Salon legend John Paul DeJoria, known by his close pals as J.P., possesses an innate likability that, coupled with his bursting enthusiasm, renders him magnetic. It is not possible to overstate J.P.’s ability to draw people in — his energy was persistent and unwavering at a 9:30 a.m. meeting — and it is probably one of the reasons he is able to sell just about anything. But J.P. is not trying to sell just anything. He has had success at John Paul Mitchell Systems, which he cofounded in 1980, and tequila business Patrón, which he started in 1989. And a few short months ago, he started on his latest venture. Much like his more mature businesses, this new company relies on plant-based product formulations — one of J.P.’s all-time favorite things, just ask him — to get the job done. Only this time, instead of caring for hair or creating a hangover-free buzz, the job is eliminating cold sores.

This story first appeared in the May 11, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

J.P. anticipates that his new treatment, Aubio, will reach his largest-ever population, citing a World Health statistic that proclaims two-thirds of the world population experiences some type of cold sores. Aubio launched in Target in April, and is also sold on Amazon.com. Soon, J.P. anticipates bringing the product to some nice people who asked him to in Dubai, and intends eventually to team up with international partners to take the brand global. Ever the philanthropist — which J.P. persists at — he plans to donate the product to groups that help women who were rescued from slavery and prostitution.

Without an advertising budget for Aubio, DeJoria’s plan is for it to catch on through the media, his personal promotion and social media. The product has already been hard at work in his circle, where it has gotten rid of cold sores, helped ease shingles pain and even cleared up a pimple, he said. While still in double-blind studies, J.P. was inspired by the ways his network used the product, and is exploring other uses for Aubio, with plans to eventually develop it into a more complete skin-care line. Expect plants — in Aubio’s case, carnivorous ones — to remain key.

How did you become so interested in using plants in your products?

When we launched Paul Mitchell, I knew I wanted plants, as many as possible. So we’re on our farm out there in Hawaii, a little farm — very little — and one of our guys said that ancient Hawaiians used this plant called awapuhi ­— it’s a ginger that’s indigenous to Hawaii. They’d go in the waterfall, and they’d put water in their hair, and they’d squeeze it in their hair and they’d rinse it out; then they’d come out, and they’d put in again on their hair and on their skin — and it was really good, really. So, we investigated, and all of a sudden, we came out with Awapuhi Shampoo and Conditioner.

When I started Patrón, I wanted the finest tequila in the world. So I was in an architectural business with this gentleman, Mark Crowley, and he went down there and I said, “Bring back a couple bottles of whatever the aristocrats drink,” right? He brought back these two plain simple bottles, but it was smoother than anything I had. He said, “J.P., I met a guy down there named Francisco Alvarez, he’s the chef of tequilas, he can make this smoother.” I said, “Really! Can we put it in recycled glass?” Of course we can. He said, “But J.P., it’s going to be expensive. Because to make it is this long process and we can’t use it like the normal tequila, we have to use this weber blue agave from the highlands — it’s going to cost some money.” But it was the best of the best with this plant. So we launch it. It went slowly because we had to sell it in 1989 for $37 a bottle. Your normal tequila was $4 or $5 a bottle. All the sudden, it took off. People said, “We’re going to treat ourselves with this,” and it just went through the moon.

The end result is the plants we use are so good that unless you drink way too much you’re not going to get a hangover the next day — zero.

What about new plant-based products?

We launched, just last year, our Marula products. It’s for skin and hair — both — phenomenal. Talk about a breakthrough. A lot of oils, we tested them all, we didn’t go with any of them. Then we discover this marula oil and it’s like, wow, what a breakthrough. We were floored — in all the testing people had more than 70 percent added body, eliminated more split ends and added more shine to the hair. Immediately. Can you imagine eliminating 70 percent of your split ends — not cutting them off — but eliminating them by this product line? And having 70 percent more shine? Unbelievable.

Interesting. So how did a guy like you get mixed up with cold sores?

A gentleman that I knew for many, many years, Jim, said, “J.P., I have this product, it’s made out of all plants, the Native Americans used it, it does all kinds of the herpes viruses, especially cold sores.” So he gave me a whole bunch of it to try. He says, “I’m out of money and I need marketing advice, business advice.” So I said, “Let me see.” He gave me a whole bunch and I put it in my drawer at my office and I told my secretary, “If you come across anyone that has cold sores or any kind of a thing with their skin, give some of this to them and see if works.” Then I forgot about it. Two months later she calls me and she says “J.P., you’re not going to believe this, but we have a person here whose husband had shingles so bad he couldn’t go to work.” She says, “Well, I know you said about cold sores, but that’s part of the herpes complex, so I just gave it to her. He’s back at work today. J.P., you’ve got something here.”

I said, “Jim, I’ll finance this. I’ll be the majority partner with you here, but I’m going to ask for two things. I’m into helping the world out right? Here’s my two things. Number one is that it’s priced where everyone can afford it, and that it’s over the counter, not prescription. It cannot sell for any more than the gel for $39, and the lip balm for $10 — so we’ve got to work in that direction.”And the minute we start making some money, I want to take all these rescue places for girls in prostitution and women in slavery, and most all of them have cold sores, and let’s give it to them so they look and they feel good.”

We had a lady that wrote us, her son grabbed it and used it on a pimple and it was gone the next day. Now I’m in research. We’re doing a study to prove that it does something for acne.

Would you do an acne product?

Yes, we will. We are going to, but I wanted to get the double-blind studies done first so I can use the comparisons. So right now, it’s a cold-sore treatment. I want us to be able to say it’s an acne-treatment product. That’s why a lot of salons have taken it on now as part of the Paul Mitchell network, because it’s beauty.

What about expanding into a full skin-care line?

Definitely. We’re finding things that I’m almost afraid to tell you because I don’t want to disrupt the [Food and Drug Administration]. There’s a whole new world out there because of plants.

Why are you starting another business, do you need more money?

Yeah, I’ve got a couple of billion-dollar companies, so why this? Why Rok Mobile that’s exploding right now? J.P., why? One, it helps people out. And it’s the beauty industry. It makes people more beautiful.

What’s Rok Mobile?

It’s my way of putting billions of dollars back into the economy. Imagine this: Any smartphone with no contract, if it doesn’t work, drop it immediately. All your phone calls, all of your texting, all your data…all your music, $100,000 worth of accidental life insurance, medical, where 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you can call a doctor on the phone.

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