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Dermastart - founders series interview with Cherie Dobbs

Reviewed by SarahK August 23, 2011 24 Comments
Dermastart founder and CEO, Cherie Dobbs, has created two skincare lines: ClearChoice and Prana SpaCeuticals (and we just introduced Prana's Active Vitamin Lift Serum into the TIA shop). Over the past decade or so, Cherie has viewed the skincare industry from all different angles, and has learned from her encounters with doctors, sales people and even an anal bleaching product producer. Intrigued? Read on for why Cherie breaks the mold by treating consumers as the intelligent people that they are, and why all ingredients, not just active ones, matter.

Tell me a bit about your credentials and background.

I’ve been in the esthetic industry for 20 years. I’ve worked in skincare and makeup on both the sales and marketing ends. I used to be an independent contractor for companies that sell implants, liposuction devices and such. I worked with physicians firsthand when I sold facial implants and other products; I would even go into surgery with them.

I was offered a good position with a skincare company but I turned it down and started selling facial implants, machines and instruments because I felt it was a bit – almost unethical – to go from working for a skincare company to all of a sudden being like, hey look, I have my own line! So I had a gap of two years there. Even though I stepped away from skincare, I developed great relationships with physicians, who helped me later on; many of the doctors that I worked with ended up buying my products.

How did you first get into the skincare world? Have you always known that you wanted to start a company like Dermastart?

I had always had an interest in developing my own skincare line, but I wanted to learn the business of it first. I worked for different companies that are now my competitors. I wanted to know what sales representatives did outside the actual business of selling; I wanted to know about internal operations, logistics, warehouses and shipping.

I started Dermastart 11 years ago, and ClearChoice was the first segment. I picked physicians’ brains all the time while working with them. I was trying to get an idea of what their biggest concern was in bringing on a skincare line. One of their biggest frustrations was not having an exclusive line for their own particular market. I started taking that into consideration as one aspect of the business side. On the formulating side, there’s always the active ingredient on the front label, but I wanted to focus in on the surrounding ingredients. That wasn’t the trend in medical cosmeceuticals 11 years ago, the way it is a focus nowadays. I was trying to put something together that was a complete line, that was going to have a product for every concern, every age group, every everything. I didn’t want to specify into glycolics or vitamin Cs or correctives or brighteners. I wanted a well-rounded product line.

Later on, I felt I was missing a piece of the market so I entered the spa world, which is how Prana SpaCeuticals came about.

What is the difference between Prana and ClearChoice? Are they geared towards different types of consumers?

ClearChoice started 11 years ago, and it is the medical line that I sell to physicians. The products are more of a prescription-type. I started Prana 6 years ago; it has the same philosophy in formulating as ClearChoice, but it is offered to the consumer, as well as to spas and salons – really anyone not associated with the medical world. I found that with Prana I was able to get a little more creative. I could get into nice luxurious sugar scrubs that don’t have a place in the medical market. Physicians are looking for corrective products, not scrubs.

What is your role as CEO? Do you play an active role in developing the skincare lines?

I’m still very strong in terms of doing all of the formulating. I try to approach different labs, and I find they're very much like artists; you have sculptors and glass blowers and water colorists and they all have their specialties. I found that different labs have different ingredient specialties, but I feel like they’re so stuck behind their lab doors. I’ll ask them about new stuff, new scientific ingredients and developments, and bring things to their attention, and they’re like, wow I’ve never even heard of that. They understand the chemistry part of ingredients and products, but they don’t get the mechanics of the product line for the skin. So I’m always helping and educating them on that.

I have 7 labs that I work with on a regular basis. We work with one that grows mushrooms for medicinal purposes, but we found that they’re actually effective for all types of skin. The mushrooms themselves are sponges and absorb all the toxins that they surround, so it’s fascinating – I’ve been educated.

What was the process like in terms of creating a skincare company? How long did it take to go from concept to reality?

It took over a year from the time I stepped away from skincare, approached implant tech companies, and thought about my idea, to showing a physician my first product. I had to find the label, the concept, the look, the philosophy – and then there was the chemistry side. 11 years ago the Internet was there, but it wasn’t as easy to find things the way it is today. I worked a lot of long nights. So it took time. And I had to find the right people; I was trying to find a manufacturer that would allow me to do my own formulating. I didn’t want to just slap my own label on pre-made formulas.

