The Bold and the Beautiful: 5 Inspiring Stories Behind Women-Owned Beauty Brands

BY Lindsay Tigar · March 8, 2017

Arguably more important to celebrate this year than any year before, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on the empowerment and strength that comes from the honor of being a female. Though equality—and reaching that infamous, still-standing glass ceiling—is a continued struggle, there are many inspiring female entrepreneurs who have built, created and led their companies to great success. In fact, if you take a look through your makeup bag, bedside table or shower caddy, you might discover that some of your go-to products were actually dreamed up by women.

In honor of this once-a-year celebration, we’re happy to share the stories behind some female-owned beauty brands, along with some helpful advice that stems far beyond your daily routine:

Jane-Iredale | Dermstore Blog

Jane Iredale
President and Founder of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, Ltd.

Before she created her iconic makeup and skincare line, Jane worked in the entertainment business for several years, until she hit a tough brick wall and had an unexpected realization: she was burnt out and unfulfilled. “What I’d always wanted to do was to be involved with something that would enhance the lives of women and have some healing aspect to it,” she told Dermstore.

That’s when she reflected back on what her time working with actresses and models as a casting director and a producer taught her about skin health. She noticed so many of the side effects of caking on makeup and wanted to change the ingredients. “It suddenly occurred to me that there was a place for makeup that was good for the skin. I’d spent so many years working with women whose careers depended on having a flawless complexion, and the heavy makeup they were using to cover up skin problems was actually aggravating their skin concerns, instead of improving them,” she explained. “I started thinking about a solution—a makeup line that I could feel good about producing, and women could feel good about wearing.”

What surprised her about being a female entrepreneur: “The fact that my job doesn’t feel like work to me. I find it satisfying, inspiring, challenging and fun. I’m at my best when I have something to do. Something where I have to solve problems, move things forward, create something. I can feel my juices flowing and I love that. I love the sense of satisfaction I get when customers tell me what a difference our products have made to their lives. This ranges from people who just love it because they’re makeup junkies to people with challenges like scarring and birthmarks. The emotion is so genuine that it spurs me on to do more and more.”

Her best skin care tip: “There is no question that sun protection is one of the most important things we can do for the health of the skin. The elegance of minerals is that they make this protection easy, effective and beautiful.”

Solange-Dessimoulie-1 | Dermstore Blog

Solange Dessimoulie
Founder and Brand Ambassador of DECLÉOR Paris

Solange has always considered herself somewhat of a holistic person, woman and entrepreneur. She says the pull toward a holistic approach was intuitive and over time, she became an expert in the field. “ In the 70s, I studied naturopathy, aromatherapy and phytotherapy in Bobigny, a city near Paris. It was through these studies that I really learned about the relationship between the skin and what we eat, drink, breathe and think,” she shared.

Since she had worked with big beauty companies for many years, she realized an opening in the market where she could present a new—and much-needed—option. She wanted to create a brand that was based on natural and efficacious products: “I wanted to create products that balance the skin and treat the concerns at hand in a natural, holistic way, acting on both the skin and the mind,” she explained. “DECLÉOR was founded in 1974, based on this philosophy–an aromatherapy and aromachology skin care line that offers women true holistic beauty based on skin, body and mind.”

What’s surprised her about becoming an entrepreneur: “Being a business woman in 1974 gave me the opportunity to position myself as a partner to my mostly-male counterparts at the time.  To be successful, it’s important to work collaboratively. The key to my approach, garnered throughout my career, includes diplomacy, psychology and self-confidence. This very synergy and collective intelligence has allowed us to become part of L’Oréal,” she shared.

Her best skin care tip: “Don’t underestimate the power of essential oils.  This is why we created AROMESSENCE oil serums–these are 100 percent natural, pure and active, plus they are free of parabens, mineral, and colorants. I discovered through science that essential oils hold amazing healing properties, remove toxins and illuminate the complexion on top of being a natural antiseptic.”

