From her vantage point of 30-plus years in the skincare business, aesthetician and entrepreneur Ellen Lange sees the near-daily flood of buzzy new beauty brands that seem to launch out of nowhere―often with venture capital in hot pursuit―and she just doesn’t get it.
“I don’t know how they all don’t go under,” Lange marvels. “The worst is when you see companies invest in them. They’re giving them $20 million and there’s no reason to exist, no point of difference. I’ve seen this cycle so many times.”
As the purveyor of one superstar product―a three-step Retexturizing Peel that launched on QVC in 1996 and is widely considered the first at-home peel to successfully mimic a pricey, in-office treatment―Lange herself has had several near acquisition experiences over the years. But each time she was close to selling her brand, fate intervened and put a kibosh on the deal.
Still, she remains hopeful that a deep-pocketed white knight will come charging in at some point, and she’s doing everything she can to remain relevant―and profitable―until that happens. “My long-term goal is to be part of the Ellen Lange team,” and step out of the day-to-day rigors of running the brand, Lange declares. “I’m still searching.”
Hailing from a family of plastic surgeons, Lange attended Christine Valmy International School of Esthetics & Cosmetology before opening a medi-spa adjacent to the family practice. And after a chance meeting with a QVC buyer who planted the peel seed, she spent a year developing her revolutionary kit.
“The buyer said, ‘If you can create a peel, you’re on,’” Lange recalls. “I launched on QVC because it was an opportunity. I didn’t have a brand. I didn’t come from the beauty business. I was an aesthetician.”
But what Lange also was, and continues to be, is a primo networker with an ability to envision the future. Thus, when her peel kit became an overnight hit on QVC and Sephora came knocking, she leapt at that chance, too. At the time, the hype on the famous French beauty retailer’s entrée into the US was massive; there was no way Lange wasn’t capitalizing on that, as potentially risky as it was.
“I remember going out to lunch with Steve Bock and Shashi Batra, and they were like, ‘Just know that this is primarily a fragrance store,’” Lange says, referring to the legendary retailers who were tasked by LVMH with launching Sephora in America. “Because that was what it was in France, certainly. Very fragrance oriented.”
As hot as her peel kit was―Lange says it was perennially sold-out on QVC―Sephora needed more product to fill a dedicated Ellen Lange section of the store. To accommodate this, Lange added SKUs at one point ballooning up to 18 separate products. Even makeup was part of the equation for a hot minute.
“I did the first version of all these BB and CC creams,” she recalls. “I own the trademark Wearable Treatment, and we had Velvet, Vinyl and Suede. Those did well for a while. It was serious treatment with special effects.”
For a brief, shining moment in the late ‘90s, Lange’s business was booming on both QVC and at Sephora. But then the latter decided the former wasn’t great for its image, and even though her QVC segments were what drew her to the attention of Sephora, the retailer asked Lange to make a choice: us or them.
In those days, “Sephora didn’t have any brands that were on QVC; that was sort of ‘below’ them,” Lange says. “This was an era when brands didn’t really cross over.”
Lange chose Sephora over QVC. “It was growing so quickly. We were branded in 70 stores,” she explains. “And honestly, I can’t really say I made the wrong decision.”
Still, Lange admits that without the television exposure, her brand wasn’t as powerful. And when personal health problems arose in the form of LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ), Lange opted for a bilateral mastectomy and a wellness-driven departure from Sephora. “I didn’t have any kind of full-blown cancer, but my kids were young and I just decided, ‘You know what? This is getting really hard.’”
Flash-forward to today, and Lange is in hustle mode. She’s been on TikTok since 2020 and can be viewed applying her peel in all manner of situations, as well as sharing what she’s currently into, i.e., golf and Kara Swisher podcasts. She maintains her own handsomely designed website, chock-a-block with peel-based content, including a The Peel Book she wrote and had illustrated by a creative type she hired from Upwork.
“I do everything myself,” she says. “And that’s been an amazing thing; that I’ve been able to learn so much and stay so relevant, from a technology point of view.”
After dabbling in a tiered marketing system that didn’t fly, Lange now sells only on ellenlange.com, Amazon, and through a handful of affiliates.
And most importantly, she’s back down to a microscopic product assortment that puts her peel kit front and center. Featuring proprietary formulas and backed with clinicals, it has long enjoyed stellar reviews and has, Lange says, an almost zero return rate.
Her belief in the efficacy of her famous product is the reason Lange sticks to her guns decades after its initial debut. “If you’re wondering why I still do this, it’s because I really help people, and because I feel like I’m the real deal,” she says. “I’m authentic.”
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