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What is Cosmetic Science?

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

If you have been sent this link by me, know that I am very disappointed in you.

All my fellow course mates will know, that a large part of being a cosmetic scientist is simply answering the question "what is cosmetic science?"

To my fellow course mates:

There is no need to thank me, its okay. You, like me, can send a link to this blog to all the annoying friends and family who are asking you this question on a daily basis. You're welcome.

Beauty in combination with scientific knowledge

Common misconceptions:

There are a few different reactions I get when I say that I study cosmetic sciences, the most commons ones are:

“So, you’re a makeup artist?”

“Can you give me a nose job?”

“Don’t look at my skin!”

Let’s get this out the way…

I am not paying £9250 a year to learn how to apply a foundation.

Yes, I am getting a bachelor-of-science degree, however my experience of performing surgical operations is just as good as Karen’s.

And I am not here to judge your skincare routine, but I can give you a little advice.

My background:

Currently I am a first year student at the University of Sunderland, and I am loving it.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I have had a lot of questions about the course and what it’s like studying in Sunderland.

So, if you’re totally brand new to the concept of a cosmetic sciences degree, then let me break it down for you:

Cosmetics science degree:

We study the fundamentals of all the sciences behind the cosmetics industry, as well as other skills required in the industry, such as marketing, dermatology, and the law. 

This is an applied science course, meaning that we are learning in-depth knowledge of processes specific to cosmetics.

If you are considering studying this or a similar course, or you’re just interested - read on to know the ins and outs of exactly what we study and how we are assessed at the University of Sunderland.

Please note that the course is dynamic and evolves around the cosmetics industry, therefore the course may have changed from the time I am writing this - always check the university’s website for official information.

What I study as a cosmetic scientist:

Here at Sunderland we study two main modules and two other modules in our first year.

The main modules spread over two semesters, whereas the other modules are just covered in one semester.

Introduction to Chemistry Principles in Cosmetic Science

Chemistry in cosmetics

Main module

In the first semester, you will learn all the basics of chemistry.

If you have studied chemistry at A-level or a similar qualification, this module should be a piece of cake for you. However, some of my friends who took applied sciences, instead of chemistry, found the module a little more challenging. Similarly, some of my international friends, who were not exposed to this level of chemistry, also had to work hard.

I would suggest you check what level of education you’re being taught at and look at A-level chemistry standards, as this is the baseline to our learning during the first semester.

You will be tested on this knowledge during the January exams, so it’s important to stay on top of your work and make sure you understand everything. You will also be tested on this knowledge in your summer exam, so don’t throw away your notes too soon.

You will be participating in laboratory experiments within your class. A lab guide is provided, and you will be asked to draw a few graphs and record your findings, as well as any calculations relevant to the experiment. I highly suggest that you read the experiments in the lab guide before attending the lab sessions. You can thank me later.

In the second semester we focused heavily on organic chemistry, so if you don’t like organics, you’re not going to enjoy this semester of chemistry. Once again, your A-level knowledge should help you out, but at degree-level we focus on applying knowledge of mechanisms to an unknown reaction. This is more in-depth than you would have studied previously, and many students find this area challenging. You will be tested on this once, in the summer exam.

The lecturers are amazing and always willing to help, however if you struggle to get a grasp on the Mackem accent, you may want to sit in the front row.

In the first semester:

40% will come from lab write-ups (during term-time).

60% will come from multiple-choice questions (during winter exams).

In the second semester:

40% will come from the same lab write-ups (done previously).

60% will come from a combination of the winter MCQs, and a written exam (during the summer).

Introduction to Physiology

Biology in cosmetics

Main module

This is probably my least favourite subject if I’m being honest. I’m just not a huge fan of this module as I felt like it didn’t really relate to the degree as a whole - but that’s just my experience.

So, in the first semester we focused on proteins, DNA, and all the processes surrounding these molecules. Your A-level biology knowledge will come in handy during this module, but people who haven’t studied this in the past have found it moderately okay to pick up. Your knowledge of this semester will only be tested in the winter exams, so as long as you pass the first semester's exam, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

The second semester was all about microbiology and genetics, which was actually a little easier compared to the first semester, if you ask me. 

We were scheduled to have lectures taught by the course leader in this module that were specific to cosmetics, but that didn’t happen because the Uni had to close.

You will have lab sessions similar to the ones in the chemistry module, however these will make so much less sense. It is imperative you read the lab guide provided, as all you seem to be doing is adding a couple microlitres to a test tube for a couple of hours.

I would say that this module definitely contains knowledge that is not relevant to our degree, as cosmetics cannot interact with any part of the human body apart from the epidermis, oral cavities, hair and nails - but the lecturers don’t seem to grasp this concept.

In the first semester:

40% will come from a lab write-up.

60% will come from multiple-choice questions.

In the second semester:

40% will come from the same lab write-up (during term-time).

60% will come from written exams (winter and summer combined).

Introduction to Regulation / Legislation of Cosmetic Products

Regulations of cosmetics

Sub module

This is one of the less ‘thrilling’ modules you will be studying, but at least it’s not the hardest.

In this module you will be studying everything from business, management, clientele, to marketing and advertisement as well as regulations. It’s a very broad module and I’m sure there is something there for everyone, Personally, I really enjoyed the marketing and advertising lectures.

This will also be the first time you will be asked to take part in a PBL. A PBL is a Problem-Based Learning project which you will complete in small groups of approximately 5-7 students. The topic will (or should) be relevant to what you have studied in the first half of the module. It’s important to pick people you could work well with for this project.

Personally, I love group work and it’s essential that you learn how to work well as part of a team for the future.

You will be ‘taught’ by the module leader for the first time, and other lecturers from the cosmetic field which is always great. 

Despite how tempting it may be to fall asleep or go on your phone during some of these lectures, please don’t - otherwise you're just taking a very expensive nap.

40% will come from the PBL (during term-time).

60% will come from multiple choice questions (during winter exams).

Introduction to Cosmetic Formulations and Perfumes

Formulation of cosmetics

Sub Module

The formulations module was only studied in semester two.

This was definitely most students’ favourite module - as it was the module that actually regarded cosmetics.

I would describe this module as the physics and further chemistry module. We were taught about rheology and surfactants in depth, as well as analytical cosmetic work.

This is when the experiments get a little more interesting too. We were supposed to do five experiments, but we only did three, again due to the Uni closing. You will need to write all these experiments up, so pay attention!

You will also need to prepare a second PBL just like in the Regulations module.

Enjoy this module, but please don’t take it for granted - this is the important stuff.

40% will come from the PBL (during term-time).

60% will come from multiple choice questions and a written exam (during summer exams).

Why you should study cosmetic sciences:

If you truly are passionate about beauty and cosmetics, I would definitely recommend this course.

Your science needs to be on point.

Even though the entry requirements may not be the most challenging for most people to achieve, do not underestimate the level of science you will be learning.

This course is perfect for anyone who would like to work in the cosmetics industry in the future, or have their own brand one day. There is a lot of work to do, so make sure you are willing to work hard for your degree.

Why you shouldn't study cosmetic sciences:

Because you want to be a famous influencer. It doesn't work like that sweetheart.

I know it might be tempting to come and study a degree in cosmetic sciences because you think it'll look cute on your CV when you're applying for your management position at Starbucks. But it's not worth it.

I hope no one feels pressured to go to University, because I know that the pressure is real. You've got to find your own path. Don't look at what Karen is doing, look at what you want to do in the future. And if you don't know, that's ok. You're young, and you still have your whole life to figure it out.

Always do things that make you happy, not because someone expects you to.

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