Published: 08 March 2022  (Updated: 09 March 2022)

Behind Beauty: Tea break with Danka Tamburic, Professor of Cosmetic Science, London College of Fashion

Danka Tamburic has never worked in the cosmetics industry, but her ground-breaking efforts to introduce Cosmetic Science to UK Higher Education have fostered hundreds of brilliant industry brains. That’s why Danka was the perfect interviewee to launch CTPA’s new Behind Beauty blog series.

Danka, you are a pharmacist by training, so how and when did you get into the field of Cosmetic Science?

When I was at school, I loved all sciences. So, the hard decision for me was which one to study at university. I chose Pharmacy because it involved the widest range of different sciences: different aspects of Chemistry, some Maths and Physics, lots of Biology and some elements of Medicine. I also liked the fact that Pharmacy was very applicable, a science you could use to help people.

However, my decision was very theoretical; I never went to a pharmacy to see what it was like. It meant that when I finished my studies and went to work in a community pharmacy, the initial spark of interest faded after a few years, when I felt that I had stopped learning.

I went back into education, to study and work, gaining a Masters at the Department for Pharmaceutical Technology and Cosmetology at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Belgrade in 1990. Then I won the British Council scholarship to spend 6 months at the Department of Pharmaceutics at the School of Pharmacy, University of London, where I did a lot of work for my PhD.

After gaining the PhD, I returned to the School of Pharmacy as a Welcome Trust-funded postdoc and eventually joined London College of Fashion in 1997. The same year, I became a member of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists (SCS) and joined the Education Committee, whose member I have been since.

When I arrived at the London College of Fashion there was no degree course in Cosmetic Science, besides the one-year SCS Diploma Course. So, after a year working there, I offered to set up a BSc in Cosmetic Science… and here I am 25 years later. A pharmacist, helping students to make their way into the cosmetics and personal care industry.

You developed the first BSc Cosmetic Science in the UK, which is an amazing achievement. How did you set about designing this?

I was pretty naive when I suggested the idea to my manager back in 1999. I could see a clear gap in educational provision, but had no idea how much work would be involved. What I did know was that I wanted to make a practical and directly applicable course, to avoid the pitfalls of my Pharmacy degree in Belgrade. There, we were subjected to thousands of pages of chemical formulas, which we would not retain, and made the first medicine in year 3 of the 4-year course.

I knew I wanted the BSc Cosmetic Science to be all about the application, from as early as possible in the course. Indeed, in our year 1, we teach three months of basics and already after Christmas students start making their first cosmetics. In year 2, students are going deep into the specific areas of skincare, haircare and decorative cosmetics; all the time linking to product evaluation, perfumery, regulation, quality control and packaging. We make them ready for the placement year, should they choose to do it.

When it comes to assessments, we don’t ask students to write essays, but assess them in line with what they need to know when they start working, hence a focus on reports. For example, year 3 students work in teams on a Product Launch Project. They start out by undertaking market research to find a gap in the market for a new product. They then develop that product in a lab, creating prototypes and assessing their stability. In order to assess their efficacy, students have to set up consumer and lab-based trials, collect and statistically analyse data and finally produce a report, with an executive summary.

You have worked with the London College of Fashion for almost 25 years. What have been your career highlights along the way?

Well, of course there’s the highlight of breaking new ground for science education - and doing that at the London College of Fashion! We started with nothing and had to build not only the course from scratch, but our reputation in the field, for example by publishing research papers. I’m very proud of how much of our students’ work, supervised by the course team, gets presented at major international conferences, and later published. And it paid off: 12 years after the BSc launched, our results and reputation opened the door to introducing the Integrated MSc Cosmetic Science, a unique course world-wide.

It’s an ongoing highlight to get positive feedback from companies that take our students for sandwich year placements. Many get in touch to say they didn’t realise the students would be so capable and work-ready. Others go further still, offering them jobs and waiting for them to finish their studies.

That is why we do this job. You meet an 18 year-old who has a vague idea that they want to create their own cosmetics, and a few short years later they are doing just that in a large company, or even in their own start-up. We create competent cosmetic formulators, but those with a wide range of other skills for now necessary life-long leaning.

We were the first university in the UK to provide graduates specifically for the cosmetic industry. Thanks to the College’s open-minded and supportive management team, and key industry backers like CTPA, who have provided student bursaries and financial support from the very start, we’ve been able to make a meaningful contribution to the industry.

What key changes to the cosmetic and personal care industry have you observed over the years?

While I have never worked in the industry, I need to keep close to industry developments, so that we can reflect these in our courses. Many things have changed, including the increased pace of every activity, but most notably, we’ve seen much of the industry’s manufacturing, research and development move overseas. Therefore, we’ve had to teach our students skills to deal with the new jobs that have been created here. From logistics to quality control to legislation, students need to be able to act as a bridge between where the products are made, and the UK audiences that those products are being made for. This is an interesting new challenge in itself.

What advice would you give to others looking to pursue a career in Cosmetic Science today?

The first thing I always say is that it’s about making the make-up, not using it! You need to be curious about how things work, since that’s the major driving force in science. What makes this mascara sticky and the other not? What makes your lashes appear longer? Why is this cream more hydrating than the other one?

If this sounds like you, then learn about the industry, so you can see whether it’s what you thought it was. Take a look at CTPA’s CATIE website for educators and, of course, take a look at the London College of Fashion’s MSc Cosmetic Science course and see what it involves.

Many students opt to do a year of placement in the industry after two years’ studying, which really builds their practical knowledge and understanding of how industry operates. One of the things that placement students learn is just how wide-ranging cosmetic industry is. They come back from their placements keen to grab as much knowledge as they can, before they make their way back into the world. I know the feeling. I’ve been working alongside the industry for almost 25 years, and I’m still learning!

Find out more about the MSc Cosmetic Science at the London College of Fashion.

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