I had the chance to chat with Shilpi Jain, chemist and entrepreneur, who has launched an ayurvedic skincare line very recently, right here in the Dallas area. Here’s our conversation about her interests, her business, and her family:
How did you come to develop your interest in cosmetics and chemistry?
It all started when I was 10 years old. My mom who has a Masters’ in Chemistry and a teacher was my mentor and inspiration. She also looked after herself by doing DIY masks and cleansers using traditional Ayurvedic herbs and whatever she could find in her fridge. I remember her making a yoghurt and oats exfoliating scrub that felt so good and then a tomato-orange peel. I also remember her enforcing the formulations with her scientific knowledge. That knowledge she gave me strengthened the bond between cosmetics and chemistry. I was naturally inclined towards Chemistry and I went on to study Organometallic Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Toronto, Canada and got my MS degree magna cum laude alongwith 4 publications and 2 patents through my thesis.
Connections between ayurveda and western science?
A lasting legacy of 5,000 years, ayurveda (ayu meaning “life” and veda meaning “knowledge”) can be translated to “knowledge of life” or the “science of longevity.” Based on the idea that disease is due to an imbalance or stress in an individual’s consciousness, Ayurveda is so relevant to our modern day lives where stress is the new norm. How does Ayurveda connect with Western Science? While the ancient wisdom written by scholars and physicians in the Athurveda some 5000 years ago said Prevention is better than cure leading to the same path of health and wellness but by treating the patient as a whole, Western medicine uses testing and treatment approach to disease without really knowing a person’s lifestyle or habits. Both sciences are in fact connected and lead to optimal health. But it is the synergy of the two that can really be powerful in benefitting a patient the most. Modern Science has given us specialized tests to detect disease such as Imaging methods whereas Ancient Science has given us ways to handle stress, find balance by listening to our bodies and biorhythms – eat without being distracted, sleep at the right time, exercise, meditate and try to incorporate yoga for mind and body balance.
What were the pivotal moments in creating and developing your business?
When I quit my corporate job as an R&D Scientist in 2011, I had a plan to have a skin care line that would be the epitome of Ayurveda and Modern Medicine with the best of both worlds. My line is currently in Whole Foods, but it was a long road. No success can happen without failures. I had to face a lot of challenges and money usually came in the way to this road to my dreams. I was fortunate though, because I met the right people at the right time who encouraged me to go ahead. Through word of mouth, I started getting consulting contracts to help develop products for doctors, spas, and manufacturing labs who needed a good chemist. This helped fund my Skinveda line!
The first thing is the brand name and that was already accomplished back in 2008 when I was in between jobs. The next was developing a website – you cannot have a company without one! I still cannot believe it that I who comes from a very non-computer technical background, actually created a website on my own for next to nothing. Then I came up with a design for the logo and packaging – this phase had to go through a facelift. The first time I did this without thinking too much into it. Then my good friend Maya advised me to change the packaging which was originally plain white and logo to something that cries out as being an Ayurvedic line. I got to thinking and then came the help of a graphic designer, who branded a new logo. For packaging, I chose earthy amber jars and bottles that simply gave the message of products that bridge the gap between too clinical and not scientific enough.
The next pivotal moment was label designing – I wanted the labels to encompass the ethnicity of India and modern cutting edge science in beautiful color scheme for each dosha (mind-body constitution) and the main ingredients present in each product. This was the most challenging phase and financially expensive. But I was confident about my path. Having done this I got a web developer to re-design a completely new website and of course I had to work with him and provide all the details that go into it to save money as well as to make sure it contained the essence and uniqueness and is not just another natural line. The next phase was to get brand awareness through social media like facebook. For a person like me who was just not into facebook, this was a challenge. I hired a social media developer to create my Facebook page and bingo I got a page and likes just started pouring with some buzz!
I then started sending out samples to friends and doctors to get their feedback and applying to Whole Foods from scratch. Within 3 months of applying I was in!! And I didn’t look back….of course the journey got even harder and how I had to go every week do demos, give free products, promote through mass mailing, do free training, go to different whole foods to get my products on the shelves. With my hard work they placed my products on the high end middle shelves of Whole Body which is the most prestigious shelf….without paying anyone a fee to do that.
There were various times when I cried and wanted to give up, but there was a voice and family support that carried me through those road blocks. Failure is important before you can taste success!
How did you determine which ingredients you wanted to use in your product line?
The process of choosing ingredients was really based on the following aspects:
1. What condition am I treating or what kind of skin am I trying to balance?
2. Which Ayurvedic herbs would benefit the skin type and condition?
3. I looked at the chemical structure of these molecules or identify the key compounds and see how they relate to each other to ensure there is synergy between these herbs.
4. I combined the knowledge of peptides and delivery systems that would be ideal for a particular formulation.
5. There had to be the right aroma molecules to balance the Ayurvedic skin type or dosha. So I chose three distinct essential oils that balanced the three doshas.
6. Of course everything had to be free of harsh chemicals and then stability and all the testing was done to ensure we have a stable and effective product.
What does the future look like?
Future looks promising for Skinveda and for me personally. I have plans to expand into global markets including Europe, Middle East, Asia and Mexico. I am already in some spas as well as a couple of online catalogs like Vegan Cuts and Time for Me. I would like to see Skinveda in holistic Ayurvedic spas across the globe and hotel spa chains looking for lines that show results but without using harsh chemicals. I would never do injustice to my line and will carefully select platforms that have respect for someone who brings 15 years experience as a Medicinal Scientist and Cosmetics Chemist with knowledge in Ayurveda.
Any activities you enjoy (or used to enjoy) doing with your kids that are STEM/ STEAM-related?
My kids love STEM!! Every year they participate in Intel Science Fairs held in Texas. The preparation starts early on back in September. They both love science and having a mom who is a chemist and having access to lab and equipment makes it more feasible for them to conduct science experiments. Recently, my daughter won Cooper Award for her research in hand sanitizers without any endocrine disruptors and my son won Grand Prize on water purification using natural materials. The best part is when my son comes home and says – Mom, can I get baking soda, vinegar and a bottle. I want to try this cool experiment. It just shows that the spark has ignited in them. They don’t just do it to win a prize (which of course is cool too), but they are inspired by current problems and want to help with science!