January Olds, Owner, January Labs
Interview by Laura Piety
A Rverie Conversation with the very wonderful January Olds, Founder of January Labs, a natural skincare line based in Los Angeles.
Can you introduce us to your line and how it started?
I worked for Epicuren Skincare, a spa line based in NYC and LA for over eight years in every area of the office, from education and product development, to labeling and shipping! I was so passionate about the product when I was working there, and still love it.
Then, I decided to branch out. I wanted to do something that was more simple, yet extremely effective. I thought skin care should be simpler, and that it should be free from junk - parabens, sulfates, and other harsh ingredients. Our cleanser, for instance, really cleans your skin, and you can use it whether you’ve got dry skin or rosacea, it’s for everyone. You can wash your face 20 times a day and it won't dry your skin out.
It's sulfate-free and very gentle, but contains willow bark which is a naturally occurring salicylic acid. The main thing that really makes the line different though is that it's pH optimized.
Can you tell us more about that?
I had an idea of the ingredients I wanted to use when I initially went to my Chemist. I wanted peptides, hyaluronic acid and lactic acid, but I also wanted to keep everything very clean.
The biggest problem that most skincare lines make is that they try to pack one product with all these different, powerful ingredients. The problem in doing so is that they don't all work well in the same pH. So, we decided to concentrate on pH optimization. Our day cream is alkaline-based, and the night cream is an acidic-based pH. They're both doing entirely different things, but they're working together synergistically creating the end-all result you want. pH is so important for your body and is influenced by what you eat. Cancer patients, for example, try to keep a very alkaline diet, because cancer can't live without acid. This shows how important and powerful pH is to the body generally, both internally and externally.
The day cream contains peptides which are a copper derivative, they're really the answer as far anti-aging is concerned! Most people think it’s vitamin C, or antioxidants, but peptides are where it's at! It also has antioxidants and beta glucan in it. The chemist I work with is so cutting-edge! He's fantastic!
The night cream is an acidic pH, and it has a 9% lactic acid which is just under prescription level. I wanted things that were active. People have become borderline experts on what and what not to use, so I wanted them to be able to clearly identify what’s in our products, and feel their effect immediately when using them.
There's no policy in the United States as far as what people have to list as their ingredients! Often, even if you play detective and look at what's listed, it's not always clear. I have tons of other products I've tried and know they contain a particular chemical because I can feel it, even if it's not shown. From Day 1 I wanted to be forthcoming about what's in my line.
January Labs are water oil emulsion, so they hydrate. They’ll keep your skin hydrated whether it’s winter or summer. I think of them as being very intelligent products because it's almost as if they know where and where not to hydrate, and all skin types can use it which is difficult to find.
Our Power Peel sits on the surface of the skin and the cinnamon oil in it stimulates blood flow and circulation. Your skin becomes plush and it gets rid of all surface dehydration. If you're going to an event, put this on, leave it on for about 10 to 15 minutes, and then remove it with a little bit of the cleanser.
The packaging of our day and night creams is also important. Everything is airless, so it keeps the validity of the product. Most people think that packaging is just a marketing tool, but for me, it’s about keeping the product stable.
Can you talk a little bit about beauty?
I live in LA, a city where everyone has a strong desire to look really young. But I don't set promises like your wrinkles are going to magically disappear, instead, the line promotes optimum, healthy skin, and you see the results. You see people’s skin glow. That's the idea. It’s not to propagate a belief that looking really young is better. You just need to look good for your age.
I'm getting older and I'm seeing it, and that's why I love the European lifestyle. When I was in Paris I saw people who were not necessarily young, they were older, but they rocked it and were beautiful!
Beautiful at every age.
It's about simplicity too. Less is more. I like make-up but I feel like women use it to cover themselves up. For me, it's really the idea of feeling beautiful at whatever age. The trick to looking youthful is just being happy and allowing that to show through, and using products that are healthy.
And eating well.
It's a whole lifestyle.
I always try to promote alternative ways people can adjust their lifestyle. For example, there are yoga poses that help with your skin and unlock stress. Stress is a huge cause for breakouts and premature aging. Sometimes it's easier for people to buy a product than for them to just chill out!
Yeah, just calm down. It's okay!
Just out of interest, what ingredients should people avoid, especially in skincare?
The most common ingredients in skincare products (because they are inexpensive and keep the validity of the product for a long time) are parabens and sulfates, yet I avoid them. Sulfates are a fine salt that actually become embedded in your skin. Then, when you apply a product containing parabens over the top, it stops your skin from breathing.
