KRÈMECHATS WITH EXPERT:AMINA AJAYI. COSMETIC SCIENTIST AND FOUNDER OF LILA'LLI MAKEUP.
April 22, 2018
How would you describe what you do? I am a Cosmetic scientist. There are two parts to what I do; I work with brands on their marketing (i.e. the brand name, brand concept and product strategy, bringing their vision to fruition). The other aspect of what I do is working with brands to help make the formulas for whatever products they want (specifically for skincare, hair care and body care).
How did you get started? I was lucky enough to stumble upon the course “Cosmetic Science” when I was in University in the United Kingdom. The course covered everything from marketing, formulation, and quality control. We train a whole year on packaging, the course covers everything under the cosmetic industry umbrella, so when you graduate you are prepared to go into any aspect of the industry you desire. The minute I started that degree, I knew this was it for me. It was everything I wanted to do in life (laughs)
What is your favorite part of what you do? I love being in the lab. Its gives me the opportunity to express myself in a formula. It gives me the opportunity to work with more raw materials and ingredients. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when its frustrating when things don’t go your way, but I still love it more.
What is your least favorite part? My least favorite part would be marketing, specifically the regulations. In the EU, we are very strict with our regulations compared to other parts of the world. I also don’t enjoy the paper work. You would not believe the paper work that goes into it, especially when it comes to things like waste and packaging. It’s tedious and can be a bit boring (laughs) but it’s part of the job, and we have to do it.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? I really don’t think there is a misconception, but I know a lot of people don’t understand what I do. Sometimes when I tell people I am a cosmetic scientist, they are like “what does that mean?” (laughs). Some people think I am a make-up artist, which is so far from it. Some people think it’s all about lab work, which it could be if that’s what you choose to focus on. I think what I would like to put across is that being a cosmetic science is such a big umbrella. For instance, I am a freelance product development manager for other brands. When I introduce myself as a product manager, they can figure out my scope of work, whereas with cosmetic science it’s a wider scope. You can work in formulation, a lot of cosmetic scientist work in sales of the raw materials, packaging and marketing. So basically you have a lot of career options after you graduate.
In recent times, are products or ingredients still tested on animals? In the EU, no! Ingredient testing on animals have been banned since around 2003, and from about 2009 it is illegal to sell any product or ingredients that has been tested on animals. However, in the past 6 months or so, there has been a movement to make this a worldwide legislation, because there are still countries like China who still test on animals. So, for the EU it’s been completely banned.
So, when a company approaches you to formulate for them, do you come up with the formula yourself or do they give you guidelines? It depends. I have been approached both ways. A company can come to me with an idea, and a product brief which gives basic guidelines, and I come up with the formulation. In some cases, brands have approached me needing guidance to come up with a product(s) independently that fits into their existing range, which may eventually evolve into a formulation if relevant.
What are Parabens and are they bad for our skin? (Laughs) No! No! and No! I have had this conversation a million and one times (laughs). I come from a science background and my view about a lot of things are research based. Parabens have been around for fifty to sixty years and are one of the most widely used preservatives in the industry. There was a study in 2003/2004, that linked parabens to breast cancer. But it wasn’t parabens itself, but one of its metabolites. Someone took the study and ran with it, and when I say ‘someone’ I mean most people in the natural/organic industry. Since this study was published, the person responsible for this study has since stated that he never linked parabens to breast cancer, and in fact it was a study, and there was no scientific evidence behind these claims. Besides that, there are guidelines in the industry and there are certain levels you are not allowed to go past with certain ingredients, including preservatives. The number of parabens that are included in the products is by no way going to cause harm to anyone. I still use parabens in my formulas because they are one of the most effective preservatives in the industry. They do their job and do it so well. However, if a brand would prefer not to have parabens in their formulas, I will do it because it is a personal/marketing decision. But parabens are as bad as drinking too much water (laughs). It can be annoying, and there are a lot of misconceptions out there which has lead to a lot of miseducation of the consumers. So, it’s important to do your research, look for scientific evidence, and if you cannot find it then take the information with a pinch of salt.
What product have you made that you are proudest of? Hmmm. unfortunately, it was not skincare (laughs) but it propelled my career during my time with Sleek makeup. At the time, contour kits where not popular in the industry, and we were one of the people to launch a contour kit in 2009. I remember, it was difficult for the brand to understand it, and they were concerned that their consumers would not understand it either. In fact, I remember when we launched it, there was a very big leaflet with instructions on how to contour and that was the first time that was done. It was a really proud moment for me and great for my career. Now, I am working on a couple of products on my own brand, which would target pigmentation and melasma. It’s been in the works for 6 months; I think I am nearly there and I am really proud of it.
Where do you see the brand in the next 10 years? In the next 10 years, I hope to have an established skincare/makeup/lifestyle brand.
Being a person of color in the beauty industry, do you think people of color are represented considerably in this industry? Personally, I think there is a long, long way to go. There is a big gap. However, I do recognize that in the last couple of years, there has been moves towards catering to people of color, but I think there is a ways to go. On the other hand, being that I work in the industry, I understand the constraints; not in terms of formulations, because I have heard a lot of excuses made about formulations being difficult which is not accurate, but the constraints come from the retailers. I have had experiences in the past where you take a foundation range to a retailer, they end up picking twenty shades of beige to them that’s their bestsellers. Now those were problems mostly faced in the past, but now with a lot more independent brands selling direct to consumers, brands now have freedom, and not dictated to by retail outlets. I believe in the next 5 to 10 years, there will be more representation of people of color in our industry.
Beauty is …... Not one size fits all.
Advice to anyone who wants to be a cosmetic scientist …
it’s a tough and competitive industry, second to the fashion industry. I would recommend you get a science-based degree and work really hard.