Joyce de Lemos on What It’s Really Like to Be a Cosmetic Chemist

Joyce de Lemos

Joyce de Lemos

The Hustle

Welcome to Byrdie's series, The Hustle. We're profiling BIPOC women and woman-aligned folks in the beauty and wellness industries who are usually behind-the-scenes. From the cosmetic chemists formulating your holy-grail serum to CFOs driving the biggest beauty companies forward, these women are the definition of career goals, and they're getting real about the journeys that led them to where they are—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.

Joyce de Lemos fell in love with science as a child. She spent her childhood watching Bill Nye the Science Guy and conducting experiments at home. In college, she pursued a degree in biochemistry and found a position at a pharmaceutical company after graduation. While she was working in a field she loved, de Lemos didn't feel fulfilled in her role and wanted to try something new. "I decided to Google' fun things to do with a chemistry degree,'" she explains. "That's when I found cosmetic science, and it opened up a new world."

After graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University's cosmetic science program in 2012, de Lemos' fruitful career in beauty began. Her first job? Working at L'Oreal. There, de Lemos discovered her passion for skincare and helped develop beloved products (like the SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid 2:4:2 Anti-Aging Lipid Replenishment Treatment). 

Following her departure from the beauty corporation in 2016, she held senior roles at a contract manufacturer and Function of Beauty. After building an impressive professional foundation, de Lemos decided to strike out on her own. Her freelance journey has allowed her to connect with up-and-coming brands and formulate their products. It has also led her to meet Charlotte Palermino and Marta Freedman. Together, they've built the buzzy brand Dieux. Ahead, de Lemos opens up about her career journey, creating products for Dieux, and how college students can break into cosmetic science.

What was your first job in the cosmetic science industry?

I worked at L'Oreal and learned how to make products in labs. I started on their suncare team, and then I learned a full-time position on the skincare team was available. I begged for the job, and I eventually got it. That was a great experience because L'Oreal has every resource at its fingertips. I was also able to learn from chemists who have been in the industry for over 30 years.

What are some of the most exciting projects you worked on during your time at L'Oreal?

One of the most exciting projects was working on SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid 2:4:2 Anti-Aging Lipid Replenishment Treatment. I loved working on it because I saw all of the different pieces come together. We analyzed aging skin and noticed it has three different components that deplete over time—ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol. We had to come up with this ratio of ingredients to help boost each one. We also had to use an ingredient that was never really used before in cosmetics—ceramides 1. This ingredient cost like $100,000 per kilogram, and I got to use it. This project helped me understand how to formulate a product—from figuring out what test to use to substantiate claims to determining the packaging.

After working at L'Oreal, you spent time as the skincare manager of a contract manufacturer and the lead formulation chemist Function of Beauty. However, in 2019, you decided to start freelancing and help co-found Dieux. Tell me about that transition.

I was looking to leave my position at the end of 2018, and one of my friends told me her friend was looking to partner with someone to make skincare products. I had never worked independently, and it seemed super terrifying. But then I met Charlotte [Palermino], and she seemed like an easy person to work with. I began to help her figure out what she wanted to do. At the same time, I started consulting with other companies. I have a great network that has kept me afloat since 2019. In 2020, it was amazing because many people decided to start brands. Many of them reached out to me to create their formulations. Concurrently, I was still working with Dieux and making all of their formulations. They were my top client, so we just decided to make it official, and I joined as the co-founder and chief of product. 

Joyce de Lemos

Joyce de Lemos / Dieux

What are the biggest lessons you learned when you started freelancing?

I was really worried about where my next paycheck would come from because it was up to me to sell myself to different clients. I've worked in many spaces where I wasn't recognized for my capabilities. Because of that, I never felt like it was okay for me to say anything or raise my hand. But I was a point in my life where I had to advocate for myself. At the beginning of 2019, I had so many calls where I would tell people my rate, and they'd say to me it was ridiculous. I made mistakes by accepting less. But I eventually learned my value and to ask for what I deserve. Ever since I started thinking like that, it's just been like a game-changer.

What does a typical week look like for you these days?

I'm usually working on new product development projects with Charlotte and Marta. We have an office space in DUMBO, so Charlotte is here whenever I want to meet with her. A few blocks away, I have a huge lab space where I create all my formulas. Sometimes I spend eight or 10 hours over there because I'll have a crazy idea. Sometimes I'll spend my day talking to consumer testing groups or testing organizations to learn about new techniques. My days are all over the place, honestly.

What's the most challenging part of your job? 

Right now, the most challenging thing is supply chain issues. We always have a launch date that we set as a goal for our products. That means our packaging and ingredients have to be at the factory by a certain week. All of our marketing has to be determined and finalized well in advance. It's challenging to keep track of so many moving pieces, especially because we're such a small team. But we're good at pivoting. The other thing that's been challenging is finding consumer research organizations with diverse testing panels. It's an issue that has been plaguing cosmetics forever. However, we want to ensure our products work with everybody's skin type and skin tone. Consumer testing is a space we're trying to navigate and revolutionize.

What's the most rewarding part of your job? 

The most rewarding thing is when Charlotte sends me a random DM she gets from someone who says our product has changed their lives, whether that means their skin feels more comfortable or they feel more confident. It is a reminder I'm doing the right thing.

If someone is interested in a career in cosmetic science, what are some of the key pieces of advice you'd want to share with them?

It's important to reach out to somebody in the industry. I have had people reach out to me blindly on LinkedIn, and I love that. I will shoot them a quick email of resources they can check out. Step two involves looking into programs to help further their education. Companies like Estee Lauder and L'Oreal have internships. Through these programs, you gain experience and get your foot in the door. I've seen a lot of interns get hired permanently through that route. Another thing to consider is that smaller companies like us are always looking for motivated people to intern.

Those are great tips. Let's get into your beauty routine. What are your must-have products?

I wash my face with the Circumference Daily Regenerative Gel Cleanser ($48). Then, I use the Dieux Deliverance Soothing Trinity Serum ($69) and Instant Angel Moisturizer ($45). I finish with the Banana Boat Sport Performance Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 ($3). I also use my Dieux Forever Eye Masks ($25) in the morning and evening and pair them with an upcoming eye gel I'm working on.

Your days are jam-packed. How do you practice self-care? 

My relationships are super important to me, and quality time is one of my biggest love languages. I'm constantly FaceTiming with people—that's one of the things that makes me feel whole again. Secondly, I have a dog that's the love of my life. She comes to work with me sometimes, and when I have downtime, we're always going for a walk. Additionally, I like to run. It takes my mind away from the other things I have to do. I also enjoy watching terrible reality television. I love Real Housewives, and Love Is Blind.

Related Stories