Often, when people just grab any old cleanser the sulfates in it adhere to the skin and cause more irritation. So, I tell them to just switch their cleanser before progressing to other products.
I'm also not a fan of physical exfoliants, if I use an exfoliant that's a chemical, I prefer lactic acid because it's super gentle and very minimal.
I'm not a big fan of glycolic acid either. Or microdermabrasion. I mean, each to their own, but I believe the more gentle you are with your skin - even if you have acne - the better.
In terms of diet what are the things you can do to directly affect skin?
Hydration. I'm the queen of making different beverages that are extremely tasty and consist mostly of water! I constantly put cucumber, lemon and orange pieces in water and drink that throughout the day. It doubles the amount of H20 you get. I also do watermelon juice. I have a Vitamix, and I'll just put in a few cubes of watermelon with water and ice and a little lemon, and maybe a couple of raspberries.
That sounds excellent.
Things like that are super hydrating. Keep an alkaline diet. Sugar and the sun are like the biggest dangers in my opinion, and alcohol. I love greens and I live in Santa Monica, so there's a Pressed Juicery on every street! I love farmer's markets, and I know not everyone has access, but I try to be as organic as possible.
I love coffee and red wine though, and I don't care what anyone says, I’ll just have to deal with it!
I think it goes back to lifestyle and being happy. Some people struggle with acne or rosacea and things that are directly caused by what you're putting in your body. A lot people who go on a gluten or dairy free diet have their skin clears up immediately. There's a reason for that!
The sugar industry is currently going through what the tobacco industry went through. We are so unaware of all the sugar that's in food. I love cooking so whenever I go to a restaurant I'm so aware of how much sugar and salt is in something.
Let's go back to you and your story. Where did your love of natural ingredients and beauty come from?
I grew up in Orange County. The lifestyle there is healthy, outdoorsy and beachy. I had an unusual attraction to UV products and hair care! I was 12 years old, making home-made concoctions and putting face masks on whoever would be my victim! I babysat to save money to buy Chanel compacts. I was very specific about my products!
Now I’m not such a huge fan of them, but it was funny as a 14 year old, saving to buy the luxury ones. I’d also make yogurt and lemon face masks because of the citric and lactic acid in those ingredients. I just knew that skincare was my thing.
The first company I worked for was Clarins. I figured that out of all the lines in a department store it was probably the most serious about skin.
Then, I got a job with Epicuren. It was literally my dream job! I was traveling to different resorts and spas. When you work with a company for so long, it doesn’t feel like work. I was so excited about sharing the line.
So now, having my own brand, is really a direct reflection of my story. When I started Labs I tested the products a year before I produced them. A lot of companies usually take a formula that has been made by a private label and package it. So Labs is really all about the ingredients! They're all my own formulations! That’s what I love!
How do you go about creating a cream and packaging it?
I work with a fantastic chemist and although I follow news about what’s going on with different ingredients, I like to stick with very basic things that are known to work. For instance, I always recommend baking soda as a scrub, it's been around forever.
Then, I go over the ingredients I would like to use and he tells me about other ingredients and how they're designed to support them, and we'll make it into a formulation.
Usually he'll send me a sample, I test it, send it back and go, "Okay, let's go more with this, or that.” It usually takes six months to a year.
I love it because it gives me time to get other things like the packaging ready. In fact, part of the fun of starting the line has been going to packaging shows and finding the guy I get the boxes from! The boxes feel like a second skin. It's little things like that I get really excited about!
Designing the logo has also been fun. The artist who created the flower is a furniture designer from Argentina and he's so brilliant. I've enjoyed figuring these things out. I have a friend who's creating a product right now. I’m like, "I'm gonna save you like a year and tons of money (laughs)… just follow my list!”
So what would your advice be for starting a business?
I'm a big list person. If you start something even though you have a goal, it's overwhelming! You have to figure out what your game plan is and then you need to write things down because otherwise it's overwhelming and unattainable.
If you don't have it written down you can't see it in front of you, and you don't have a strategy, even if, like me, your strategy is not having a strategy!
Write goals that you can achieve. When I first started, something that seemed attainable was getting into five top spas or aestheticians in each major state.
That’s a gradual thing, but after sitting down with one of the top spas in Boston, it clicked! They got it! And since then I've had really good luck with people getting the idea behind the brand.
You have to be patient and not emotional about things.
Especially when you're putting yourself out there. It's vulnerable.
Oh, yeah! If somebody were to say they don't like the products it’s like someone saying I don't know if your kid's cute!
