Skip to main content

Experience Matters With Skinfix’s Amy Gordinier

How the founder and CEO of Skinfix founder pioneered the clean clinical category in prestige beauty.

For Amy Gordinier, the founder and chief executive officer of Skinfix, success is written in the stars.

Gordinier, who studied comparative religion at Princeton University, calls herself a curious spiritualist and is an avid amateur astrologer. She herself is a Gemini, the sign of curiosity, a trait that infuses both her personal and professional life, and her brand is a Leo.

It’s an auspicious match. “Gemini and Leo get along really well,” Gordinier said. “Gemini is an air sign and Leo is fire — air fuels fire.”

Indeed, since founding the brand in 2014 as an early pioneer in the conversation around skin barrier health, Skinfix has grown exponentially. Sales were said to be approaching $25 million in 2021, a number Gordinier declined to comment on. But she did note that its growth rate is trending triple digits for the year, and that Skinfix is expected to be a top 20 treatment brand at Sephora this year.

Related Galleries

Recently, the entrepreneur sat down with Beauty Inc to talk about how she’s navigated the growth of the brand and pioneered the clean clinical sector in the skin care category.

You May Also Like

How did you discover Skinfix and what was it about it that appealed to you so much?

Amy Gordinier: I worked in beauty for about 20 years and moved to Nova Scotia to have my children. I met a woman who had a healing balm her great-grandfather had created in 1870 in England. It was called Skinfix, and what captivated me about the formula was it contained four OTC [over-the-counter] pharmaceutical grade actives at their active level. That caught my attention. Over the years, the family, had collected hundreds of handwritten letters, before reviews, from people who had used it to treat serious skin issues. This idea that what was essentially a clean product — back then we called it natural — was so effective at treating serious medical skin issues had not been done on a broader scale. It was really exciting. So I bought the name, a great product, a great story and powerful DNA.

What was your next move?

A.G.: I took it to one of the foremost contact dermatologists in Canada — they’re the ones who see the tough stuff. She loved the ingredients, but she said, I’ll never prescribe this because you have no clinical data. So we did a study in her office with 10 patients, and the results were so strong, she recommended we do a second study with 30 patients, where we put the balm head-to-head with a hydrocortisone cream, a steroid. We saw we were equivalent in every metric, and superior to it, in that over time, the balm improved the skin barrier function.

That was an aha moment — where I thought I actually might have something that the derm community would prescribe to patients.

That allowed us to make a really strong clinical claim about treating eczema and improving skin barrier function. We were able to get a strong derm seal of approval, which is important when you’re going up against brands like Emlactin and CeraVe.

Were you thinking of it as a beauty brand?

A.G.: I am a Sephora shopper and worked at Jo Malone. I’m a prestige beauty queen. I love prestige beauty, but at the time, I had an ointment to treat eczema and I don’t think prestige beauty was ready for a clean OTC hard-hitting eczema product. The world has changed a lot and now it’s very exciting to have a clinically validated OTC product line at Sephora. That is on target with what clients are excited about. We were way ahead of our time, operating in white space.

What changed?

A.G.: A couple of things happened. We spent five years working closely with derms and building out the line — first eczema, then rosacea, then keratosis pilaris. We did 33 clinical studies, five of which were published, and got momentum in the derm community. We realized there was one common thread: skin barrier health. It was a combination of having a broader range of products and meeting clients at a place where they were looking for clean and clinically proven clean — it coalesced. It was timing — everything came together and we had the right product line at the moment. Sephora was ready to move into the future.

Was the evolution of brand more organic or planned?

A.G.: It was organic. It evolved from an idea of a clean OTC, clinically proven derm-recommended skin care line, and we, the doctors, lead in terms of where there were needs for products to fulfill certain pain points. Sometimes they wanted an adjunct therapy, used alongside a topical prescription, that would enhance it or make less side effects, and there were opportunities to create products in place of prescription therapies, like an AHA body cream.

It evolved on this conviction that clean could be medically efficacious, derm prescribed and as good as prescription products.

We went step by step.

Your dad was head of manufacturing for Estée Lauder — what did you learn from him about the business?

A.G.: Innovation is my passion but manufacturing is my second favorite part of running a beauty company. I love the sense of accomplishment, the timelines. I love our operations meetings and weekly project reviews, where we go through formalizing packaging, formula testing, filling. This has been beneficial to me as a founder. We did phenomenally well during the supply chain crisis, because we built a strong culture of operations management from the get-go.

What did you learn from working with Jo Malone? What was her advice to you when you struck out on your own?

A.G.: Jo is a total disruptor in the fragrance space. She saw the future, she was manically focused on it. She didn’t look at NPD data — she believed in her instinct and intuition and vision and followed the path. It was inspiring to watch. She taught me to stay true. If you believe you have an idea and you have conviction, that it is something the world wants or needs — stick with that conviction. Don’t stray or get distracted by trends.

She’s also a huge supporter of women. She told me I had what it takes to be an entrepreneur, which is so formative and powerful. That gave me the chutzpah and belief that I can do it.

