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Science, Technology, Engineering, and… Makeup?

Updated: Mar 5

Author: Ioannes Salamanes

Editors: Ethan Liu and Kira Tian

Artist: Jane Liu

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of STEM? Maybe you think of doctors, computers, or perhaps even that one math teacher that you always secretly hated (don’t worry, we all had one). But one thing that you might not think of is makeup. Many people don’t realize that STEM and cosmetics are closely related. How, you may ask? Well, keep reading to find out!

Before we begin, let’s define what a cosmetic is. Cosmetics can be defined as products applied to the body to improve its appearance. Makeup is a category of cosmetics used to the face. There are various types of makeup like lipstick, primer, foundation, blush, highlighter, bronzer, mascara, eye shadow, eyeliner, eyebrow pencils, setting spray, false eyelashes, contour, and many more.

Now that we’ve defined what cosmetics and makeup are let’s work through the connections between cosmetics and STEM letter-by-letter.

First up, we have the letter ‘S’ which stands for Science. Chemistry, branched from science, plays a massive role in the production of cosmetics. There is an uncountable amount of cosmetic products on the market, and each one uses a different ingredient combination. About 12,500 chemical ingredients are approved for use in the manufacturing of cosmetic products in the United States alone. A typical product contains between 15 to 50 elements, and on average, a woman uses between 9 to 15 personal care products every day. Furthermore, previous research shows that women place about 515 different chemicals on their skin daily. Although each product has a different formula, most use a combination of color, emollient, emulsifier, fragrance, pH stabilizers, preservative, thickener, and water. Water is usually the first on the list of ingredients if your product is in a bottle, it acts as a solvent to dissolve the other ingredients and forms emulsions for a thicker consistency. Your label may refer to water as purified water, distilled water, or aqua because the water used in cosmetics is not your everyday tap water. An emulsifier is an ingredient that keeps substances from separating. They are used in lotions and creams to give them an even texture. Some examples include Laureth-4, potassium cetyl sulfate, and polysorbates. Preservatives are added to cosmetics to prevent the growth of microorganisms and to extend their shelf life. Benzyl alcohol, salicylic acid, and tetrasodium EDTA are some of the most popular preservatives. Thickeners give products an appealing consistency and come in four different families: lipid thickeners, mineral thickeners, naturally derived thickeners, and synthetic thickeners. Emollients are used in cosmetics to prevent water loss. While makeup is excellent, you should still be aware that there are a few ingredients you should avoid. These include, but are not limited to, parabens, aluminum, triclosan, formaldehyde, and phthalates.

Now, moving on to Technology, the ‘T’ in STEM. Although people don’t often relate technology with beauty and the potential of technology in the beauty industry is still in the beginning stage, some beauty companies have upped their game through social media and have launched try-on apps. We live in a very modern world where smartphones, virtual wallets, virtual assistants, virtual try-on apps, and even virtual currencies have become a regular part of everyday life. It’s safe to say that beauty companies will start to implement technology in their marketing projects and to enhance their brands in general. Many electronic devices have been created, with functions ranging from replicating anti-aging treatments in salons to improving the efficacy of skincare products. 3D printers are getting very popular, and they can change how personal care products are created. For now, 3D printers have already been used to produce packaging prototypes. While the manufacturing process is what 3D printers will most likely be used for the most, they can also be used to create more customized and personalized products that will enhance consumers’ overall in-store experience. The most pronounced uses of technology in the beauty industry are in customer service and interaction. Skincare diagnostic tools all add to consumers’ experience, both online and in-store, which affect purchasing decisions. Some diagnostic tools that are related to makeup include skin analysis, DNA testing, diagnostic applications, in-store devices, apps, online questionnaires, and even YouTube videos. Technology in the 21st century has already transformed a lot. Tech companies have reshaped the payment and delivery industries completely, making online shopping for beauty products (or anything else, really) so much easier.

In this next section, I will be introducing you to a job opportunity that you might want to consider if you like both makeup and engineering (the ‘E’ in STEM). Even if you don’t think you would be interested, keep reading to learn more about chemical engineering! Many chemical engineers have been hired by beauty and skincare companies. Hygienic and makeup industries have a wide variety of opportunities for chemical engineers, including surface chemistry, biochemistry, materials engineering, and much more. Some critical competencies needed to pursue such careers include math, chemistry, and engineering. Another thing to consider is that you should have enough background in what you will be doing for the 45-50 years of your career. Also, keep in mind that you may enter college and become inspired to do something other than what your original career aspiration was, and that’s normal! Post-college, there are many environments that you may choose to work in as a chemical engineer. You may want to work on the manufacturing process itself and be responsible for troubleshooting any problems that arise. Or, you may want to be working in a laboratory, which is recommended if you are interested in the chemistry of makeup and hygienic products. Yet another work environment you might be interested in is working in a pilot plant, where you will be running your tests on a small-scale and then analyzing them. Each of these work environments is unique and contributes to various stages of the makeup design process.

Finally, we have ‘M’. Mathematics. Math. Personally, I am not that fond of math, and I’m sure a few other people can relate. However, I do find it rather amusing that math can be associated with makeup. First of all, you have to measure how much of each ingredient is needed in the process of creating makeup products. Makeup containers come in a variety of geometric shapes, and the weight of boxes also varies depending on the product it holds. In this section, you will be learning about some fun facts about lip balm, eye shadow, lip gloss, and mascara that are related to math. Lip balm protects the lips from getting dried or chapped. One of the most famous brands of lip balm is Chapstick. Chapstick has many variations of lip balm, including some that are scented, some that aren’t, and some that even have sunscreen. The typical weight of a cylindrical Chapstick is .15 oz. Eyeshadow is a pigment that comes in many styles and colors and is applied to the eyelids to add depth and dimension to the eyes. There is evidence that people have used eyeshadow as far back as 12,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. Lip gloss is a cosmetic used to give lips a shiny appearance. They come in many different colors and are packaged in many different shapes. Lip gloss comes in different weights, but most tubes of lip gloss weigh 15 oz. Last but not least, we have mascara. Mascara is used to make eyelashes seem darker, thicker, and longer. Now, there are many different formulas for making mascara, but long ago, it was simply comprised of 50% soap and 50% black pigment.

STEM may seem boring to some people, but it’s evident in every aspect of daily life, even in our makeup. With all this in mind, always remember that you are beautiful just the way you are. Makeup can help enhance your features, but you should never feel forced to wear it.



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Mischa. “The Chemistry of Cosmetics.” Curious, 19 Sept. 2019,

Sarah. “Type of Engineering That Deals with Make-Up.” EngineerGirl, 27 June 2014,

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