Female student in safety gear, holding clipboard, in a factory setting.

If you forget any of your safety equipment, you’re likely to get a firm nudge before you pass the first production line. The workers tromp around in steel-toed boots, goggles and hairnets while automated machines whir to life about them. This isn’t exactly the glamorous image an outsider would expect from a global cosmetics company, but L’Oreal has the serious business of cranking out 250 million units a year to attend to.

Iliana Hernandez, a senior chemical engineering major from Siloam Springs and PATH student, has been helping keep the ship running smoothly at this L’Oreal plant in North Little Rock. During her summer internship, she looked to improve efficiency in the UP1 production unit, which makes 65% of all mascaras sold in the U.S.—that’s a tube produced every two seconds. When she returns to the University of Arkansas, Iliana will bring back experience in finance and industrial engineering to supplement her major. Eventually, she’ll also know the exact amount she’s saved the company, which will be handy for her next goal (scoring another internship at Texas Instruments or Intel).

Iliana was born in El Salvador, but to keep her safe her parents sacrificed promising careers in telecommunications and law and moved to the United States when she was young. She’s making the most of her opportunity: She will be the president for the University of Arkansas Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers this fall, and a full scholarship with the Engineering Career Awareness program allowed her to attend a national conference where she first met L’Oreal representatives.


The L’Oreal plant in North Little Rock produces 65% of the country’s mascara, for multiple cosmetics brands. All photos by Karen Segrave unless credited otherwise.


Iliana and her supervisor Danny Canady, manufacturing controller, crunch the numbers, looking for creative places to save. “I told her we’re not giving you projects just to keep you busy. There definitely is a need and a problem that can be solved here. By putting in her problem-solving skills, creativity and hard work, she can help drive business results.”


Plant workers list their ideas on how to eliminate waste here, and Iliana looked into how L’Oreal could implement these suggestions.


Sometimes the best ideas came from visiting with workers on the floor. Julie Halford, who has been working at L’Oreal for 39 years, helped Iliana come up with a strategy to cut down use of Isopar, an expensive cleaning chemical. “She’s the expert,” said Iliana.


Iliana found that many of these drums were getting cleaned repeatedly with Isopar. These liners cost $13 a pop so she’s looking for a cheaper way to mark clean drums.


Her work was independent and hands-on. She spent a lot of time scanning the production line in protective gear, from hairnet down to antistatic ankle band. Safety first!


Those little pink and green tubes of Great Lash Mascara are the company’s signature product.

Iliana looks at some brand new colors of nail polish with plant manager Eric Fox before they even hit the shelves. At first, Iliana was intimidated by the higher-ups, but that didn’t last long: “I didn’t think I would be working with the highest people in this campus so actually reaching out to them and making one-on-one appointments with the directors was definitely out of my comfort zone. I am typically shy, but I think this internship has changed that.”


One of the perks of the job, Iliana was able to shop at the discounted company store.


After the work day was over, there was time to have a laugh with friends. L’Oreal’s 20 interns hosted pool parties and barbecues, and Iliana explored Little Rock with David Garcia, Andrea Dominguez and SanJuana Mota, University of Arkansas students who interned with UAMS, L’Oreal and the Arkansas Department of Health. Photo by Kendall Curlee.