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How one woman turned an industry's pain into success and continues to empower women globally.
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Jane Wurwand, founder of Dermalogica, The International Dermal Institute, and FITE

Jane Wurwand, founder of the International Dermal Institute (IDI) and Dermalogica skincare.

"I'm just one person." Jane Wurwand, founder of the hugely successful salon skincare line Dermalogica, has probably never uttered those words, at least not in the defeatist sense. I haven't asked her, mind you, but this is a woman who, at age 25, decided that she could help change the direction of an entire, woman-centric industry – and did. How's that for a lesson in drive and determination? And she started before the Internet was invented. 

In 1983, Jane moved from the UK to the US with just a suitcase, beauty school diploma and boyfriend. As of 2014, the International Dermal Institute (IDI) that Jane and boyfriend-turned-husband Raymond started in '83 has educated more than 75,000 estheticians or skin therapists, and has 14 locations around the world. Dermalogica, which they launched in 1986, has 50 offices worldwide and pops up regularly in top international beauty and fashion magazines, and, since the Internet started, on a slew of beauty websites and blogs. And Wurwand, 56, who received a prestigious 2014 Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW) Achiever Award in NYC as a "trailblazing beauty industry entrepreneur," continues to empower women on a global scale. In 2011, she founded FITE (Financial Independence Through Entrepeneurship), an initiative that helps women, especially in developing countries, fulfill their entrepeneurial dreams. And FITE has already helped more than 50,000 women in 68 countries start or grow their own businesses.

Dermalogica's Jane Wurwand, 2014 CEW Achiever Award reciptient

Jane Wurwand at the 2014 CEW Achiever Awards ceremony in New York City. (Photo: Patricia Willis)

I got to know Dermalogica in 2001 or 2002, when I was still assistant style editor at Canadian Living Magazine. One of the things I loved most about the line is that in order to carry the products, a salon had to send its estheticians for intensive training at IDI. The best part: the estheticians loved how much they were learning about skin and good skin care. 

I was doing bridal makeup on weekends back then. I told every bride she needed a facial before her wedding day (it makes a huge difference in how makeup sits on the skin). If she didn't already have a regular facialist -- and very few did -- I'd suggest finding a salon that carries Dermalogica because those estheticians were very well trained. I had a lot of very happy, glowy brides. And over the years, I've noticed more and more women enjoy fairly regular facials, and that many of them are Dermalogica treatments. So when I got a few minutes to chat with Jane Wurwand recently, I geeked out about all this, and asked her how she'd managed to affect the industry so deeply. 

Dermalogica's Jane Wurwand

Jane Wurwand created Dermalogica skincare in Los Angeles in 1986.

BEAUTYGEEKS: In the last fifteen years in particular, there's been a real growth in the level of trust women can and do have with their facialists. You've been such a key part of that in raising the bar for training across the industry. Where did it start?

JANE WURWAND: I emigrated from the UK; [esthetics training] is a two-year program there. I felt really great about the skills I'd learned, but when I moved to the United States, I couldn't use most of them because the [esthetician] licence didn't cover it. The training in the US is four months, 600 hours. And between the UK and the US, there was a huge gap in skill sets. I wondered, how can you be successful with such a small amount of training? And it turned out -- that was 1983 -- people were NOT successful. There was a 96% attrition rate, which meant that for every 100 people getting licensed, only four were left in the industry after two years. They didn't have the skill set to build a business.

I also have teaching credentials in skincare; I quickly saw a huge opportunity. If my husband Raymond and I could somehow bridge the gap between that four-month training and international standards of one or two years, if we could train skin therapists in lymph drainage, aromatherapy, reflexology, accupressure -- expand their skill set within the parameters in which they were legally allowed to practice -- we would have an opportunity to build a business in education. And we're still the number one and largest educator for the professional industry.

Dermalogica Los Angeles

Dermalogica professional products at the Dermalogica Los Angeles location.

And then you launched Dermalogica.

People were coming to the classes, then coming back and saying "omigosh, now I finally know how to do extractions properly, my results are better, my clients are coming back, I'm building my business!"  We then saw the big opportunity with products. There wasn't anything with that same sensibility, that wasn't a "beauty" or "pampering" product. We needed to design a line that fit our kind of training. And that became Dermalogica.

It was really seeing the pain in the industry, that weak spot and saying, "you know what? That's the greatest opportunity." Education, then three years later the product that would go with it.

Dermalogica -- International Dermal Institute, Scottsdale, AZ

The International Dermal Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Institute trains people who are already in the industry, is that right?

Anyone who comes to our training classes has to have a state license or, in another country, a qualification that indicates they've already done basic training. We don't take anybody at the International Dermal Institute that isn't already working in the industry. They've got intention. And they understand they need more education to be successful.

We do have one licensing school in New York, the Dermalogica Academy where we take new students and train them to be skin therapists. And our new inititive in FITE is to take women through that school and get them licenced and into the industry as a means of empowerment. Our other locations around the world, though, are about advanced training.

The Dermalogica Academy in Chelsea, New York

The Dermalogica Academy in Chelsea, New York.

But it's not just about skin knowledge, it's also about developing and running a business, isn't it?

You can have the best hands in the business, but if you don't know what your payroll should be, how much commission you should be paying yourself, or you don't know how you should be answering the telephone, or building up your website, or how to do online bookings, you don't have a successful business. Truly great hands have fallen by the wayside because they didn't know how to build a business. We have 60 classes in total; about 18 of them are just about the business side.

I like to see what's happening in the dermatology offices with skincare and I think the game-changer there is this: if you look at dermatologists age 50 and over, only 11 percent are women. If you look at dermatologists 35 years old and younger, 66% are women.

Women have changed the dermatology profession. Female dermatologists are now demanding better formulas, including skin therapists in their practices, focussing on results from the injectibles and the peels they do, and making sure the products are NOT gummy, sticky or goopy because they wouldn't use those themselves. That's a whole different scenario from when I started in the industry 35 years ago, when almost every dermatologist was a man who didn't understand whether a formula or an ointment was cosmetically elegant or not. Most of all, male dermatologists didn't think any skincare formulas worked because they didn't use any of them.

Dermalogica Montreal

A Dermalogica concept space in Montreal.

Does the International Dermal Institute work with derms?

We work with dermatologists and plastic surgeons in placing skin therapists in their offices, training them as practitioners. All the injectibles in the world won't replace a cleanser. It's two different things. And if you want the skin to look the best it can, you need to be taking care of it at home with product. Then you make your choice about how much cosmetic dermatology you want to do or not. And for that, we have paramedical skincare classes designed for skin therapists who work in medical offices. Now women feel as though they're speaking to doctors and skin therapists who really understand them because they're looking after their own skin in a similar way.

I call it "the bookend." We've got female dermatologists now dominating at 35 and younger, and we've also got this empowered education with the skin therapists. You put those two things together and you've got this complete reworking of an entire industry. It's exciting.

Amazing what one driven woman can do, right?

UPDATE: On June 24th, 2015, Unilever issued an official announcement of intention to acquire Dermalogica.

UPDATE 2: In September of 2017, Dermalogica became available via Sephora and

Follow the link for the two biggest skin issues Jane Wurwand sees these days, and for the scoop on her own skincare regimen.