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Dr. Anne Beal, who affectionately signs her blog posts “Dr. Anne,” speaks with the innate confidence and steadfast determination of a woman who has persevered and thrived in the high-pressure healthcare industry. A physician and healthcare policy expert with a BA from Brown University, an MD from Cornell University Medical College, and an MPH from Columbia University, she was a researcher at Harvard Medical School, primary care physician in pediatrics, President of the Aetna Foundation, Chief Patient Officer at Sanofi, and, most recently, Non-Executive Director of the Board at GSK—though Beal cites her three daughters as her proudest achievements. In 2017, Beal launched AbsoluteJOI: clean beauty for melanin-rich skin, a brand inspired by her daughters and informed by her expertise as a physician.
Her story with clean beauty dates back to when she was struggling with skin issues while living and working in Paris, and using the local skincare products available, which weren’t tailored towards her own skin needs. She discovered the natural DIY beauty store Aroma-Zone in the city, where other Black and Brown women were seeking largely DIY skincare solutions. Her initial desire was to create suitable anti-aging products, but she also saw her three daughters struggling with skin sensitivity and acne, prompting her to look at a wider consumer demographic. “The founding of AbsoluteJOI was definitely a family journey. There’s a real mandate, particularly for women of color, to take clean beauty very seriously. It’s not just, let’s be clean as an aspirational ideal, but a real health imperative,” she explains. This set Beal off on a research-heavy mission to cater to this underserved skincare consumer.
Perhaps most shockingly, questionable ingredients are in higher concentrations in products marketed to Black women, with levels of hormone-disrupting parabens being 4 to 8 times higher. Beal fervently brings this information to light in a largely hushed industry, calling out in a recent post on the AbsoluteJOI site that “75% of beauty products marketed towards Black women contain potentially harmful ingredients.”
The aging process differs in women of color as compared to white women, with the former developing hyperpigmentation before fine lines and wrinkles, making the majority of anti-aging skincare unsuitable for their needs. Black women are twice as likely to have sensitive skin, and 70% of surveyed women of color don’t find available products suitable for their skin needs.
Thus the mission for Beal’s skincare range was born: effective yet gentle skincare formulations that offer benefits for young and mature skin alike, specifically tailored towards the needs of melanin-rich skin, free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates, skin bleach, perfume, or dyes.
"A lot of beauty marketing uses scare tactics or preys on women’s insecurities. We’re not going to do that. We’re talking about promoting the healthy lifestyle."
By Dr. Anne Beal, Founder, AbsoluteJOI
AbsoluteJOI encourages sustainability and a holistic approach to beauty, much like Beal herself, who is vegan. The five-product-strong assortment promotes a streamlined routine, cruelty-free formula, works with an ISO 14001 compliant manufacturer, and is offering its latest release, Daily Hydrating Moisturizing Cream with Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40, in a 100% recyclable bottle. Products are sold DTC as well as in select brick-and-mortar stores, with future plans for distribution diversification.
“I wanted it to be easy to use. Nobody has time for these 10- or 12-step routines, I wanted it to really respect the intelligence of our customers. A lot of beauty marketing uses scare tactics or preys on women’s insecurities. We’re not going to do that. We’re talking about promoting the healthy lifestyle,” Beal adds. For her, the concept of clean doesn’t just encompass ingredients, but the messaging and images that a brand projects into the beauty space as well.
Beal speaks so passionately about AbsoluteJOI that her calling to found the brand is clear, though her path from pediatrician to founder and CEO of a clean beauty brand was not without its hurdles. Trying to find a manufacturer in the Cosmetics Valley of France proved more challenging than expected, as producers didn’t believe in any difference between the skin needs of women of color. Additionally, high MOQs meant she would need to raise a significant amount of capital, but as a woman of color and an older founder, funding was more difficult than she expected. “There’s a huge gap for women and women of color to be able to raise capital,” Beal states. “Frankly, I’m a little surprised at the disparity between professional experience and funding. Someone who has no experience and a great idea gets a million dollars. I’m a former C-suite executive with a medical degree, and I’m hustling to try to get people to invest $25,000.”
According to Digitalundivided’s ProjectDiane 2020 report, Black and Latinx female founders received only $1.7 billion of the $267.7 billion in VC investments from 2018-2019. While the number of brand founders raising over $1 million in funding doubled between 2018 and 2020, Black entrepreneurs received less than 1% of the $150 billion total funding in US venture investments, despite diverse founding teams offering proven higher financial returns for investors. Harvard Business Review states that the success rate of a diverse business partnership was 32.2% compared to 26.4% for a homogenous one. And it’s not just about racial diversity, but the disproportionate amount of young versus more mature founders.
“Ageism is huge,” Beal states. “I know so many women who hit 50 and they got laid off after 20-30 years of service and are doing really well. The tech and fundraising space is very much a young person space. But when you’re older there comes wisdom, tenacity, insight. I’ve decided I’m going to make it an asset and a benefit.”
A Wharton study found that a 50-year-old founder has a 1.8x higher chance of achieving upper-tail growth than their 30-year-old competitor. The Kauffman Startup Index shows that, despite the myth of the millennial entrepreneur, the rate of start-up founders is actually higher among the Boomer age bracket (0.28% versus 0.37%). In 2019, a quarter of new entrepreneurs were between the ages of 55 and 64, while individuals ages 55 and older own 43% of the US’s small businesses. Despite these proven success parameters, the investment funding doesn’t match the entrepreneurial promise, especially for female founders. In 2020, the funding of female-founded start-ups decreased by 27%.
Ever the fighter, Beal has continued to persevere in her pursuit of funding. Personal investments, manufacturer support, crowdfunding, and seed rounds helped get AbsoluteJOI off the ground. The company received a $50,000 grant as part of Glossier’s Grant Initiative for Black-Owned Beauty Businesses last year, and she is currently in another round of seed funding.
Beal’s imminent future plans include developing an eye cream product and creating kits that offer targeted solutions for specific skincare issues. “Marketing gets the people to buy the first time, the quality of your product gets them to buy the second,” she reflects. “So I want to make sure that we have the proper offering to help people.”
With AbsoluteJOI seeing success in the market, Beal is looking to give others an equal opportunity. “We’re at the beginning of a Black entrepreneurial renaissance, we’re seeing the sharing of information that we didn’t have before. That allows people to innovate and support each other,” says Beal. Future ambitions include creating an investment arm of her company so that she can give back to other businesses—not just through money, but also time and knowledge.
Even now she is a mentor to her contemporaries. Beal’s advice for those looking to follow her path in the beauty industry is to stay curious, publicly commit to their entrepreneurial endeavors, and take the risk. “You have to have that long-term perspective. There’s a lot of good ideas out there but the businesses that are successful have a grit and follow through. You have to have that tenacity,” she proclaims. “A piece of advice that I’ve received early on in my career was to do one thing at a time, and do each one well. We’re all multifaceted, but don’t buy into that superwoman bullshit. Either one or the other, but don’t try to be all.”
Beal’s mission to make clean skincare accessible for all generations and skin tones, as well as offering a place at the entrepreneurial table for everyone regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, or economic background, is a profound pursuit that holds much promise for the future.