As far as other ideas, I’m a huge proponent of visualizing what you want. One of my first accounts was Fred Segal which was great, but pretty much every night I’d just close my eyes and imagine my products on the shelf. I'm not saying that worked in and of itself, but if you don't believe in your product, no one else will. You really have to see it there yourself.
Yes, I totally get that!
What else? Just do things ethically and right. Treat people well, and things will work out in some way. I've had some situations that didn't work out the way I wanted, but then they brought something way better!
You just don't know what's on the other side of the door!
So when I get good news, I'm like, "Great!" When I get bad news, I'm like, “Great!” You can't be too attached. But the bottom line is that you have to have a good product and work hard, there's no other way it will happen!
Did you have any mentors along the way or people that helped you?
I've had a lot of people that helped me. I had a friend who went to Stanford Business School who really empowered me. The owner of the company I used to work was a mentor to me too, and I learned a lot from her. I also had some good friends who essentially helped me get the company off the ground. They are incredible mentors and have offered me guidance in every way. They are amazing partners!
I think the biggest thing that's been my drive - aside from mentors - are other women who are out there, doing their thing, starting businesses and making it work. It shows I can do that too and it's empowering!
Let's go back to products. You've got skincare, will you go into beauty at all? Or what else?
I've got plans! I love the idea of a make-up line that is all-natural, something to create the perfect canvas. Make-up that doesn't look like you're wearing make-up essentially. I also want to do a baby's line, but maybe I'll just wait until I have one!
I always get asked by men if I have a men's line. I'm like, "I make products for skin! If you have skin (laughs), you can use them!"
Men are so funny! They're like it has to say "man" on it! What is the difference between men and women's skin?
Well, there's a difference in that men have thicker skin. The other thing is that men shave, so they're constantly exfoliating their skin. I think women’s skin is way more hormonally charged and they break out in different places.
So even though our skin is different, men generally struggle with the same things women do, they break out and have rosacea. The essential things like diet and good ingredients are the same, and my products benefit both.
I have a question about toners because people say different things. Should we be using one?
I think toners are kind of a little outmoded. I have a tonic and it's like a toner, but it's a spray and can be used in a few ways. I'll use it to set my make-up. You could spray it on your face throughout the day. It’s great for summer, and even in the cold it rehydrates skin. It cancels out shine where needed, but hydrates where needed. It's fantastic!
If you go to the gym and you don't have time to wash your face right away, just do a quick mist. It has witch hazel, sodium PCA and rose oil. It's really fantastic! With the spray it goes right into the pore.
That's great! So you're not pulling it across your skin with a cotton pad like a toner?
Right, so it's really gentle.
Okay, just a couple of last questions. You talked a little bit about beauty and obviously you'll come out with something that caters to that market in the future, but for now, are there any products you could recommend that fit the natural DNA?
It's really important to use skincare that's chemical-free because you can create a barrier with them. A go-to is my tinted sunscreen, which is 20% zinc oxide. That's what I'm wearing right now.
Oh, it totally gives you a glow!
It really balances your skin! It's called Lucrece. I get that from my aesthetician. It’s fantastic and works really well with my day cream! I also love Laura Mercier products! NARS has a really good cream bronzer and I use that. I don't like the powdery look. I prefer the very dewey look. When people start using my line they really move away from using a lot of make up because they don't need to cover up as much.
You’re based in LA. What are some of your favorite spots around the Westside where you live?
Oh! They're all involving food!
Well, I love Abbot Kinney and I love the restaurants there. I have three go-to's and it's Axe, which I know you know of, Gjelina, and Salt Air.
Yeah, it's funny. I've actually never been to Axe in the three years that I lived there, but Salt Air and Gjelina are my favorites.
I feel like Axe is like sitting outside on a beautiful day, the ambiance is gorgeous. Everything there is just so thoughtful and delicious!
As far as other places to go- I mean, there's so many cute boutiques. Oh, and Café Gratitude!
I can't forget about that place! That's the go-to food spot! Quick stop, I'm always in there. You can take your dogs too.
There are some great yoga places that I love. I work out at a boxing gym which I also enjoy. I love Brentwood Country Mart too!
Oh, I love it there!
They have some really cute stores. I love Calypso and Intermix! I also love Steven Alan on Abbot Kinney too. Great store… and they're so sweet!
That's a great list, thanks January!
We love January, and we love her products. Her cleanser, tonic and night cream have become some of our staple skin care products. We spent last night slathering on the Power Peel too!
For more information visit http://www.januarylabs.com
All images courtesy of January Labs