at the University of San Diego. But most days, she’s a little bit of both.

As an undergrad at Purdue University, Mary found that she loved research, which led her to earn her Ph.D. from MIT (Biological Chemistry, 2006) with the goal of pursuing an academic career. During grad school, science art was Mary’s “Plan B” in case an academic job didn’t pan out.

While working on a post-doc at Scripps Research Institute, she did some serious self-evaluating to figure out if academia was something she really wanted and would excel at.

“In the end I decided that I could make the best contribution to science and gain the most personal fulfillment from a career in science illustration,” Mary said. “Once I was able to couple this with teaching, another creative pursuit with the goal of communicating science, everything just fell into place.”

Her duties as a science artist include talking with clients about assignments, doing background research, making sketches, and creating illustrations and animations that communicate scientific concepts. The job also involves all the things that come along with running your own business, including writing license agreements, emailing, tracking hours, advertising, collecting payments and book-keeping.

“My projects have spanned from creating a technical promotional poster for a biotech company to illustrating a collection of chemistry poetry,” she explained.

As an adjunct professor, Mary spends her time preparing and giving lectures, meeting with students, writing and grading exams and the like.

Mary explained how her two jobs complement each other well: “Illustration and animation make their way into my lectures, and alternatively, as I observe how students assimilate material, it informs the design aspect of my illustration work.”

Side note: I bet her lecture slides, decked out with art and animations, are really sweet. Continue reading →