Dr Emma Meredith
Director of Science for the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association
Meet Emma Meredith, Director of Science for the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association. Emma applies her knowledge of various aspects of science to keep members up-to-date with best practice and legal requirements.
What is your job title and what are the main characteristics of your day-to-day work?
I am Director of Science at CTPA (the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association). CTPA is the UK trade association for manufacturers of cosmetics and personal care products and suppliers to the industry.
Every day is different because the CTPA is an organisation for member companies – so it means they can all ask lots of different questions! Generally though, I’m responsible for the full portfolio of scientific and technical work at the association. As part of the scientific and technical team we make sure we know all about the legal status and safety of the ingredients used in cosmetic products and how products are made. Also if there are any changes to the legislation, we let companies know about this so they can be prepared. I have a special interest in sunscreens and hair dyes, so I make sure I know all about the research behind these types of products. CTPA also acts as the public voice of the industry, and I am involved in communicating messages about our industry and cosmetic products to consumers.
Do you use any area of science in your current job?
I am very pleased to say – absolutely! I am passionate about science and it is one of the aspects of my job that I love. I get to use chemistry when looking at all the different types of ingredients used in cosmetic products. It is important to know the structure of the ingredients and how they work with each other in the product. It’s fascinating to learn why ingredients have the properties that they do. I use biology because our cosmetics are applied to the skin – so it’s important to know how the skin works. The skin is amazing – it is a fantastic barrier keeping things out and the rest of us in! I also use physics (although physics is my least favourite science!) because physics helps to explain how the UV filters used in sunscreens work. I use microbiology too because it is really important that our cosmetic products don’t allow bugs to grow in them. Not only would that be horrible to see, but they could do real damage if applied to skin – especially in those products used around the eyes. That is why we use preservatives in many of our products – to stop them going off and keep us safe.
What other departments/professions do you work with?
We are a small group at CTPA – but we have people who have studied biology, chemistry, toxicology, chemical engineering and cosmetic science. It’s really useful to pick other people’s brains about their areas of expertise. I’m also really lucky that through CTPA and our meetings I also get to meet company scientists, customer care personnel (who deal with consumer questions every day), hair dressing and beauty salon professionals, dermatologists, pharmacists, regulators and sometimes journalists. It is great to meet lots of different people and see their view of the industry, and I am always learning new things.
I am passionate about science and it is one of the aspects of my job that I love.
How would you summarise your career path so far?
I knew I wanted to ‘do science’ from a very early age when one of my cousins made his own fireworks and set them off in his back yard. Admittedly he set the garden bench on fire – but I was hooked. I graduated with a degree in Pharmacy from King’s College, London and then I studied for my PhD at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, where I looked at the production of the skin pigment melanin, malignant melanomas and the effects of sun exposure on the skin. I then worked as a hospital pharmacist for 7 years before joining CTPA.
While I was working as a pharmacist, although I was using my degree I felt I wasn’t using my research. So, I decided I needed to move more into skin and saw a job advert for the CTPA, which I applied for, and was lucky enough to get the job.
What are the best things about your job?
I get to meet lots of different people with lots of different backgrounds and skills, which makes every day very varied and means I learn lots of new things. I like the challenge of getting my teeth into new areas of research.
What I really like is the innovation that takes place, as it’s an industry based on amazing, sound science, and I’m really passionate about science and its promotion. It’s also a very friendly industry that I’m very happy to work in.
I’m also involved in a great organisation called the Society of Cosmetic Scientists (SCS) which has recently launched an online tool for teaching the science curriculum to Key Stage 3 and 4 pupils. It’s called Scrub Up On Science. It has been very rewarding to see the uptake of the lessons by schools and to see so many children taking part in the Scrub Up On Science competition. The aim of the project is to help school children realise science is interesting and fun, and hopefully they’ll decide to study science further.
Are there any specific skills essential to the job you do?
Being able to multi-task! There are often lots of deadlines that I have to meet, but that can be good fun (at times!).
It’s also important to know when you don’t know something, but equally important to know where to look to find things out.
Being able to listen to lots of different opinions and find common ground. However when misinformation is being spread, being able to put facts across in a calm and easy to understand way is really important.
What qualifications are needed to do your job? Which of your qualifications do you find useful in your job?
I’d say you need a background in science to degree level. Knowing the basics of scientific principles is key, as well as being able to apply that information appropriately.
I have found that as my pharmacy degree covered lots of different topics such as physiology, chemistry, formulation, microbiology, pharmacology etc., it has been really useful applying these aspects to the science of cosmetics.
Is there anything you wished you’d studied when younger that would be useful now?
I am very fortunate that I get travel with work on occasions, mainly to Brussels. It would be nice to be able to converse with people in their own language, so I wish I had carried on with my French and perhaps taken some other languages. I did study statistics to A level – but I think having a better knowledge would help me now when reading scientific papers. I also wish I'd paid more attention to grammar!
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