When University of Delaware sophomore
Ashley Lennon changed her major to chemistry and expressed an interest
in the cosmetics industry, her comment began a student-faculty-alumni
chain reaction that led her to a particularly colorful internship.
“I was always interested in skin care, and at one time I thought
about becoming a dermatologist,” said Lennon, who had second thoughts
about the time and expense required for medical school. “So when I
learned about Impact Colors, it seemed like a perfect internship.
Obviously, makeup and skin-care products have color in them, but I never
thought about where that color comes from and who actually makes it.”
As it turns out, a lot of the pigments that go into everything from
nail polish to hair gel are stocked and formulated at the Impact Colors
laboratory located adjacent to UD’s Newark campus.
The business is led by Doug Thornley, who earned his own bachelor’s degree in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
in 1975 and who has stayed in touch and engaged with the University
ever since. He was happy to create an internship experience for Lennon
at the lab in Delaware Technology Park.
“When I first graduated, I worked in a lab, and I loved the
inspiration of that kind of work, but I didn’t like doing the same
procedures over and over,” Thornley said.
He moved into selling raw materials, still using his knowledge of
chemistry every day, but enjoying the opportunity to work with customers
and meet their needs for specific kinds of products.
Now, as president of his own business, Thornley said he continues to
love the variety of the pigments Impact Colors creates and the ways they
can be used. He enthusiastically explains how different-size particles
in a pigment create different qualities, such as shine and sparkle,
while the thickness of the coating causes color shifts, like light
refracting through a prism. All the pigments are transparent, he points
out, so a user’s skin tone makes each one unique.
“So many people think about chemistry as making things – a kind of
recipe you follow in the lab to get a certain result,” he said. “But
when you actually get into industry, especially in sales, it’s less
about how something is made and more about what it does. You focus on:
What are the properties of this product? And how do you apply those
When Lennon decided to try out a chemistry major, she emailed a
faculty member asking for advice on a possible career in the cosmetics
industry. Her note quickly made its way to John Burmeister, Alumni
Distinguished Professor and associate chair of the department, who
oversees all its undergraduate programs.