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During the past 50 years, the personal care industry has transformed—product categories have more than doubled, formulations have become complex and innovation has become necessary not only for success but for survival. Today’s formulators must deliver unique products onto the market, and sustaining a long career in cosmetic formulating often means being able to create these innovative formulas for a number of product categories. No one understands this better than John Carson, who in his 40+ years in personal care formulation has created soaps, baby shampoos, sunscreens, antiperspirants and body washes, just to name a few.
Carson began his career in personal care in 1970 when he joined Colgate-Palmolive in the new products division. It was there that his love for personal care formulation and all things raw materials began.
C&T: Who was your first mentor in cosmetics?
At my first job with Colgate- Palmolive I worked with a great guy named Gordy Hewitt, who was one of the founding members of the International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary & Handbook committee for the CTFA (Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, now the Personal Care Product’s Council). He was really knowledgeable, and I loved working with him. He was the grand man of Colgate. They gave him projects that either no one else wanted to do or no one else could do.
C&T: What was one of the first things you learned in your first position?
Once out of college, you think you know everything, but you quickly realize that you don’t know much at all and you better shut your mouth and open your ears. Few schools teach cosmetic chemistry, so having a mentor like Gordy was invaluable. I worked with Gordy for a year on developing new products, all different products such as soaps, antiperspirants, shampoos and lotions. This development was to produce prototype ideas for different products that other groups could use. Gordy was an expert in soap, so he talked a lot about soap and soap formulations. That chemistry is basic but really helped me to focus on developing products. I had to go from fat and sodium hydroxide to something that was cosmetically appealing—that would foam, clean, be mild and provide a good cosmetic experience for the customer. Those lessons and discussions were terrific in leading me into a product-oriented direction.
C&T: What was helpful to your research in your first position?
I learned to be very grateful for ingredient listing statements. They came out between 1973 and 1974 when I was working with the shampoo group at Colgate-Palmolive. We finally were able to figure out what other people were using in their formulations. Of course, we had to put our own ingredient listings on our products, but that was OK. [Ingredient listings] were a big help to formulating and figuring out what other people were using.