Engineering Selfcare - The Science of Cosmetics

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 22, 2019 - August 02, 20197/22 - 8/02M-F 12:15P-3:05PWaitlistedVidushi Shukla

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Course Description

You read that title and might have thought to yourself "Make-up is a science now?" While applying it is oftentimes an art, self-care and self-image are an essential part of the human experience, and as young adults you should understand the science and engineering that goes into the products you are using. That's right, there is a lot of engineering that goes into designing the perfect cosmetics. This course will help you make more informed decisions and start your thinking about how the design of products can be improved. We will not sugarcoat the reality of what goes into the cosmetic industry but will focus on arming you with novel techniques for how to make a product accessible to the ordinary person.

Can ingredients for your cosmetics be sourced more responsibly? Yes. Can these products be marketed responsibly so they are able to do the job they were chemically designed to do? Definitely. Is there a niche in the market that you personally feel is unfilled? This course will give you the tools to design something catered to you.

We will examine four categories of cosmetics - haircare including shampoos, conditioners, haircolours; lipcare; soaps; and skincare. For each, we will explore the scientific and contextual history of the product, the actual chemistry behind it, and the industry background of the product in present day including innovative market niches. Students will engage in interactive lectures, planning for related lab-work or working in the lab on recreating simple versions of the product we’ve spent time studying. While it may not be immediately apparent, cosmetics and their study can help add a very interesting dimension to a lot of scientific and medical work. As part of this course you will use casts and other interesting laboratory methods which you wouldn't otherwise come in contact with unless you specialized in cosmetic science.

You never know what kind of skills can come in handy at some point in your life, and so everyone is welcome to participate in this course, particularly students intending to take up chemistry, biological and life sciences, or medical sciences in the future. Aside from nuanced scientific knowledge, students will also take away skills which can cater to several drastically different fields and would be useful as you continue on your academic journey.

Prerequisites: High school chemistry and biology knowledge is helpful, but not necessary.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CECH0904
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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