What was it like to go from a corporate structure to entrepreneur life? What was the biggest “oh s–t” moment?

A.G.: The biggest shift is you just don’t have the resources — financially or in terms of people — to go as fast or flawlessly as a big corporation. You can go faster in some ways because you don’t have bureaucracy. But in terms of having resources to explode as fast as you would like — you have to work a lot harder and be a lot scrappier than at a big organization.

What unlocked success? Was there an inflection point in which the brand took off or was it a slow steady build?

A.G.: We launched very successfully with Sephora out of the gate. There was immediate interest in what we had to offer. But COVID-19 was an inflection point. We grew by 300 percent between 2020 and 2021. It was a combination of things: Because of COVID-19, we were all obsessed with the medical community and advice from physicians — that was helpful for the brand, because we’re not only endorsed and supported by the medical community but also have a lot of clinical studies and data. There was a big paradigm shift in consumer thinking [because] people wanted that validation, that clinical efficacy.

Hyram Yarbro was incredibly helpful. I met him in Hawaii right before COVID-19. I had discovered him on YouTube and he had just launched on Instagram. I wanted to talk to him about how he is so successful on social and get to know him as a person. He started talking about the brand and put us in his 2021 video with two of our five moisturizers. The combination of consumers becoming increasingly interested in efficacy and barrier health with supporters like Hyram gave us a huge boost.

 

Skinfix
Skinfix is focused on building the health of the skin’s barrier function, with products geared toward different conditions, including acne.

What’s your assessment of prestige beauty overall and skin care in particular?

A.G.: It’s more important than ever to have a very strong point of view and a very strong point of difference. Consumers are savvy and selective and they want to really believe in a brand’s proposition, whether it is clinical efficacy, sustainability, a social cause. A brand has to have a strong positioning and voice to succeed.

In skin care, clinical is here to stay. Technology is progressing — there is some really exciting technology in barrier health and we’ll continue to move the needle.

I don’t know that we will ever go back to a world where it is enough to be clean. It is going to be increasingly important to deliver strong technology and real results. There is so much happening in the science of skin and we’ll see some cool things in the near future.

We’ve just seen an explosion in product launches – can the market support this?

A.G.: I do believe that less is more. The way we are thinking about our product portfolio evolution is making renovations where it makes sense. We have good products with strong reviews and strong loyalty and when we see an opportunity to elevate the technology, our strategy going forward will be to renovate an interesting stock keeping unit rather than introduce another.

How do you define your leadership style?

A.G.: It has evolved over the life of Skinfix. When you are a founder CEO, you aren’t hired for the role based on your path — you’re put into the role and you have to learn how to operate as a CEO and play both rolls.

Being a founder comes with a lot of pressure and obligation. There’s so much riding on your role. In my case, and in many cases, you have all of your personal savings in the business, you have family invested in the business, now we have private equity investment. That’s a lot of pressure — on the founder, more so than a hired CEO.

It makes it sometimes challenging to keep your energy neutral and to remember that you’re a leader and that your energy permeates the entire organization and to remember how to lead in a more corporate context.

Something I’ve been learning is how to manage my energy, to remember that I am the leader not the founder.

My ethos and strategy is to be a curious leader, to realize I don’t always have to have the answers. As the CEO and founder, you think sometimes you have to have the answers. That’s not the answer. My role is to get curious. I’ve hired great people with great experience. My job is to ask a lot of questions so that we can collaborate and come up with the best ideas, the best solutions, the best path forward.

It’s so helpful to get curious, not just in the context of managing people, but also with the derms, the chemists, the ingredient suppliers. We talk about me as a curious innovator [and] taking the expertise of everyone and aggregating that.

For example, if I’m looking at acne, I’ll go deep. I’ll go onto Reddit and social communities of people with fungal acne and I’ll talk to derms and I’m just really curious — that’s the fun part. I’m the person who pulls everything together and comes up with an idea that I think solves the problem.

What’s your product development process like?

A.G.: It starts in the dermatology community and understanding what the needs are, where the opportunities are to bring technologies to patients that will help improve their skin barrier health. Then we look in the ingredient space. I want to see the science behind the ingredients and understand the efficacy. Then I spend a little time talking to our chemist and in the social media space and in communities of people with skin issues to understand their pain points and the core of the issue and the symptoms. Then I write a brief for the chemist, which is pretty prescriptive — we want these ingredients at these levels. Once the chemist delivers it, it is about texture [because] we need it to feel really fantastic. The best skin care product is the one you use. Compliance is such an issue in skin health.

Then we put it into a panel of testers internally — all skin tones and types, and then we put it into a derm-run clinical study — to make sure it delivers on the promise of what it is going to do.

You originally launched the brand in Target and Shopper’s Drug Mart, and then pivoted to distribution in Sephora. What did you learn from that?

A.G.: The key learning was the importance of conviction and really believing in your brand and your product and your proposition. It took a lot of conviction to believe the pivot was going to work and was worth it and it absolutely was. We knew the time was right and that we had something that was very differentiated in a Sephora environment. It underscores the criticality of believing what you’re doing and launching something you believe has purpose and point of view and differentiation.