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Engineering Careers in Hair Care: Meet Maxine Tomlinson

As a Senior Scientist in R&D at Henkel, Maxine shares her unique career journey and discusses career paths in the personal care industry for engineers.
Maxine Tomlinson of Henkel at a salon
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Content sponsored by Henkel.

Welcome Maxine! What was your major in college and why did you choose this major?

My undergraduate degree was in chemical engineering with a discipline in material science. I always found chemistry beautiful. It felt like the art of the science world. You had all these building blocks, and when you combined them correctly, you were able to create something entirely new.

I loved engineering because to me engineering was about taking what we already know and applying it in a different way to solve a problem. This combination led to me pursuing chemical engineering as a relationship between these two interests.

What led you to pursue a career in the world of hair care?

Maxine Tomlinson of Henkel
Maxine Tomlinson, Senior Scientist in R&D at Henkel

I have always loved to dye my hair. I started doing it at a young age, and it became a part of who I am. My journey to become a chemical engineer taught me about my love for chemistry, but finding an area to pursue chemistry that was interesting and engaging for me is what led me to the personal care field.

I began in the personal care industry in hair color, and my passion for it was so strong because I had such a personal connection to it. Now I am working in stylers, and my interest is just as strong because I am learning something totally new to me that is just as important to the world consumer.

What Henkel products do you work on?

I currently work on Joico, Pravana, Kenra, Sexy Hair, and Deva Curl so far.

What is your job title and typical/daily tasks at Henkel?

I am a Senior Scientist in R&D. I have worked on hair color and texture technologies for the last three years and am currently transitioning to work on stylers. My day consists of batching formulas I create to test if they have desirable properties and are stable. I will apply product to hair tresses and evaluate color or hold level of a styling polymers. I also continuously work to make formulas more biodegradable and more sustainable.

What is unique about your job at Henkel?

My job at Henkel is unique because often I feel like people do not usually think about how much science goes behind every product they touch in a store. Personal care products are no exception, so to be able to be one of those scientists that is working to find solutions for the everyday consumer is a unique experience. The cherry on top is seeing products you made on the shelf or seeing people enjoying what you made.

How do you make an impact at Henkel?

I make an impact at Henkel through my everyday working to create better products for the unique consumer. I work to foster a collaborative environment where people are comfortable asking questions. I also participate in Henkel’s PRIDE group helping with events like the Annual NYC Pride March along with many other colleagues.

Maxine and the Henkel team at the Annual NYC Pride Parade
Maxine and the Henkel team at the Annual NYC Pride March

What is one piece of advice you would give engineering majors who are interested in pursuing nontraditional engineering career paths?

Get yourself out there! In the case of the personal care industry, I highly recommend becoming a part of your Society of Cosmetic Chemists (SCC) chapter. I got my foot in the door of this industry by attending trade shows as an undergraduate and gaining mentors that helped me as I grew toward a full career.

What are you most proud of achieving in your career so far?

Getting to interface with so many different groups within Henkel is something I am proud of and really enjoy. I am honestly most proud about being able to get into Personal Care R&D as young as I did. This is a very tight-knit industry, so getting that initial experience is difficult. I have been able to create some really interesting products that keep Henkel a competitive player.

What exciting projects are you currently working on?

Maxine Tomlinson in a lab
Maxine working in the lab at Henkel

I have a hair color project where I created a new base to be competitive in the market. It should come out in 2025. In styling, I am working on making our gels biodegradable, which is extremely difficult because the polymers we use for a standard clear gel do not break down very easily.

In addition to this, I work on investigating areas in hair that may have been neglected in research, like how super coily hair responds to products vs. straight hair.

What steps have you taken to continuously grow and develop in your career?

Since I began working at Henkel, I have had the opportunity to continue learning which I have taken advantage of. I have gone back for my Masters of Business and Science through Rutgers University.

I also try to take education courses offered through the SCC, which are great one-to three-day classes about different areas of the industry, and I also am currently in the process of going through Six Sigma LEAN training where I am getting my Greenbelt certification.

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