When Joanna Shu and I first saw The Devil Wears Prada, we agreed Anne Hathaway had it much easier than us. Our first jobs out of college were far worse, there was no free designer clothing and plenty of modern sexism to endure as two of the few women in the office. Without getting into specifics, our boss’s daily mistreatment made Meryl Streep’s character look like a sweet puppy. It’s no wonder that we forged a deep friendship as a result, and it’s definitely no wonder that both of us, almost a decade later, have set out to work for ourselves; myself as a visual artist and writer, and Shu as the founder and COO of Refresh Skin Therapy.
As The Feminist Bride, I’m always on the look out for companies that meet fiancé’s wedding needs without sucking them down the deep, dark consumerist hole that is the wedding industrial complex. I’m also interested in featuring companies that promote and support women either socially or professionally (e.g. there are way too few companies with women in leadership positions). Shu, a divorced single-mom of two and leader of this vegan skincare line, fit the bill perfectly. So I wanted to ask Ms. Shu how Refresh Skin Therapy fits into the bridal beauty industry and what sets her and her company apart from the others.
1. What inspired you to start Refresh Skin Therapy? I started this line for skin health to address my own acne rosacea (including scars from continual breakouts) as well as my own skin allergies to almost everything. In my early twenties I had a laundry list of triggers that would cause me to breakout in hives, including salt water, Red 40, fragrance of any kind, the sun, and heat. No matter how upset I was I’d try not to cry because I’d literally breakout in a rash from my own tears, which is crazy!
2. Let’s cut to the chase – much of the beauty industry perpetuates unhealthy/unreasonable beauty standards to brides, for example that being “natural” selves are not good enough. It sets specific ideas of beauty and then tries to sell products to brides that companies say will help achieve the standards they set. How does Refresh Skin Therapy approach beauty standards? Our motto is that healthy skin is beautiful skin. We’ve formulated natural products that will help keep your skin looking its best – whatever that means to you. Even though I personally like to wear makeup, we purposely stayed away from anything colored or tinted since covering up is not really what we are about. I get enormous satisfaction when I hear back from a customer that they’ve been able to drastically cut back on the amount of makeup they wear daily, as their breakouts have cleared up and they feel more confident in their natural looks.
3. That said, there’s way too much unhealthy or pressured advice about how a bride can look her best, what advice do you have for brides on weeding out bad and overbearing advice and keeping a healthy (both internally and externally) attitude towards it all? Marry the right person; everything else doesn’t matter. A neutral observer who can listen and give unbiased advice can be very helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
4. When I was a bride I thought about upgrading my beauty regime for the wedding, but decided against it because I had heard mythical horror stories of brides who had bad reactions to new products days before the big day. What’s your advice on best approaches to people who might be seeking fancier products from their usual soap and water? Start a new skincare routine 6-8 weeks before the big day. Acne starts brewing 2-3 weeks before you actually see the breakout come to the surface, so you’d want to stop it before it gets started. A peel or chemical exfoliant can sometimes make your skin look temporarily worse, since your skin will “purge” and bring preexisting acne to the surface. Your skin will fully turnover in 4-6 weeks, so that’s how long it will take to see real results or any changes to your routine – that’s across the board, any products or procedures.
In general, you don’t really want to do anything harsh that will cause a rash to appear on your skin right before your wedding. You also don’t want to be recovering from stronger products and have your skin peeling like a snake! Plan in advance, since in some states (like mine, Massachusetts) have a shortage of dermatologists, and it can take new patients nine months to get an appointment!
5. There are a lot of skin products out there, how is Refresh Skin Therapy different? We use USP-grade ingredients, which are naturally derived and organic when possible, have been studied by dermatologists (i.e. lactic acid, kojic acid, Vitamin C) and actually give results. Our products are made in the USA, cruelty-free, vegan, free from added colors and fragrance, and produced in an FDA-inspected facility.
My goal was to make peels accessible to everyone, since that treatment is really effective on a lot of skin issues like acne, fine lines, scars, etc., but normally those are done in a dermatologist’s office for $100-$150 per treatment. By making our peel gels with slightly reduced concentrations, our peels can be used safely at home and with the same results over time, without the redness and visible peeling of a stronger in-office peel. Price and convenience of doing it yourself at home were also important factors – and one bottle of our Fruit Acid Peel (our best seller) gets you 20-30 applications for $35, which is much more economical.
6. What has your experience been as an entrepreneur? Becoming an entrepreneur is the best thing I ever did since no corporate job could give me work/life flexibility. I’m a single mom of two young boys, and I am so grateful everyday that I can put food on the table and be able to pick them up after school and have time to actually be present as a parent. When I worked for a big company, I would see my son for one hour a day – from 6pm-7pm and I was miserable.
7. With Refresh Skin Therapy’s focus on the environmental and animal-free tested products, plus the fact that you’re a woman-entrepreneur, have you considered that the company might just have eco-feminist values? I try to run Refresh like I live my life: with respect for other people and the environment. Eco-feminist values – that is interesting, I never thought of it that way. If that’s true, then I couldn’t be happier since nearly half of our customers are men – which gives me hope that today’s man is on board with skin health as well as environmental and feminist values.