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Three Women Scientists Disrupting the Personal Care Industry Share Their Stories and Beauty Secrets.

As the Nobel Prize in chemistry goes to a woman for the fifth time in history, I sat down with three awesome women scientists-entrepreneurs to learn more about the revolutionary products and solutions they have been building.

Mandi Niambi is the co-founder and CEO of Baalm, a membership designed to match you to the right products, services and people for your skin. She is a scientist, writer, and entrepreneur passionate about skin tech.

Mandi, please tell us about Baalm?

Baalm is a community built on the audacity of loving your skin. We’re making skincare transparent with a radical membership club. Instead of wading through thousands of new skincare products with hard to pronounce ingredients, we cut through all the noise. Our digital platform matches users to the right products for their skin. Member benefits include one-on-one skin consultations, personalized shopping, product exclusives and discounts, custom events and so much more.

On average skincare junkies waste $300 a year on unused or ineffective products because they don’t know what they’re really buying. We’re on a mission to help them reclaim that money and put it to good use with a membership for their skin. By putting skincare in the cloud we help our community members understand how skincare products work, the science behind ingredients and create tools to match them to the best products for their individual skin needs.

We put on events like custom facials, workshops and gatherings with experts so that they can experience skincare in so many different ways. Our priority is to make sure that each experience brings you more calm and knowledge, so that skincare can become something you indulge in everyday.

How did you come up with the idea of starting Baalm? What inspired you?

I grew up with eczema and sensitive skin, so trying new products has always been a scary thing. Products have cause insane breakouts and allergic reactions for me, and I didn’t have anyone I could turn to. My mom wasn’t familiar with a lot of products, few of my friends had answers and I didn’t see a dermatologist until I was 19 when things got really bad. When I started doing regenerative biology research at Harvard, I began to apply my love of research to my skin journey. I read research papers about different skincare ingredients and used that as a guide to find the right products. But no one should have to have a biology degree to figure out what to put on their face. So Baalm came from a personal quest. It’s the community I wish I had when I was building out my first skincare routines.

I have heard that you are working on publishing a book with your beauty secrets and rituals, please tell us more.

Fresh Face is a guide to skin care that offers countless ideas, tips, and tricks for maintaining healthy, radiant skin. I believe that skin are is not just about managing blemishes but can be used as a coping mechanism to radically change the way your soul and psyche are fed. So I go through ways to set up your home to promote better skincare habits and selfcare habits. There are tons of affirmations in the book because it’s just as important to feed your self esteem as it is to feed your skin microbiome (by the way, I dig into that too!). Fresh Face covers the anatomy of the skin in a really approachable way, and provides dozens of routines to help with fresh breakouts or to relax you after a full day of listening to mansplaining.

Is there one beauty secret you can share with us?

I change my towels and wash cloths constantly. I buy face towels in bulk on amazon so that I always have a fresh one when I need it.

Kailey Bradt is the founder of OWA Haircare, the first water-activated haircare line. Kailey holds a BS in Chemical Engineering and an MS in Product Development, and formulates OWA Haircare’s products herself.

Kailey, please tell us about OWA Haircare and what makes it special.

OWA Haircare is the first water-activated haircare line that delivers your same liquid products in a powder format. Conventional liquid shampoos are 80% water on average. It’s not just shampoo though, conditioner is similarly mostly water & even a hair gel can be 95% water. When I discovered this, I couldn’t imagine continuing to package and ship water all over the world! The concept behind OWA is to deliver your liquid products in a new way.

You started OWA Haircare while working for a clean-tech startup. How did you come up with the idea of launching your own brand? 

Working at an early stage start up in Los Angeles, I was constantly in and out of airports traveling for work. If you’ve ever flown into or out of LAX you know the frustration getting through the checked bag line, through TSA security check & then to your gate assuming your bag made it too. Working in sustainability day in and day out, I had also learned about reducing your CO2 footprint by traveling with only carry-on baggage. 

Packing liquid hair products was frustrating. They took up the most space, they depleted the most quickly and mine always seemed to leak in my little ziplock bag. I had tried the bar alternatives to liquid shampoos & conditioners and was not satisfied with the results for my hair type. I have a lot of very fine hair, which is sensitive to many ingredients and easily is weighed down by the ingredients in a bar soap. I wanted my same liquid haircare delivered to me in a new way.

This is when I began researching the formulations of liquid haircare. Discovering that liquid products were mostly solvents, I imagined there had to be a better way to deliver the ingredients that we needed without the bulk “fluff” which was water in most cases. Essentially, I wanted a concentrated alternative that would form a liquid product, so that is what I set to create. It hadn’t been done before in a powder format, but I was determined to make it work.

Congratulations on the recent launch! Can you tell us more about the product and the new collection?

OWA Haircare launched with its first product, Moondust Collection: Hair Wash in June 2019 in an exclusive retail deal with Credo Beauty. Our second SKU, a fragrance-free version of Hair Wash launched in July.

Both versions of our Hair Wash are naturally derived, vegan and cruelty free. Additionally, they’re free of water, sulfates, parabens, synthetic colors and synthetic fragrance. They are both clean formulas and if you’re familiar with Credo you know they are leaders in defining clean beauty. The fact we were able to launch with them was a dream come true for me! Starting in September, you’ll see OWA in more stores, so be on the look out!

Besides the shampoo, do you see other possibilities in the water-activated personal-care space?

