Brains & Beauty
Cleveland native Kelly A. Dobos MS is making her mark on the beauty world, both as a Cosmetic Chemist in the Skin Beauty Research Lab at Kao USA and creator of Jergens Natural Glow and Protect. We had the opportunity to talk to Dobos about her background, her line of work and what her influences are.
How did you first get interested in Cosmetic Science?
Honestly, I didn’t know the field existed. But I wish I had, because it’s been the most amazing career. The summer after finishing my undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Oberlin College I was in two weddings, maid of honor for both. I needed a real job ASAP. So I started working for a company that made cleaning products. About three years later, one of my raw material suppliers mentioned a position opened at a cosmetic company and that the formulation science involved was similar, I jumped at the chance. As much as I love science, I also love beauty products so it’s been a perfect fit.
Describe the process of coming up with and creating the formula for Jergens Natural Glow and Protect.
Product development starts out with an idea to fulfill an unmet consumer need. Once we have the concept worked out, each ingredient is selected by what it contributes to the formula and then lots of little batches are made testing different combinations of those ingredients. Then the samples are evaluated, we usually start with an internal panel of expert sensory evaluators and when it comes to sunless tanners, you’ll find me wandering the lab in shorts with something like 12 spots of color on my legs to ensure we get the most natural looking color. Once I’m confident I have some strong prototypes, the product gets taken to focus groups with consumers so we verify performance and make tweaks if needed. Then it’s time to scale up to final production.
What sets this product apart from any other?
It’s the combination of a gradual sunless tanner with broad-spectrum sun protection and the moisturization you expect from Jergens lotion. Three benefits in one product, and at a price that’s very reasonable.
How often and where have you traveled?
I travel across the US and for a variety of reasons. Technical conferences, focus groups, and press events. This year I’ve already been to NYC, San Diego, and Miami. I only had one week in April where I wasn’t on a plane.
The Society of Cosmetic Chemists is a professional organization that promotes the advancement of science behind personal care products. I am currently a national Area Director and I’m responsible for assisting the St. Louis, Ohio Valley, Lake Erie, Mid-West, Twin Cities, and Ontario chapters, and that means I need to visit each of those chapters at least once during the year. I can have a couple months packed with travel and then a few off. It’s tiring at times but I really enjoy it.
Whom have you met with on trips to New York?
NYC is the place I travel to most often, it’s the center of the beauty care industry. I go there for press events associated with new product launches. Press events are a lot of fun. I get to break down the technology behind a product’s efficacy for editors from every major beauty and fashion magazine. I was so nervous the first time I met Jean Godfrey-June of Lucky, which has been my favorite magazine ever since it launched (founding editor Kim France, also an Obie!). A little side note, I was visiting my friend Hannah in LA a few years ago and was actually photographed for Lucky’s Street Style. That was a thrill. You can still find my picture on their website.
What is the best part of your job?
Are you asking me to pick one thing? Because I love everything about my job! I LOVE science. I research and design experiments, and can explain how molecular orbital theory is behind sunscreen efficacy or how there’s physics involved in those pearlescent particles in eye shadow. I also get to read beauty magazines and go shopping to keep up on competitors and claims.
How many women on average do you work with?
In the lab, the tendency is generally skewed towards more males. But I think the field of cosmetic chemistry, which blends biology, chemistry, physics, and, math can inspire more girls to pursue science education. I take an opportunity I can to tell young girls about my career and show them how fun science can be.
What does your average day look like?
Everyday is different, I can be in my lab coat creating formulations on the bench or wearing steel toe boots in the plant scaling up a new formula for production. Or I’m sitting behind a mirrored wall watching consumers and searching for insights that will lead to new product ideas. I never get bored.
What is your favorite magazine?
Lucky because it removes all of the silly stories like, the best hairstyle to get you a date, and focuses on clothes, accessories, and beauty products.
What was your favorite hangout when you were living in Cleveland?
Capsule isn’t around anymore, but it was the best bar in Cleveland. The sleek space-themed interior was home to rock shows and many Scrabble games with friends on Sunday nights. I miss that place.
What did you work on at Bonne Bell?
I formulated lip balms, lip gloss, and other color cosmetics.
What was your program and dates of study at Oberlin and UC?
I graduated from with a bachelor’s in chemistry from Oberlin College in 2001, completed my MBA at Cleveland State University in 2008 and just finished my Masters in Pharmaceutical Science with Concentration in Cosmetic Science this February (2012). Both masters were done while working full time, but 100% worth the effort. I wanted to become an expert in my field.
What are some of the beauty staples you could not live without?
I don’t leave the house without mascara and a sunscreen for face and body. Most accelerated skin aging (wrinkles, discoloration, loss of elasticity) is attributed to excess UV exposure. And the brand new Jergens Natural Glow and Protect(sunless tanner with SPF) is my go-to when I want a tan look.
What’s an interesting fact you’d like readers to know?
I used to DJ a metal radio show at Oberlin College with my friend Annie. I think it’s important to challenge norms and be eclectic. I set goals every year and push myself to do something new, like getting my motorcycle license last fall. I never want to stop learning and growing, personally and professionally.