OG beauty disruptor Jane Wurwand talks 36 years with Dermalogica

Jane Wurwand founded Dermalogica with her husband in 1986, with no external funding or investors. Since then, she has challenged expectations and shaken up the professional skincare industry. This is all while building a brand ranged 42,000 salons in 106 countries globally. To celebrate the launch of her book Skin in the Game we spoke to Jane about the power of breaking the rules.

How did your background in the beauty industry as a therapist and trainer inform the decisions you made with Dermalogica?

“At 13 years old, I got a weekend job in a salon, and saw first-hand how human touch has the power to transform not just people’s skin, but their lives. I was also fascinated by the scientific aspect of the work, learning about skin structure and anatomy. I pursued a career in what was then called “beauty therapy”, travelled and worked across the United Kingdom and South Africa, and immigrated to the US in 1983. After experiencing the UKs rigorous training and apprenticeship system, I was shocked to learn that the US had virtually no equivalent training. So, my then-boyfriend/now-husband, Raymond, and I, founded the International Dermal Institute (IDI) to provide advanced education to licensed skin therapists in the US.”

“As we got to know the salon professionals attending IDI, we learned that there were no American-made, professional-grade products that delivered results in the treatment room. So, in 1986, we created Dermalogica, the first professional brand that omitted common skin irritants and elevated the importance of skin health over the eras’ more common concepts of luxury, pampering, or beauty. “

“Today, Dermalogica is the leading professional skincare brand, used by more than 100,000 skin therapists in more than 100 countries around the world.”

When Dermalogica launched, heavily fragranced products were par for course in the industry. What was it like launching a cosmeceutical product in this environment?

“The one disadvantage of being first to market is that no one understands who you are or why you are different. It takes a massive amount of time to educate not just about your products but about the whole category you are pioneering. And we had no money to do heavy repeat advertising or marketing to get the word out quickly. So, we had to get out there and get talking – literally, through word of mouth. We had fifty people in a classroom, each of them worked in the industry, and we invested in educating them, one classroom, then one trade show, at a time. Education was our secret weapon, and the skin therapists who used Dermalogica in their treatment rooms were the engine to our success.”

Dermalogica avoids the term “beauty” in their marketing and refers to their therapists as skin/dermal therapists rather than “beauticians.” Why is the language around beauty so important?

I believe the term “beauty”, when applied to a person, is both objectifying and limiting. It’s coded with gender and age and limits our perceived opportunities. Skin therapists treat clients with acne, burns, scars and skin challenges that have felt marginalized by the word “beauty” as if it could never apply to them.”

“At Dermalogica, we placed importance on skin health over beauty, and my goal is for people to stop feeling as if they have to hide whatever they think is wrong about themselves, but to own it. Being able to own your truth and stand firmly in your authenticity, even though it is scary – that’s true beauty. One of the things that I am most proud of is that over these decades, we have succeeded in creating a distinction between the ‘beauty’ and ‘appearance’ industry of makeup and cosmetics, and the ‘skin care’ and ‘wellness’ industry of skin therapy, nutrition and dermatology.”

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of “skin positive” influencers on social media – celebrating everything from acne to ageing. Can you comment on how social media has shaped the skincare industry?

“These two trends perfectly reflect the created distance we just spoke about – namely, the ‘beauty and cosmetic appearance’ industry and the ‘skin therapy, health and wellness’ industry.”

“The heavily filtered IG esthetic reflects the magical and mythical films and photos of the 1940’s era of make-believe. The skin positivity and pro acne movement reflects the craving for truth, reality and individualism of our uniqueness.”

“There will always be a place for the glamorous, the perfect image and the fairy tale, and there will also be a place for the documentary, the reality and the honesty of what real life is all about. As a Skin Therapist, I am part of the reality of living inside a human body with all its flaws and originality. No two fingerprints are the same which is proof positive that no two skins are (or ever should be) either. Derma-logica literally means ‘skin that is logical’ and truth-based, not magical and myth-based.”

What’s your favourite Dermalogica product and what is the story behind it?

“Asking me to choose a favourite product is like asking me to choose a favourite child. However, one of my favourites, and one that I talk about in the book, is Daily Microfoliant. It was inspired by my time at a Japanese onsen, where I experienced a gently exfoliating body treatment made from finely ground rice, which left my skin soft and radiant.”

“I came home determined to make an exfoliant powder, though the Dermalogica marketing team insisted the product should be cream. I pulled rank, insisting on the powder texture; then was inspired by a parmesan cheese shaker for its packaging. We sold 13 million Daily Microfoliant that first year and have won countless awards since. The lesson here is that you can find inspiration anywhere – stay open to the possibilities around you.”

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