The stability of active ingredients is a major concern for any skin-care brand, and we’ve seen many products be reformulated or repackaged over the years to enhance it. Liz Whitman, founder and CEO of new-to-market EXPONENT, studied this issue throughout her many years in the beauty industry, and ultimately felt compelled to do things differently and offer consumers and better experience. Her breakthrough product, the Self-Activator System, lets users control the ingredient mixing and takes just seconds to prepare, for fresh skin care on-demand every day. Here, I picked Whitman’s brain on the new innovation, launching today.
What inspired you to create your own brand in a super saturated market?
“When I was the president and CMO of The Red Door by Elizabeth Arden, our protocols were to mix masks and serums fresh in the treatment room before applying them to guests. Our highly experienced aestheticians were trained in this traditional aesthetics protocol because active ingredients—the good-for-you, beneficial ingredients, such as antioxidants like vitamin C and retinol—degrade rapidly once exposed to air, light and water. This was my aha moment: If aestheticians optimize precious active ingredients by mixing skin care fresh, in the moment, then how effective can premixed products be? After three years of researching hundreds of products, including third-party testing, the conclusion is: Active ingredients degrade rapidly and anti-aging skin-care products, ironically, have an aging problem.”
Tell me more about this third-party testing.
We commissioned two primary research studies from October 2019 to February 2020 with a Burbank, CA–based lab that does safety and ingredient testing for the Beauty & Personal Care industry. The facility had never been asked to do a concentration study—assay test—across the useful life of a product—from retail purchase through use—mimicking consumer use, so we crafted a new protocol with their team. We tested 20 top-selling clinical skin-care products containing vitamin C, retinol or coQ10. Products were at retail and opened and used every day for eight weeks with purchased periodic assays.
The results were striking: Only 40 percent of products tested started out at concentrations that were above the proven percentage needed for the ingredient to benefit the skin. On day one, the actual concentration of active ingredients is 30-percent lower than what these brands claimed, proving that degradation occurs even within a sealed package from manufacture to when the consumer first opens it. Active ingredients degrade by 40 percent in a mere eight weeks once opened.”
Those are pretty scary statistics. What does Exponent do differently?
“Exponent took just under three years to develop. By identifying the degradation and efficacy issue we wanted to solve, we were able to move into a phase of developing a formulation solution. We landed on powderized actives as a way to keep these ingredients protected from the typical oxidation process. Exponent uses a patented Self-Activator System—it’s not a device; There’s no plug—that allows us to dispense precise amounts of powder from a bulk. (This is not an easy thing because most precision powder dosing is done in single-use disposable packaging in the pharmaceutical industry.)
The powder then mixes with our Quadruple Hyaluronic Acid Hydrator to create a potent yet lightweight gel-cream serum. You push and twist the lid like a child-medicine lock, and then mix for less than 10 seconds—powder comes out, but air, light and water don’t come in. There was a lot of time spent on how to formulate powders—they are tricky!—to make a resulting serum easily with a luxurious texture and feel. We went through 50 different iterations for each SKU!”
You mentioned there are four different powders. What can you tell me about each formula?
“We focused on ‘active’ ingredients that have a long history of academic and peer-reviewed research for efficacy, but also known instability when formulated in cosmetic products. Each formula focuses on significant concentrations of each active to focus on five main skin concerns and the benefits associated with each, including pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) for brightening discoloration and sun damage; coQ10 for firming and repair; botanical green tea and resveratrol for strengthening aging, sensitive skin; and probiotics and enzymes for refining pores and clearing blemishes. All four can be used once or twice a day each, and they’re interchangeable, so you can customize your morning and evening routines according to what your skin needs at that time. When you’re done, you can clean the Self-Activator with a tissue or rinse it under the faucet and let it air-dry—it’s lock-tight, so water won’t get in.”
What about the Hydrator? How did you choose this as the base for all formulas?
“The Hydrator was specially designed to quickly and fully activate our powders into fresh skin-care treatments while providing hydrating benefits with four different weights of hyaluronic acid and other ingredients. Well-hydrated skin acts like a sponge more so than dry skin, and the four forms of hyaluronic acid work in different ways to help ensure the ‘actives’ provide maximum benefits. High-molecular sodium hyaluronate forms a protective yet light film on the skin’s surface to prevent smooth water loss, and leaves a even layer on skin. Hydrolyzed sodium hyaluronate has a smaller molecular weight and absorbs more deeply into the surface layers of the skin to plump and restore the skin from within. This deeper hydration helps ensure actives get to where they need to be and also helps with lines and wrinkles. Sodium acetylated hyaluronate is both hydrophilic and lipophilic, which increases skin affinity and ‘anchors’ to skin, which also helps ensure the actives work more efficiently and over time, and boosts elasticity. Sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer is cross-linked to act like a sponge for continuous hydration and longer-lasting overall benefits.”
What comes in the Starter Kit, and how do the refills work?
Our Starter Kit ($168) comes with 90 doses of Hydrator and 45 doses of powder. The Self-Activator System is designed to be reused again and again and again, while our Active Powder Refills ($88) and Quadruple Hyaluronic Acid Hydrator Refills ($58) are packaged in glass jars with aluminum caps—the only infinitely recyclable materials out there. The packaging development was complex in function already, and then our commitment to a sustainable, refillable design that eradicates plastic waste made it that much more complex. Being a Certified B Corp means we meet the highest verified standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.”
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