My Skin Care Line Started In My Kitchen – Dima Ali M. D.
At the age of 4 years old, I remember going with my PhD scientist dad to the Stanford University Chemistry Lab and being in awe at the bunsen burners and assembly of glassware full of bubbling fluids of various colors. My favorite show at the time was Marcus Welby, M.D. Add to that the artistic genes from my mother (a sculptor/painter) and that made for quite a unique mix of influences. My dad used to make unusual products at home using various ingredients. I remember him explaining the reasoning behind his choice of ingredients (as well as what not to mix together). For example, I was very prone to mosquito bites and he would mix things like menthol, eucalyptus, hydrocortisone and a few other things and put them in spray bottles. It worked much better than calamine lotion.
I suffered from terrible acne growing up but was intolerant of most products with the active ingredients needed to control the acne. I was 10 years old when I got my first zit. It was huge and right in the middle of my forehead. I was teased at school and told classmates I “fought off a wasp” but it got me in the end. I grew up in North Africa where the best skincare was not readily accessible. Even when we did manage to get our hands on some, benzoyl peroxide gave me a rash. Salicylic acid made me feel like I was having hot flashes. It was hard back then to find anyone who would prescribe Retin A but it was too caustic for me and the redness and flaking was more than I could handle as an awkward preteen. My parents took to the experimental kitchen cauldron and found me relief with herbs and botanical extracts.
As part of an advanced organic chemistry course in 1990, I had an assignment to make a skincare product. We were learning about active ingredients and their functions, emulsifiers, emollients, solvents, stabilizers, pH testing and other properties. We learned about occlusivity and the importance of TEWL (transepidermal water loss and delivery of active ingredients), UV absorption, the various functions of certain ingredients, labeling regulations and safety testing. We examined whether ingredients such as placenta or uguisu-no- fun (bird poop) really improves skin. We learned that a label can say “not tested in animals” even if there was animal testing but it was done over 5 years ago. 75% of the grade was the actual product. 25% of the grade was the packaging. I made the highest grade in the class. It was soon after that that I started my kitchen based “skincare lab.” Given my sensitive skin, my goal was to achieve the right balance of effective ingredients balanced with botanical extracts to decrease untoward side effects and increase compliance.
Fast forward to my post graduate medical education which began when laser technology was hitting the market. As a board certified cosmetic laser surgeon who works to improve skin every day, I have a very strict rule when it comes to purchasing laser technology. When evaluating a specific device, it has to done on me first. In 2005, I was testing out a new device that left me with an extensive burn on the left side of my face. I once again put my chemistry hat on and met the challenge of developing a product I could tolerate to help reduce my scarring.
Concurrently, my skin was aging as well and I wanted to prevent wrinkles. I knew vitamin A was very effective at promoting cell turnover but, at the concentration need to achieve visible results, I still could not tolerate it. I was determined to find a way to tolerate effective, active ingredients. I started mixing them with soothing botanicals such as calendula and lavender. To lighten my brown spots, I used ingredients such as licorice root extract and arbutin. I had no intention of ever marketing my skincare and was content to make it as needed for myself and my patients. The demand for it grew organically.