Monday, July 04, 2005

Not entirely superficial.

More than skin deep

The cosmetic pharmacy program at the University of Cincinnati turns out some top industry scientists

By Karen Bells
Cincinnati Business Courier
Updated: 8:00 p.m. ET July 3, 2005

Who says oil and water don't mix?

Certainly not the professors and alumni from the University of Cincinnati cosmetic pharmacy program.

"We teach people how to make oil and water stick together," said R. Randall Wickett, professor of pharmaceutics and cosmetic science.

And that's only the beginning. Students undergo intensive training in the science and research behind all manner of health and beauty products and ingredients -- from antiaging creams to zinc, and everything in between.

"It's deeper than people realize, and innovative," said Wickett, who teaches the program's core classes along with associate professor Gerald Kasting. "It's really very high-level science, and there are always new challenges to deal with."

Students earn either a master's in science or a Ph.D., and both degrees are in pharmaceutical sciences with a specialization in cosmetic science. The two-year master's program includes a thesis, preferably with the research done during a corporate co-op, and the five-year Ph.D. includes a dissertation.

The program is taught within the College of Pharmacy, Wickett said, but students don't have to have their undergraduate degrees in pharmacy. Many come to the program with bachelor's degrees in chemistry, biochemistry, bioengineering and other fields.

When the cosmetic pharmacy program was started in the mid-1970s, it was connected to a co-op with the Procter & Gamble Co. In the '80s, it branched out to other companies and government. These days, students perform research and co-ops with a variety of cosmetic product and related companies, from Procter to Estée Lauder to Kimberly-Clark. Many of the students conduct research through co-ops at the Food and Drug Administration, as well as in connection with the Skin Sciences Institute at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Wickett said he thinks graduates of the program have an edge in the job market because very few universities in the United States offer advanced degrees in cosmetic sciences -- and the few he knew of either don't require a thesis or aren't in the College of Pharmacy.

In fact, said Wickett, the program is so in demand that UC is "actively pursuing" the possibility of putting it online to be available for students in other parts of the country.

Several professionals in the cosmetic/beauty industry agreed that the program is very unusual, including Lauren Thaman, global director of P&G Beauty Science and a 1987 master's graduate of the program.

Thaman -- whose group of 20-plus scientists works on all types of beauty products from skin care to shampoos and more -- thinks it's crucial that the program be housed within the College of Pharmacy because of the complexity of the science being taught.

"If you look at the cosmetic industry today, it's more than just delivering pretty colors," she said. "The industry continues to grow and get more demanding. It's not light science anymore."

Thaman has seen a jump in the level of difficulty involved in creating cosmetic products over her 18-year career as consumers have demanded products with more benefits and properties.

"I read stuff every day that I cannot believe science is doing," she said.

Thaman came to the master's with an undergraduate degree in chemistry and two seemingly incompatible passions -- fashion and science. She had considered getting a degree in fashion design or becoming a dermatologist but ultimately decided that working in cosmetics was the perfect blend of her two loves.

"Part of my job is to understand both science and beauty trends, and I get to work a lot with the beauty media and with dermatologists," she said.

Like Thaman, Tony Simion loves the challenges and the ever-advancing science in the cosmetic industry. The senior research manager in product development at Kao Brands Co. (formerly the Andrew Jergens Co.) works with about a half-dozen alumni of the UC program, including several in very senior positions.

"They graduate with practical experience, as well as a good rounding from their academics," he said. "They're very marketable."

Kao's brands include Jergens and Curél lotions and the Bioré face care line.

"This is a very exciting field, because we're going to impact the lives of so many people," Simion said. "(Health and beauty) products are used by the vast majority of consumers."

One thing that impresses Simion about the UC program is its efforts to bring "maximum exposure" to students' research. Wickett, for example, brings students to the national professional meetings of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists and has them present their research in poster form for attendees to view.

Lola Kelly Smalls, who graduated from the Ph.D. progam in June, had the chance to present research on skin cleansers at one of the SCC meetings and said it gave her exposure to industry veterans from around the world.

Smalls had job offers from Kimberly-Clark and others but decided to join Procter as a scientist in beauty care clinical research. In addition, she's completing the MBA progam at UC this fall, because "so much of our world is connected to the bottom line."

The small, intensive classes in the cosmetic pharmacy program were appealing to her, as was the interesting research.

"I want to be able to advance the knowledge in this field, although I know I have a long way to go," Smalls said.

With all the new research in the field, Smalls picked a great time, said Thaman.

"I think it's a brilliant and exciting time to be in the industry," she said.

© 2005 Cincinnati Business Courier

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