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STEM beauty camp teaches the beauty of science


Dirty Beauty’s STEM Beauty camps start with a little background music. On a Tuesday in September, that includes Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets.” It’s a suitable accompaniment to an experience that includes lots of glitter, glam and fun mixed with a dose of science.

For the next two hours, Samantha Dickey, the founder of Dirty Beauty Skincare -- a nature-based line of skincare products locally made in Woodstock -- will engage girls in science and math through the magic of makeup.

The girls measure ingredients, convert measurements from ounces to grams, identify elements on a periodic table and problem solve as they mix up batches of slime face mask, sugar lip scrub and glossy lip glitter.

“It is interesting for them to see that the things they talk about in science class are relevant,” said Dickey who began offering the camps this year. “I love when they know what I am asking,” she said. 

Dickey, whose background is manufacturing engineering technology, founded Dirty Beauty Cosmetics in the early 2000s.

The skincare line uses ingredients from her parents’ certified-organic farm such as sunflower, radish, apple leaves, honey and more in a collection of products that are based in both science and nature.

Core items in the skincare collection include Reveal face cleanser designed for all skin-types and made with organic oats and lavender flower. Strip, made from plant oils, is a makeup remover and Sheer is a light facial oil designed to seal moisture into the face. 

Dickey had spent decades visiting schools to conduct workshops in science and engineering but she realized she could share her own love of both science and beauty to draw more girls into the field. 

Women made up almost 50 percent of the workforce in 2015, but held only 24 percent of STEM jobs, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“There were very few women at the time I was in an industrial setting,” Dickey said. “One of the things that I impress upon young professionals that are in technology is to embrace the fact that they are a woman and a nurturer and that makes you a better employee and engineer and team member, it is not a hindrance.”

Designed for girls ages 7 - 17, Dickey aligns her STEM Beauty Camps with Georgia Performance Standards for science to be sure she is offering relevant material. Three campers attend a recent session held during fall break in Cherokee County schools, including Dickey’s daughter, Ryahn, 11.

The first step is decorating their formula sheets using stickers, stencils and brightly colored markers. “Engineering is very creative but sometimes the classroom doesn’t demonstrate that,” said Dickey. 

Once they’ve finished with the decorations, Dickey directs the girls to write their formulas on the sheet. She slowly reads the ingredients and amounts for the slime face mask and the other items they will be making. 

The beauty lab is made up of several tables with a pink microscope and scale in the center. Jars filled with the empty containers to hold the completed mask, lip scrub and lip glitter sit in the center of the tables along with cotton swabs and other tools for mixing and blending ingredients. Each girl wears gloves and goggles as they work. 

They start off with lip scrub each taking a turn to measure the correct amount of sugar on the scale. 

“What is sucrose another name for?” Dickey said.

“Sugar,” said the girls before putting on goggles. 

When Chloe, 12, adds more than the needed amount they have to figure out what to do. After a brief discussion, they determine that Chloe can either remove some of the sugar from her bowl or change her formula to meet the correct proportions. She decides to remove some sugar but has to subtract decimals to determine how much to take out. 

After finishing their individual lip scrubs, they decide to make the slime mask as a group. Reading over the formula sheets, they see a few ingredients they have trouble pronouncing, Xanthan Gum and Optithen. 

“Optithen is a preservative. Why are we using preservative? Have we used it in any other formula?” Dickey said.

“No,” said the girls.

“What is a preservative? What is something you use everyday that helps keep things preserved?” Dickey said. 

 “The fridge,” said S’vaan,10. 

“What if you don’t keep food in there?” said Dickey.

“It will spoil?” S’vaan said. 

Dickey goes on to explain that mold is fed by water and any product with water content has to be preserved in some way or it will spoil. 

Once they begin mixing the slime mask, the debate turns to how disgusting it looks. 

 “It looks like mucus,” said Ryahn.

“It feels like mucus,” said Chloe. “Ewww. We have to put this on our face?” 

“You totally don’t have to but you probably are already,” said Dickey adding that most of the ingredients in the slime face mask are already in body wash and some foods. 

“I’m going to start reading ingredients now,” Chloe said.

At 1 p.m., they begin cleaning up their work spaces and packing their three new products into plastic bags. They are still not sure how they feel about the slime face mask but have already applied pink, purple and bronze glitter gloss to their lips from the roller ball tubes. 

They are thrilled with their new products and Dickey was thrilled by the conversations that took place.  “What I love the most is when they find solutions or teach themselves something new,” she said. “I try to let them find the answers because (the solutions) are always there.” 


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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.