‘I knew that I was going to be a part of that top tier’
UC Cosmetic Science alumni share their experiences
The University of Cincinnati’s Cosmetic Science program at the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy is celebrating its 50th anniversary this academic year.
Over the years, hundreds of students have been prepared to excel in the cosmetics industry through the program, and several recent alumni shared their experiences.
Alumna Cynthia Johnson became interested in cosmetic science in high school and was already working as a cosmetic chemist when she began searching for master’s degree programs.
“You can do hands on, but you still need to have some type of foundation as far as book education or book knowledge,” she said. “I knew that I was going to be a part of that top tier by joining the University of Cincinnati's program.”
A two-sport student-athlete as an undergrad at Lincoln University, Johnson said she applied her time management and communication skills to make the most of the online program while working full time.
“The professors made it so easy to communicate with them,” Johnson said. “They help you understand the basics of chemistry and how we can apply those basics to cosmetics.”
Just as the professors at UC made themselves available to her, Johnson said a large part of her work now as founder and CEO of Cindy J Cosmetic Labs is centered on being a resource for others. She founded the formulation laboratory while wrapping up her coursework in spring 2018.
“I want aspiring chemists, I want small business owners, indie beauty brands to know that Cindy J is an accessible company,” she said. “We’re here to help you, we’re here to give you guidance, to give you resources, to help you throughout your cosmetic science journey.”
Johnson said Black women are often forgotten or overlooked by society’s beauty standards, and she sees her work as a cosmetic chemist as a way to affect change.
“The passion of cosmetic science helps people of color, helps women of color, helps Black women, because now we get to learn about ingredients that we’re putting in our hair or on our skin,” she said.
Alumnus James Newhouse was working in the cosmetics industry and saw the master’s degree program at UC as a “perfect fit” when he started in 2018.
“It was well fleshed out online, so I knew exactly what I was getting into in terms of course load and the breadth and depth of knowledge I’d be gaining,” he said. “So they did a great job of laying everything out. They really do have top talent teaching those classes.”
Newhouse continued to work full time in product development for a pigment supplier in New York City while taking the online courses part time, and he credits faculty for being flexible with him as he balanced the two. He was able to apply what he was learning about the fundamental chemical properties of cosmetic formulations to his work in real time and is now able to help others solve problems with the knowledge he gained.
“When asked why a formulation works, a lot of cosmetic chemists just say, ‘That’s what my boss told me and it’s always worked,’” Newhouse said. “The cosmetic science program really helps you understand from a technical perspective, from a chemistry perspective why a formulation works and how to approach formulation to make better cosmetic products. It’s really the deep science behind making cool cosmetics and personal care products.”
A coworker at fragrance supplier MANE recommended UC’s cosmetic science program to Christine Tilghman. Since the online program came with flexibility, she began in the graduate certificate program, but after earning that and her master’s degree, she is now working toward her doctorate in the program.
“I think that the program is extremely well-rounded and highly technical,” she said. “Every class I took was applicable to something I was working on, so it really helped me grow and expand my technical breadth and depth. It's a really unique, fantastic program, and UC is doing really great things.”
Tilghman currently works as a research and development manager of product integrity, testing the shelf life and stability of products when fragrance is added. She said the knowledge she gained from the program allows her to look at problem-solving in a different way and helps lead to less trial and error because she has a better understanding of the ingredients she’s working with.
“There’s still trial and error in science no matter what you do, but I have more of a focus and a better idea of how I was trying to affect what I was affecting,” Tilghman said. “It’s really allowed me to be more creative and more efficient in what we do every day. We’ve been able to apply a lot of those learnings to make better fragrances, too.”
Stephanie Morris went to UC for undergrad, then earned both master’s and doctoral degrees in the cosmetic science program while also conducting research in the lab of Gerald Kasting, UC professor of pharmaceutics and cosmetic science. She said having the background knowledge gained from the program gave her a leg up when she began her career.
“I really had an advantage that I already knew a lot of the background on not only how to formulate but why we formulate in a certain way,” she said. “The classes and the research that I did have been directly influential on the things that I do on a day-to-day basis now.”
Morris now works in product development for the CeraVe brand at L’Oreal USA, working from the idea of a new product through its development, testing and manufacturing operations until it lands on store shelves.
“It’s exciting that it’s something different every day and a lot of different technical challenges that I get to work on,” she said.
Stories like those Johnson, Newhouse, Morris and Tilghman shared are common among program alumni, as students are well-equipped for successful careers in many different facets of the industry.
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Learn more about the cosmetic science program.
Read more about the Cosmetic Science program’s history.
Read about another student’s experience from UC Online.
Featured photo at top of students working in cosmetic science lab. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand.
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