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Beauty

This Toy Kit Teaches Young Girls About Science Through Makeup

Dallasite Kristen Wells-Collins’ Black to Lab company encourages kids to pursue STEM careers through beauty industry education.
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Black to the Lab founder Kristen Wells-Collins. In addition to the toy makeup kit, the company also sells cosmetic chemistry vocabulary cards and more. Courtesy of Kristen Wells-Collins

There are many career pathways into the beauty industry. There are the obvious tracks: marketing, brand ownership, even social media influencing. Dallasite and scientist Kristen Wells-Collins has made it her business to encourage young girls to find other ways in, like by becoming a scientific communicator or a cosmetic chemist.

In 2020, Wells-Collins launched Black to the Lab, a $30 toy makeup kit that allows kids as young as age 6 to mix their own beauty products, while “also learning the science behind those formulations.” Her mission is to push kids to consider a career in STEM.  

Growing up, Wells-Collins’ teachers always pushed her toward math and science, encouraging her to go to college early and study medicine “all the way up until high school graduation day.” She started at Prairie View A&M with the idea of becoming a pharmacist, but she changed her major to chemistry and later earned a master’s in community development.

“I’ve always had a passion for youth education, in particular Black girls,” Wells-Collins says. According to one study by Microsoft, girls begin losing interest in science by age 11. Wells-Collins wanted to use her own education to change that statistic.

She landed on exploring science through beauty for several reasons. For one, this age group is interested in cosmetics. Also, she didn’t know such a career was possible until college. At Prairie View, she had a professor suggest she study organic chemistry using haircare and makeup products. “At first I was excited,” she says. “And then I was kind of sad, because I felt like I had missed my moment to truly explore the industry.” 

Up until that point, all Wells-Collins knew about the science behind cosmetics was from her own experimentation. She started formulating her own skin care and beauty products after developing a severe citrus allergy in high school. That exploration “made me fall in love with beauty even more,” she says. 

It also informed her first business, a subscription skincare box, that she launched in 2017. Called “The Chemistry Of,” each box highlighted the science behind a particular ingredient, like lavender, rose, or pumpkin. The boxes included five products and a card that explained the “benefits of these different ingredients and how they’re incorporated into different beauty products.” Wells-Collins did everything by hand, including making the products and packaging. But she wanted to incorporate education into her work.

In 2020, she transitioned The Chemistry Of into a health and education company, which rebranded as Black to the Lab that fall. Wells-Collins transferred the lessons she learned from her old business to her new one. The toy kit used her base formulas from The Chemistry Of for lip gloss and body scrubs. These formulas were easy and safe for a kid to mix themselves, she says. They wouldn’t have to use heat, nor have to wait to use them. The kids could immediately swipe on their lip gloss, get excited, and “share it with their friends and family members, and continue to build off of that interest.”

Additionally, after hand-formulating and packaging everything for The Chemistry Of, she knew she wanted a product that could be manufactured and sold on shelves easily. That way, she could focus more time on education. 

The main component of Black to the Lab is its learning activations, Wells-Collins says. She and her team will go to schools, summer camps, and other organizations to teach kids “the science foundation of beauty using the Black to the Lab toy.” They’ve led classes with the city of Dallas, Duncanville Independent School District, Girl Scout chapters, and more. 

Black to the Lab has two different educational curriculums. The Little Chemist focuses on product formulation and a short business pitch. Making the Brand has an entrepreneurial focus, teaching older girls about business planning. Wells-Collins wants to get younger kids interested in STEM and provide older girls with resources to make it into a career. She’s working on a third agriculture-based curriculum she hopes to launch later this year. Students will make a bath bomb while learning how plant-based ingredients are incorporated into cosmetic and beauty products. 

Wells-Collins hosted her first class in October 2020, when her kit was just a prototype. It was a virtual kid’s birthday party. She was so nervous, she drove the kits all the way down to Houston herself instead of mailing them. After leading that class, she learned, depending on the age, virtual classes weren’t the answer. “We wanted to be in the same space,” she says. She later led an in-person class with high school girls from The SEED School of Washington, D.C., a public charter school, in the summer of 2022. “It was a very exciting group of young girls,” Wells-Collins says. The group explored changes in the industry. “That encouraged us to continue to go deeper in those conversations that we’re able to have with our students when we do our learning activation.” 

In every class, she asks the kids to think about everything that’s included in the beauty industry, like face washes, shampoo, and hair care. It’s more than just makeup, and science plays a huge role. As she teaches, Wells-Collins says both the kids and the adults in the room are “wowed.” Cosmetic science isn’t a well-known career, and few universities even have a degree for it. “We always get parents and students who are really excited about that educational context,” she says, in addition to the makeup.  

Since launching in late 2020, Black to the Lab has grown thanks to word of mouth and social media. People are drawn to the science because it explores what’s missing from the classroom: “how do I see myself in what I am learning?” Wells-Collins says. The company has also won several business pitch competitions, like Delta Red Tank in 2021 and Dallasite Marty McDonald’s Boss Women Media’s Building Women for the Future in 2022. The first helped Black to the Lab set up manufacturing, Wells-Collins says, and the latter helped her establish a relationship with Amazon. After getting a shoutout in the retail giant’s 2023 holiday gift guide, Black to the Lab sold out before Christmas. “It was overwhelmingly exciting,” Wells-Collins says.

Between the toy makeup kits and the classes, Wells-Collins says she has several goals. For elementary and middle school girls, she wants Black to the Lab “to be a foundation of interest” in STEM. For high school girls, she wants to it to be a resource center for college advice, internships, and jobs. She’s launching a scholarship program this year. She wants to incorporate technology more into the business and continue to expand her curriculum. 

She also wants to launch a beauty product line developed by the students she works with. “So they get a chance to say, ‘Look at what I created,’” Wells-Collins says. Then, they can see their own future in the industry.

Author

Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…

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