Caroline-Greyl-Headshot | Dermstore Blog

Caroline Greyl
CEO of Leonor Greyl

If there is one way to describe her childhood, Caroline says it’s this: “I grew up surrounded by hair.” Her mother Leonor Greyl, for whom the company is named after, created the beauty brand in 1968 with her father Jean-Marie, and was among the first to introduce “natural” products to mainstream. Caroline always worked with a hair and beauty advisor, even as a kid, and eventually got an MBA with the thought of leading the international sales division of the family business. After some stints with Clarins, Cartier and Jean Louis Scherrer, she returned to her roots, managing the French and international markets until she took over as CEO.

What has surprised her the most about being a female entrepreneur: “Honestly, I realize that we still live in a sexist world. Signing some contracts or being heard is not always that easy, but being in the beauty field, you are lucky enough to meet and exchange ideas with other women. It’s an industry where women are an inspiration, and for that, I feel blessed.

Her best skin care tip: “Before bed, always do two things: wash your face and use a leave-in conditioner for your hair to prevent tangles.”

Kerstin-Florian-Headshot | Dermstore Blog

Kerstin Florian
Owner of Kerstin Florian

For Kerstin, running her own company came naturally to her. “I did not really know I was an entrepreneur. It was natural for me to see possibilities, I didn’t see them as difficulties. I was interested in health and beauty, and natural skin care and spa culture, and it was fun to be one of the first to introduce spa products for face and body,” she shared. While it was never her intention to become her own boss, she was motivated to work with other people and always savored being a leader. “I have enjoyed the journey and learned so much. I am very grateful and proud to have been able to, with my team and family, create the Kerstin Florian brand and the lifestyle it represents. It is very satisfying to make people feel good–that is what it is all about for me.”

What has surprised her the most about being a female entrepreneur: “How easy it was to get along with men and how helpful they have been. Most businesses I dealt with were male-oriented, especially when I started out. I didn’t work with too many women, but again I saw it as a possibility rather than an obstacle. It is very much how you look at and approach things.”

Her best skin care tip: “Take the time and enjoy—the products and treatments, feeling what they do to your the senses, feeling beautiful. Embracing experiences with joy makes you feel complete!”

Marya-Khalil-Otto-of-Vi-Derm-Headshot | Dermstore Blog

Marya Khalil-Otto
President and CEO of VI Derm

It was a series of unfortunate events that inspired—and pushed—Marya into a head position, running her own family business. “In 2010, having just graduated from college, I left my home behind and moved across the country to California, a state I had never been to, in order to help my father Dr. K run his fledgling skin care company because there were management issues,” she explained. That company was VI Derm, and Marya learned every position, every task and every responsibility at the company, starting from the bottom up. “When I started, the company was very different than the way it runs today. I transitioned from customer service agent to account manager to a human resource specialist to a sales force leader. I was thrown to the fire and learned what it was to run a business from the very bottom of an organization. Eventually, I oversaw the company’s expansion from a small office in Santa Monica to its corporate headquarters in Los Angeles,” she said.

After her father passed away suddenly in 2013, the company was left in her hands and she had to lean-in to the opportunity to keep it growing and alive. That’s when, as she said, she realized entrepreneurism runs in her blood. “Under my leadership, product sales have nearly doubled, the number of accounts have tripled, and the brand is now available in over 30 countries. Now, Nearly one million VI Peels have been performed to date.”

What surprised her about being a female entrepreneur: “That people are still surprised by female entrepreneurs! Women have really proven themselves as effective business leaders, yet there is still surprise when it is a woman running a successful business. There are still not enough of us, but we are making strides in the business world across all industries. I was always raised to believe I could do anything I put my mind to, so my gender was never something that held me back.”

Her best skin care tip: “Think of skin care like you think of dental care.  It is essential to brush and floss your teeth daily, but that’s not enough. If you don’t make sure to have a professional cleaning done at least twice a year, you may later develop major oral health issues. Same with skin care, while it’s essential to exfoliate on a superficial level every week, you need to have a professional chemical peel 3 to 4 times a year to ensure your skin conditions do not worsen to a point where they become costly and/or painful to treat. Consistent regular Chemical peels will keep your skin healthy and flawless forever.”

Lindsay Tigar

Lindsay Tigar is a writer and editor in New York. She writes lifestyle content for Bustle, YourTango, AskMen, Woman's Day, Women's Health and many more. She’s an aspiring boxer, wannabe yogi and lover of cardio dance ... Read More >