I don’t even know where to start to talk about this because I’m honestly SO excited about what’s to come. There is so much opportunity in this space and I see it as the future of the haircare. We’re also seeing more in skincare & color cosmetics right now, but I think this will move into body care as well.

For OWA, we are starting with the foundation of the haircare routine- shampoo & for those who need it, conditioner. We’re moving into styling and treatment products as well. I want to say more, but that’s all I’m going to hint for now!

What personal care advice can you share with us?

Listening to your body is so important. I’ve become more conscious about my personal care choices & I’ve realized how critical it is to take care of yourself inside and out. Good skin truly starts from within.

I really love skincare supplements and I’ve been using the Sundaily “The Back Up” & I occasionally will add in Hum Skin Heroes Pre+ Probiotic if I’m experiencing a breakout.

Overall eating better results in better skin for me- everyone is different so I won’t get into what diet works for me. I will just say your body speaks through your skin!

For product, I choose skincare over makeup. A good moisturizer is key! I use SPF every day no matter what. A friend of mine who is working on a skin-health line found that ~80% of signs of aging are caused by long-term UV exposure. That’s wrinkles, fine lines, etc. I was so surprised, so I take it even more seriously now. I like to use Supergoop’s 100% Mineral Invincible Setting Powder to reapply my SPF throughout the day. It also makes a good, lightweight dry shampoo substitute that protects your hairline from sun exposure. I love multifunctional products like that. Another dual purpose product is the Olio e Osso Balm No. 2 in French Melon that I use for my everyday look on my lips & my cheeks. I really have been enjoying the innovations in the clean skin & beauty space. I searched for years testing natural deodorants for example. It wasn’t until the end of last year when I found Curie– the first natural deodorant that didn’t leave me with severe skin irritation. I try to stick to the 80/20 rule with clean beauty. I know there are some products I’ve been using forever that I cannot find a replacement for- yet!

I’m a minimalist and I’ve been making a greater effort to only buy what I need for product overall. If I try a product that isn’t for me, I will pass it along to a friend so it doesn’t go to waste. I’ve also been recycling my difficult-to-recycle product packaging through Terracycle, which has numerous collection locations like Credo or Follain. You can also request a shipping label and recycle from home!

Lizzy Trelstad is the founder of Beaker, a platform matching people with the best products and decoding cosmetics ingredients. Lizzy Trelstad is a Columbia-educated innovation chemist with industry experience in personal care, cosmetic, and fragrance formulation. She’s a millennial-on-a-mission to match people with products.

Lizzy, your vision is to match consumers with products that are best for them. How does that work?

The “best” beauty products aren’t always the best products for you. Beaker uses proprietary chemical analysis to read product labels for consumers, using hints in the ingredient list to understand what quantitative features a product really has to offer, and if those features are right for a consumer’s budget, lifestyle, and skin. Beaker uses a nonjudgemental chatbot to asks users a few simple questions, then direct them to a face wash formula best for them and their skin’s needs. Our secret sauce lies in asking questions consumers actually know how to answer, extract what it is the user actually needs, and connecting these needs to face wash formulas with chemical attributes that best serve them. Again, but with less science: we’ve developed the easiest, most accurate skincare quiz to match users with their perfect face wash. Beaker uses chemistry to make these matches.

You have mentioned that you would be launching an MVP this year. Please elaborate.

The Beaker MVP is a curated content platform for everything face wash: product pages that detail ingredient list dissection and summarize Beaker’s product scores; skincare school readings; and a chatbot that helps you choose the best face wash formula for you. Users can easily explore all face wash options with the chatbot as their optional tour guide at hellobeaker.com, or interact with just the chatbot curator via Beaker’s Facebook Messenger.

What is the story behind Beaker and what future do you envision for it?

Beaker was born out of my frustrations endured while working as a formulator at a cosmetics manufacturer. I was tasked with creating innovative textures and novel applications using over-stocked or common raw materials. I was to be inspired by everything at Sephora, then throw out all beauty assumptions and standards. I came up with some pretty cool product bases, but hit a wall trying to explain the new materials and mixtures to the in-house marketing team. That’s when I realized that the language discrepancies between consumers and marketers also exist–sometimes to an even greater extent–between product developers and marketers. I started Beaker with the intention to research or invent protocols for developing a common “language,” a codified procedure for translating qualitative attributes to chemical specifications, or vice versa. I succeed when this common “language” can be used to develop and discuss beauty products with scientific rigor.

To start, Beaker is focusing on face wash, or more specifically, on giving CPG brands novel and transparent ways to win lifetime converts to their face wash formulas. Soon, we’ll expand to the full breadth of beauty, personal, and home care products. The future of Beaker is an educational content-focused combination of Product Hunt for personal care products and Google Translate for consumer chemicals. Beaker doesn’t just tell you what an ingredient is or what it does in a formula, we tell you what that ingredient really means to you. It’s the “to you” that really motivates us: beauty personalization may just be a current trend, but we see the Future of Beauty firmly rooted in curation as a technology.

Do you have a beauty secret to share with us?

Hydration! Dihydrogen monoxide is my favorite beauty chemical. (I’m a huge fan of Hydrant, a CPG company that uses science for the sake of engineering a superior product, not just for the optics of “transparency.” They’re creating higher standards of product development and discussion that all personal care companies should aspire to. Plus hydration is good for the skin. It’s science.

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