I was pounding the pavement by myself for a while but now I have distributors and sales people 11 years later. I even make products for my competitors’ lines. It’s just what I love to do. For example, this guy approached me about anal bleaching products and I’m helping him develop the line and ingredients. It sounds so obscure, but it really has its own niche market. I have learned so much about the skin through this, so much about developing products and what’s safe for the skin. It has been a great lesson. We finished the product line and we’re in the final stages now. I love working on these projects because I learn so much and it’s what I want to do. I like the education and sales part of the skincare process, but I really like the trends and the ingredients and the formulating side.

Did you reach out to scientific authorities in order to begin developing Prana and ClearChoice?

I only work with FDA approved facilities; the lab that we work with that grows mushrooms has the only farm that has been FDA approved for medicinal purposes.

If I’m putting together a product I ask what the objective of the product is; is it targeting acne or rosacea or something else? I take ingredients that address that specific concern, then make sure that we have good delivery. Do we want it to work it for all types of skin or is it for menopausal dry skin or for oily skin? We do the usual bacteria and stability testing, which looks at how products react to different temperatures and other variables. But some of my products call for other testing; right now I’m working with the Eczema Association on a product, so they ask for a whole different round of testing.

Where did the names of your skincare lines come from?

The Dermastart logo is a little maze, and it represents my pathway to this industry. With ClearChoice, I just liked the name. My initial take was that I wanted to develop acne products because I was so familiar with dealing with acne myself. I was so frustrated with department store selections and sales people.

I thought Prana, which is adapted from the Sanskrit word for “breath,” sounded sexy and trendy, and it worked well with what today’s market is looking for. I was very into yoga at the time. There was no “SpaCeuticals” at the time, so I wish I trademarked that. I thought SpaCeuticals sounded catchy.

What would you say the philosophy behind your lines is? What makes your brand different from other cosmetic brands?

I would say the philosophy is making sure that our surrounding ingredients – not just our active ones – are beneficial and give results too. One active ingredient might help clear rosacea, but the surrounding ingredients should help with long-term benefits too. If we want to get rid of acne and we only focus on benzoyl peroxide but nothing else, then what happens after the acne has cleared up? Will the other ingredients we use in the product clog pores? It’s important to pay as much attention to those surrounding ingredients as we do to the main ingredient.

This philosophy makes us different, and I think our standard of using only FDA approved facilities makes us different from other skincare lines too.

In an interview with Cosmetics and Toiletries, you said you’re “seeing a huge transition in the market as to how we sell products,” and that skin care companies need to “stay on the cutting edge, compared to department store sales employees whose biggest concern is about their commission.” How does Dermastart stay on the cutting edge?

Ingredients-wise, we’re on the cutting edge. When you look at different markets, you have to find what the consumer is looking for. Unfortunately in the United States, everyone wants instant results. So I focus on anti-aging. I try to educate consumers, though. They think that aging is just a wrinkle, but really there are many levels to aging; the depth of the wrinkle, the length of it, the collagen – you can’t just have one product that addresses everything. You need to have a variety of specialized ingredients that will address several different things. You didn’t just get one wrinkle; its collagen depletion, the structure breaking down – there are so many things that go into one wrinkle that need to be addressed.

In terms of the change in the way products are sold, it’s not just about a beautiful face holding up a product. Consumers want more knowledge, they want to understand the science of the product line. There’s a huge difference between advertising today and 10 years ago. Today, we see cross sections of skin, bullet points, specialized ingredients and science. It’s not about a Hollywood model promoting a product with no evidence behind it. Consumers are very intelligent, so companies need to be up to date. Skincare is like computer technology; what’s big today is obsolete tomorrow. We need to be up to date.

On the Prana website, it says that your “goal was to take skin care beyond the expected, to use technology to make the most of each ingredient’s potential benefits, and create formulas that went beyond their target-specific definition.” Can you tell me about this technology, and how it helps your products go beyond target specific definition?

I mean taking it beyond that label’s expectations. You might buy a product because it has vitamin C and you were told that you need vitamin C. But what else is in that product? We need to take the technology a little further – the chemistry, the training, and product knowledge. Estheticians should really understand all of this so that they can recommend products for the right skin type. We don’t want to just look at what the product says it will do on the front label, we want to take it a step further.

Tell me about the ingredients in your skincare lines. What will I find that is particularly noteworthy?

