Reinventing the Skin Business

These entrepreneurs used their own complexion woes to launch innovative skin care products.

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Her Inspiration

In her late 20s, pastry chef Liesa Helfen’s skin revolted. Rashes appeared. As did eczema. 


Longing to work outdoors, she switched careers and became a beekeeper. Beeswax, honey and propolis dripped on her hands daily. “My skin felt amazing,” she said. She decided to launch her own line of bee-based skin care products. 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Worker B

Her Research

Helfen began to study bees to learn how their honey and beeswax have been used to treat skin disorders and radiation burns. “You really can't break the mold until you understand how it works,” she said.


Then she combined bees’ products with the edible oils that left her hands soft when she mixed salads. She teamed up with a friend, Michael Sedlacek, and launched Worker B, a natural skin care line of lotions and balms made from beeswax, raw honey and propolis. Later, her brother joined their team.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Worker B

Her Challenge

Worker B's biggest hurdle has been educating customers on the cosmetic industry. “It’s fairly unregulated. Most fragrance companies aren’t required to disclose their ingredients as they fall under ‘trade secret,’ but think of the recent study on lipstick and its lead content,” Helfen said.





Photo courtesy of Krnetic Vladimir/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Krnetic Vladimir/

Her Solution

Helfen and Sedlacek have relied on “rouge marketing”, like speaking at farmers’ markets, to educate consumers to be thoughtful about what products they put on their largest organ—their skin. “We try to create demand, rather than just having a marketable brand with no real substance,” she said.


Photo courtesy of Valua Vitaly/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Valua Vitaly/

Her Success

Worker B, which makes all its products by hand and keeps some of its own bees, turned a profit in its first year of business—which Helfen and Sedlacek poured right back into it. Although their products are available in stores throughout the United States like Whole Foods, both still work their full-time jobs. “We are just too paranoid to put all our eggs in one basket yet,” she said.“And we’re inspired by the work ethic of the bees.”




Photo courtesy of Tischenko Irina/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tischenko Irina/

Her Inspiration

Chemist Diane Zokle decided to launch her own skincare line when tubes of cortisone failed to heal her seven-year-old daughter’s seasonal eczema.

Photo Credit: Motophoto

Her Research

In her research, Zolke discovered Arnica montana, a flowering plant that acts as an anti-inflammatory. She combined it with a modern day therapy, lactic acid, which she had previously tried on her daughter. “I had glowing, shiny skin,” she said.





Photo courtesy of MilousSK/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of MilousSK/

Her Challenge

But her mixture didn’t last for more than a few days. She turned to a private label manufacturer. Their chemist came up with a stable formula, and with it Zolke launched BrilliantFx Anti-Aging Body Serum.





Photo courtesy of Darren Baker/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Darren Baker/

Her Marketing

Now her biggest challenge is competing against the multi-billion dollar corporations. But she feels combining natural and ancient botanicals with modern day skin science gives her product an edge.





Photo courtesy of Sukharevskyy Dmytro/ 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sukharevskyy Dmytro/

Her Success

BrilliantFx has been on the market for less than a year. “It takes an average of 16 months for brands to build awareness in this industry,” Zolke said. 




Photo courtesy of Victor Correia/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Victor Correia/

Her Inspiration

A desire to provide children with chemical free hair and skin treatments led cosmetologist Marie Lee-Driver to develop her own line of natural products. 

Photo Credit: Thaddus Goodman

Her Research

Lee-Driver, a country girl from Virginia, modeled her product on one she used in her children’s salon located in Philadelphia, PA. “I started thinking, ‘If I can bake a cheesecake or a pound cake, I can make a hair product,’” she said.


She researched which natural ingredients worked best and met with dermatologists. Then she launched Oria’s O’shay Nature Butter, a natural body butter comprised of oils and Shea butter, which can be used from head to toe. 

Photo Credit: Eileen Jantz

Her Challenge

While testing her product, she received conflicting advice. Some people liked the use of coconut oil; others didn’t. She listened, but, in the end, followed her gut. “Your passion comes out in your product,” she said.




Photo courtesy of mypokcik/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of mypokcik/

Her Marketing

She went into salons and dropped off samples of her products. And sold it at flea markets. “People have to know about your product in order to try your product,” she said. 








Photo courtesy of Gemenacom/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gemenacom/

Her Success

Then she approached Whole Foods, and the manager agreed to stock it. Now it's carried in Whole Foods stores throughout the United States, as well as in salons. 

Her Inspiration

Since age 13, health food store owner Kirsten Concoran had suffered from chronic acne. At 30, she developed rosacea. “Products covered my break-outs, but made them worse,” she said.


Her Research

Then she got the flu. She went a week without wearing a thick layer of make-up, and her complexion cleared. “I questioned marketing terms for make-up, like non-acnegenic and suitable for sensitive skin,” she said.




Photo credit courtesy of triocean/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of triocean/

Her Challenge

She discovered that talc, the basis of most make-ups, expands the pore wall and is similar to asbestos in structure. And she learned about an alternative: Make-up comprised of pure minerals.





Photo courtesy of caimacanul/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of caimacanul/

Her Marketing

She founded a company called Larénim (which is mineral spelled backwards). Within two years, nearly 1000 natural product stores in the US, Canada, UK, Germany and Hong Kong carried it. "There were women everywhere with a story and pursuit similar to my own," she said.

Her Success

In December 2006, Conrcoran sold Larénim to Nutraceutical. She continues on as the Product Manager and Creative Director for the Larenim line.





Jennifer Jeanne Patterson is a freelance writer and author of 52 Fights. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three children. Find her blog at Unplanned Cooking.

Related: Careers Inspired by Hair

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What a great article. Thank you for sharing. It is a great skin care business success story.

Laurie 05.01.2012

Did you try Odacité? Created by a french woman out of her breast cancer healing journey.

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