Award-winning Cosmetic Chemist Rides the Wave to Success

Martin M. Rieger entered the cosmetic industry by accident. In 1948, he graduated from the University of Chicago with a doctorate in physical organic chemistry, and his first job offer was to work in Cuba at a rayon tire cord factory. He decided to turn that opportunity down, however.

Sol Gershon, PhD, technical director of Pepsodent, formerly located in the outskirts of Chicago, offered him the first position that he actually accepted. “My task,” Rieger said, “was to find out what happens to hair when exposed to waving lotion.” Pepsodent’s Rayve and Gillette’s Toni brands were the two biggest competitors in the permanent wave industry at that time. Through research, Rieger became an expert in the mechanics of stretching human hair. Among his developments was formulating a clear cold wave during a time when all waving lotions were milky.

By 1955, Pepsodent as well as the Rieger family had moved to New Jersey. Rieger received an offer to join Hudnut Co. of New Jersey, soon to become a part of Warner-Lambert. a company acquired by Pfizer in 2000. He brought his knowledge of cold waves to the new company where Donald Powers, PhD, was technical director. When Powers retired, Rieger took charge of cosmetic research at Warner-Lambert until his retirement in 1986. He supervised a staff of 10–25 scientists; the development of products in the Hudnut line for mass market outlets, including cold waves and shampoos; and the development of products in the DuBarry line for department stores, including skin care, moisturizers, antiaging products and makeup.

Among Rieger’s colleagues is Charles Fox, who has shared an almost identical career path with Rieger: they worked together at Pepsodent and Warner Lambert. Fox, who retired in 1983, remarked, “Marty Rieger is one of the most brilliant scientists I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. When you had a problem with a product, he could always put his finger on the solution,” he added.

In addition to Rieger’s full-time job, he joined the Society of Cosmetic Chemists (SCC) in 1950, and over the subsequent 56 years served in many positions: He edited the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists from 1962–1967, served as president in 1972, and chaired the finance and membership committees. He also has served as a member of numerous other committees.

In 2006, SCC membership numbers reached 3,800, and of all the cosmetic chemists in the United States, only 44 have been awarded the SCC Medal Award, now known as the Maison G. de Navarre Medal Award, since its inception in 1948. Rieger is one of those 44, receiving the award in 1974 for his work in both the industry and the society.

In addition, the SCC Lifetime Service Award only has been awarded to six members since its inception in 1986, and Rieger is among them. He received the award in 1998 for nearly 50 years of service to the society—he is the only person to have received both of these awards.

A lover of information and knowledge, Rieger has spoken regularly at SCC meetings and published numerous scientific articles and chapters in Cosmetics & Toiletries, the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists and other publications. He received two SCC Awards for best paper in 1982 and 1983.

One of the most intriguing and important projects of his career, according to Rieger, was editing the eighth edition of Harry’s Cosmeticology in 2000, which was and is “an important summary of the current knowledge of cosmetic information.” He also worked on several editions of the CTFA Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary, in particular on nomenclature.

When asked what he thought was exciting in the industry today, he replied, “The trend toward resolution or repair of photoaging shows promise. We’ll just have to wait and see whether it is successful.” Sol Gershon was Rieger’s mentor, and Charles Fox remains a good friend. He has been married to Audrey Rieger for 63 years, has a daughter and a son and four grandchildren. Today he reviews professional literature as it pertains to cosmetics and his reviews are published in Cosmetics & Toiletries.

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