Careers in the Time of COVID: Speakers from L’Oreal Discuss the Cosmetic Industry in Light of COVID-19

by Nicole Rodriguez & Kiersten Thompson, Production Editor & Contributor

The Center for Career Development and the Cosmetic Engineer and Chemist Society joined forces to host a lecture entitled Careers in the Time of COVID: Cosmetics, featuring Kimberly Jelich ’19 and Raven Stephens ’19, a Master Scheduler and Production Scheduler at L’Oreal. On Wednesday, Feb. 10, the session discussed how the cosmetic industry has been impacted by COVID-19 and the best steps to continue to move forward in your career path, regardless of the emerging challenges presented by our new normal.

Rachel Cirelli, Director of the Center for Career Development, opened up the event explaining the significance of acknowledging the effects of COVID-19 in the workplace and how companies operate in order to properly navigate your fields of interest. 

Kimberly Jelich ’19 and Raven Stephens ’19, a Master Scheduler and Production Scheduler at L’Oreal discussed how the cosmetic industry has been impacted by COVID-19

“All this is important for you, because you still may not know exactly what you want to do when you graduate– you’re not supposed to, right,” Cirelli said. “So these events, even pre-COVID, really helped us identify areas that might be a good fit… now that we’re in this crazy time, I think these events are really helpful so [students] can see what certain companies are doing, how they’re adjusting, how to stand out in a more competitive time, but also to give you hope, because I know it’s a different environment, but people are still working really hard and advancing professionally.”

During their time at the college, Jelich and Stephens had the opportunity to intern for L’Oreal. Their internship experiences and performances granted them full-time positions at the company upon graduation. 

While they both work for L’Oreal, their roles differ. As Master Scheduler, Jelich primarily supports skincare, specifically CeraVe, whereas Stephens as the Production Scheduler primarily supports lipstick production for brands like NYX Cosmetics, IT Cosmetics and Maybelline. 

“The only difference between my job and Raven’s job is that I have responsibilities for longer-term planning,” Jelich said. “I don’t work directly with the manufacturing lines, but I do make the decision of what runs on lines and what month they do run in.”

The unprecedented pandemic greatly shifted the operations and work environment of L’Oreal. Adjusting to a different way of working with mask-wearing, social distancing, and increased online communication became imperative.

“Where you used to really have that separation between your professional life going into the office and then going home afterward, it really kind of blurred the lines between the two of those,” Stephens said. “ Now you’re sitting at either your dining room table or you bought a desk, but it’s still at home, so you have to learn it’s five o’clock now, I need to log off, and discerning those different things. Also, we did a lot of in-person meetings and going to people’s desks to ask questions and now you can’t really go and interact with people so we started using Microsoft Teams.”

Despite the challenges workers faced, L’Oreal remained proactive in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through their Project Clean Hands Initiative, the company produced alcohol-based hand sanitizer for the first time in facilities that were previously only used for color cosmetics. Additionally, they used their equipment to fit the demand for PPE by utilizing 3-D printing technology to create face shields for front line workers. They also donated their own personal care products to local hospitals and essential workers. 

“L’Oreal has always been a company that always is wanting to reach out to the community and make a positive impact on the community,” Jelich said. “So it was really nice to see all these efforts being put out without any sort of monetary reward as for an exchange. These were all things that our people and people that we work with, are really proud of to say that we did this in order to help others.”

Like for Jelich and Stephens, MC has opened doors for current students to explore their career interests within the cosmetic industry, especially through its one of a kind cosmetic engineering program and newly founded Cosmetic Engineer and Chemist Society. The society, founded by junior chemical engineering major Ciara Coyle, strives to prepare students to work at companies like L’Oreal that perfectly integrate chemical engineering and cosmetics. 

