As a startup founder, it’s not uncommon to have well-meaning people ask questions that doubt your very reason for being. As a scientist working to create change in the beauty world, those comments are even more prevalent. There’s one particular question that I hear over and over again:
‘Beauty is about marketing and branding, why would someone choose your product over thousands of others?’
At times, hearing this makes me question everything, but truthfully it’s also the reason why I have to do what I am doing...
It all started many years ago between Paris and San Francisco.
I had always dreamed of becoming a scientist, even before I fully knew what that meant. I was studying in Paris biology and was fascinated by the skin - because it was deeply connected to science as well as appearance and self-confidence.
At age 25, my Master's program sent me to UCSF in San Francisco to conduct research with the most brilliant scientist I’ve ever met. He taught me to always ask questions and never affirm a solution, and through that process, I learned just how much questions about the skin fascinated me.
Little did I know, this was the foundation of my journey towards Elsi. I went back to Paris to complete my Ph.D and this work taught me perseverance - that even when the research results in findings you weren’t expecting, there is always something to learn.
Through that experience, I gained persistence and self-confidence and I ended up landing a job at L’Oréal as a research manager understanding product-skin interaction.
Your skin is a brick and mortar barrier.
During that time I learned about the importance of our skin barrier, the “stratum corneum,” which serves as a brick and mortar wall protecting our body like a wall would protect a home. I also came to understand that there is a fine line between beauty products and drugs.
Cosmetics are products to “improve appearance” but they are not a cure, they should not have a physiological effect or cause adverse effects like drugs. Cosmetics should be here to take care of you.
So when it came to my own skincare products, as I have sensitive skin and rosacea, I shopped for the most gentle products to keep my skin barrier protected. I took care of my skin first and cared little about the rest.
You have bacteria on your skin that are essential to keep you healthy.
As fate would have it, my career brought me back to San Francisco in 2015. I worked at a startup pioneering the skin microbiome, the amazing set of bacteria that lives on your skin and keeps you healthy.
The research showed that the microbiome is less healthy on average than it used to be, and it’s only getting worse. In my years of skincare research, besides discovering the skin barrier, this was by far the most interesting challenge I had seen. Now I saw the skin as a whole ecosystem: a brick and mortar wall interacting with living microorganisms.
Unfortunately, few people know that this ecosystem is under attack daily, from both cosmetics and the environment leading to irritation, blemishes and sensitivity.
Stop messing with your skin.
I started to learn how skin conditions and sensitivity were rising everywhere and how this all tied back to one thing: the loss of bacterial diversity and protective barrier function.
As I continued to research I realized two more things:
First, the US cosmetics market is under-regulated: in France, no cosmetic products are allowed to be sold without being carefully registered after a whole set of safety tests, which takes months.
Second, we apply way too many ingredients (natural or otherwise) on our skin, and this has been shown to increase sensitivity and harm our skin ecosystem.
Naturally, I became suspicious of any products surrounding me that could be either anti-microbial or irritative, of any preservatives in soaps and fragrances. I closely read ingredient labels and was struck by the fact that there are barely any products on the market that took the ecosystem into account.
It’s no secret what happened next.
Building upon the years spent on research, from the perspectives of both science and beauty - the opportunity presented itself.
Knowing what I knew, how could I not try to create products that stop messing with your skin, damaging your ecosystem and keeping you healthy? If I wasn’t going to do it, who would?