Mushrooms are noteworthy. The ingredients in the Active Vitamin Lift are fantastic, and caught Marta’s attention. Acmella oleracea is in the AVL; it is an active botanical that grows in African dryer climates and has a numbing effect on the muscles, so people use it for ear piercing and tooth extractions. For those who are apprehensive about Botox, it’s a good option. And actually, it compliments Botox very well. Natives have been using Acmella oleracea for centuries. It is a natural muscle relaxant unlike Syn-Ake, which is lab-made and synthetic.

In our AU 24K Gold Serum, we have 24-karat gold that comes from a German mine. We’ve had some interesting comments about it. At first, I was concerned about where it was going to go and if would really be beneficial; we deal with a lot of hocus pocus, but this serum really does provide a lot of benefits. The gold works with our own body makeup and helps with blood flow and oxygen. It gives a more vibrant look to the skin, a more plump, full appearance.

What ingredients, if any, will I never find in your products?

You’ll never find really harsh, unnecessary ingredients. I try my hardest to avoid all of that, even when I’ve been told it’s absolutely necessary. Sometimes the labs want to use a certain preservative or lathering agent. But I try to find an alternative. Instead of using sodium lauryl sulfate, we use yucca, for example.

If you were to pick one product from each line to give to someone who is unfamiliar with them, what would they be and why?

I would give them some mushroom products from Prana; they are phenomenal at absorbing toxins, good for hyperpigmentation, and even help me go longer between hair colorings. I want to do a whole mushroom line. I’m in the testing phase of a mushroom eye cream and a few other things. By the time I’m done, I’ll have 5 or 6 products for the whole system.

I have two core ClearChoice products: the Gentle Foaming Cleanser and Hydrating Balance. They are very simple but they work well. Also popular is the Sport Shield, which is the medical version of Prana’s Reflect SPF45. Sport Shield is protective, lightweight and anti-aging. The product actually has a lot of celebrity fans.

What other brands/products are you a fan of?

I do buy products from my competitors. I like a few products from the Origins line. I was impressed with them, though they’re using an extract version of mushroom and we’re using a pulverized version. Dermalogica has a few products I like. Murad seems intriguing but I haven’t purchased any of their products.

What do you foresee as being the next big thing in skincare or cosmetics?

I think that the menopause part of the skincare world will take hold; that’s one area that is overlooked and unavoidable. That’s going to hit the market harder than anything. The aging process is hard for people to deal with and to adjust to, so products that address the issues that come with menopause will be big.

Also, I think preventative care for young people will start to take hold. I can get a 20-year-old hooked on an anti-aging product in Europe, but not here in America. By the time I get to her in America, she’s in her 30s. I know it gets expensive, but it’s so critical to start taking care of skin early on.

What’s new for Dermastart? Any new products or lines being introduced?

The TCA Moisture Peel is the latest from ClearChoice. It’s good for rosacea and menopausal women. It’s also good prep and post-care for health procedures, and good for avoiding uneven skin tone. I need to be more objective and selective with the medical line, so I can’t roll out as many products as I can for Prana.

After talking to menopausal women, I’ve learned that their skin doesn’t fit anymore in unusual places – like the elbow area and the bicep to the forearm. It’s important that within the first 7 years of menopause, you address the skin breakdown. You lose elasticity, so you should start using topical things to address it. If you look at products on the shelves at Sephora, do you see anything geared towards menopausal women? That’s what I’ve been looking at. I’ve been working on a menopausal kit for Prana that would include a peel with lactic acid and enzymes. It will be a little homecare system. I need to have a great test panel and offer the kit to women at different levels of menopause, so it will take time to develop. It won’t happen overnight.
  • September 11, 2015

    by Nelly J.

    Great! ...inspiring interview I want to meet you Cherie one day.

  • September 12, 2011

    by Kristen O.

    I'm 35 and have very fair/thin skin. Would the TCA be too harsh for me?

  • September 9, 2011

    by Dorielle

    I'm pretty much a veteran of skin peels, having pretty much tried them all: TCA, Jessner's, Glycolic acid, Lactic acid, Microdermabrasion, Enzyme, and even a devastating Levulan treatment. My main problem was not being consistent with them due to cost, time, or a number of other factors. A product like this seems amazing to me! Being able to use something in my own home, and in my spare time would allow me to see the benefits I had always wanted from peels, yet never experienced. I would absolutely love to try out this product!

  • September 8, 2011

    by Alicia Ruhland

    Wow great information. Working on pigmentation myself right now. TCA moisture peel sounds promising!

  • September 8, 2011

    by Sharmon

    I have had two "chemical" peels in dermatologists offices. I have felt both times that I wasted my money. I would love to try this TCA Peel!

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