“I am lucky that the chemical engineering department at Manhattan College is so proactive with each of its students, and they supported my board and I, wholeheartedly, when we wanted to start the Cosmetic Engineer and Chemist Society,” Coyle said. “Dr. Amin has supported our newly founded Cosmetic Engineer and Chemist Society since day one, and now I’m doing research with Dr. Amin and Meghan Hartson in our new cosmetic lab in Leo.”

L’Oreal remained proactive in light of the COVID-19 pandemic through their project Clean Hands Initiative, utilizing 3-D printing technology to create face shields for front line workers and donating their own personal care products to local hospitals and essential workers.

Junior chemical engineering major Meghan Hartson expressed a similar appreciation for the college’s chemical engineering department and its unique cosmetic engineering program for allowing her to combine her two passions of cosmetics and creating a product from start to finish. She detailed the research project that she has teamed up with Coyle to work on that is centered around hair gel. 

“I am helping to formulate a thermoresponsive hair gel made from sustainable and biodegradable polymers that will act as both a heat protectant and hair spray all in one so it is less damaging to your hair and will ultimately save you money on products,” Hartson said. “The gel is heat activated so after it is applied to wet hair and dried, it can be styled in any way you want and the hair will stay for as long as you need it to without the feeling of crunchy hair spray on top-everyone’s worst nightmare.” 

Associate professor in the chemical engineering department, Samiul Amin, Ph.D., serves as faculty advisor for the Cosmetic Engineer and Chemist Society, regularly meeting with its co-presidents Ciara Coyle and Gianna Villani, to discuss internship opportunities and connecting them with speakers. Prior to working at the college, he worked in research and development at various companies like Exxon Mobil, Unilever, and was an Associate Vice President at L’Oreal. He was able to utilize his chemical engineering degree to work at a variety of jobs in petroleum, foods, scientific instrumentations, biopharmaceuticals and cosmetics. 

The pandemic greatly affected the sales of certain cosmetic products. In particular, color cosmetics have faced weak sales in favor of skincare products. Amin further explained how and why these sales shifted as a result of COVID-19 and the measures that are taken to slow the spread of the virus such as mask-wearing.

“Color cosmetics like lip makeup and things like that have seen a big downtrend in the industry, because no one’s wearing lipstick, everyone’s wearing masks,” Amin said. “There’s been a kind of a major shift in the industry….you’ll see the whole color cosmetics area kind of taking a little bit of a nosedive this year of COVID, but there are certain other areas which are still doing well. For example, eye makeup like mascara is still good because it’s above the mask and also, skincare is doing well because people are having certain skin issues with wearing masks for too long as well.”

L’Oreal particularly saw a growth in sales with the rising popularity of the CeraVe skincare products, thanks to TikTok. 

“We saw a shift in our business needs,” Stephens said. “We went from mainly doing cosmetics and focusing on those things whereas, of course, if you’re on TikTok, if you’re on any type of social media, you’ve seen CeraVe’s everywhere, it’s the face wash, it’s the moisturizer, it’s everywhere. So we saw an increase in that sale and an increase of a need to make sure that we’re providing to the business those increases because people are looking for those things.” 

As interns who moved up the ladder into full-time professionals at L’Oreal, Jelich and Stephens advised those in attendance who are looking to secure full-time positions at the end of their internships to treat every day of your internship like an exit interview and to always be the expert on your project. 

“When you work, people are watching what you do,” Jelich said. “Every single day is part of your interview. Obviously, mistakes happen. You could have off days. You’re not perfect. Everyone’s human… It’s about how you react to those mistakes, how you correct them, how you carry yourself and how you just show I am someone who deserves to work here, I’m someone who can be direct and make decisions and get my job done.” 

The cosmetic engineering program at MC has helped many students participate in internship programs and secure jobs at companies like Estée Lauder, Avon, and L’Oreal. 

“Manhattan College to this cosmetic program has created a very industrially relevant program where basically, the students are coming out with the right sort of industrial knowledge and the mindset, and they’re pretty much ready to hit the ground running when they enter into these companies and that’s valued very highly by the cosmetic industry,” Amin said.