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New Look, Same Ethos: The Evolution of Zelens

Published September 12, 2023
Published September 12, 2023

Founded in 2005, Zelens has been a proponent of science-backed skincare (with the aid of some powerful and well-researched botanicals) since day one. Every product is tested in clinical trials with laser profilometry to ensure maximum efficacy. Over one hundred botanicals have been integrated into the brand’s formulas, to date. Founder Dr. Marko Lens is an esteemed London-based plastic and reconstructive surgeon, but his first interactions with skincare ingredients began in early childhood.

Dr. Lens’ curiosity for botanicals began through watching his grandmother prepare homemade skincare formulas with a variety of herbs. Today each product in the Zelens lineup makes use of different horticultural ingredients—with a twist. “What makes them proprietary is not only the combination of botanicals that work in synergy but also the special extract technique and use of liposomes to enhance their delivery to the skin or their biofermentation to increase their bioactivities. We are very proud that all our formulations have proprietary botanical blends and complexes,” he explains. 

His formulation approach mixes principles of the traditional Japanese medicine of Kampo, which focuses on natural and holistic solutions catered to an individual’s unique constitution, with dermatological science. “I start from the latest findings in skin research and the most advanced technology methods. Every single ingredient I include in the formulation is picked up based on scientific results and evidence of the safety and efficacy of that ingredient. My approach from the beginning was not to believe in single-hero ingredients but to mix multiple ingredients, both high tech and botanicals and to make them work in synergy,” he explains.

The brand’s global best-sellers reflect that ethos: Triple-Action Eye Cream (a creation to target puffiness, wrinkles, and dark circles through ingredients such as acetyl octapeptide-3, hesperidin, and diglucosyl gallic acid), PHA+ Resurfacing Essence (which removes dead skin cells with polyhydroxy acids, AHA, BHA, and fruit enzymes), and Power D (a high-potency provitamin D3 concentrate which strengthens the skin barrier). In Thailand, the pollution-fighting Tea Shot Urban Defence Serum is popular, containing antioxidant-rich ingredients like green, white, red, and black tea. In China, Age Control and Youth Glow Foundation are coveted items due to their skincare-focused formulas. Age Control Foundation contains 25 actives like glycogen and phytic acid to improve the skin with wear, while Youth Glow Foundation is formulated with uyaku extract to soothe the epidermis and lactobacillus ferment to support its immune defenses. Both formulas contain diamond powder for a healthy radiant finish.

Dr. Lens proclaims that exceptional quality, the latest research, cutting-edge technology, and eco-conscious practices are what differentiate the brand in such a competitive market. The ethos of Zelens is to “challenge beauty standards, create breakthrough formulations, and embrace transparency and inclusivity. Zelens aims to foster a community where self-expression, self-care, and sustainability intertwine, and become the go-to destination for authentic, innovative, and sustainable beauty solutions.”

Those solutions are ever evolving, being overhauled in tandem with the latest scientific insights. Over 15 years into building the business, Dr. Lens also decided it was time for a visual makeover. In 2021, the company was rebranded, moving away from its green and silver packaging to a more streamlined look with black caps and minimalist font in recyclable packaging, as well as updating all formulas, including making them fragrance free. The sleek new look came courtesy of a working partnership with Moses Voigt, the former Creative Director at influential fashion brand Acne.

“The rebrand opened a new chapter of Zelens. All products have been reformulated in line with the very latest science and ingredient technology available, leveraging cleaner and more natural solutions to deliver innovative, powerful ingredient combinations,” the founder says. “We also gave a new look to Zelens: a statement of understated luxury, minimal in execution to allow the formulas to take center stage. The timeless design stands out in the category of science-led, doctor skincare.”

Reflecting on his brand-building approach over the years, he adds, “I realized that the most important thing is to have a very clear vision that can be valid for a long period of time. Our vision is to offer a unique and transformative experience for consumers while providing visible results. We aim to be more than just another beauty brand, but rather the ultimate destination for savvy individuals seeking innovative and sustainable beauty solutions that deliver results.”

“I realized that the most important thing is to have a very clear vision that can be valid for a long period of time."
By Dr. Marko Lens, Founder, Zelens

As an early proponent of ingredient-conscious and nature-based formulations, Dr. Lens sees the clean beauty and biotech as showing no signs of slowing down, despite the sometimes shaky regulations around the first movement. “As a scientist, I find it very difficult to understand the definition of clean beauty because there is no solid scientific evidence or no evidence at all regarding clean versus nonclean ingredients. Definitions are very arbitrary and so-called ‘dirty lists’ differ so much among different companies," he comments. “On the other hand, consumers want results and thus there is a strong need for new biotech ingredients that are high-performance with proven efficacy. I respect both movements. For me, the most important aspect is the safety of the product for which we have evidence on the efficacy.”

It’s not just the skin’s appearance Dr. Lens is interested in. Skin cancer is a specialty of his research, informed by a Master of Science degree from Harvard University and a PhD from Oxford University in the field. It was during these studies that his interest in skincare formulations was originally piqued. It’s an important topic given that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime and 9,500 new skin cancer diagnoses are made every day. Here the founder hopes that consumer attitudes towards prevention and protection will shift. “People will gladly spend hundreds of dollars for anti-aging cream or serum but would hesitate to spend the same amount of money for an excellent sunscreen formulation. They do not understand that at the moment the only skincare product that can prevent premature skin aging is actually a well-formulated broad-spectrum sunscreen,” he explains. Zelens recently brought three different broad-spectrum Daily Defence SPFs to market: one non-nano zinc mineral SPF 30 formula with anti-inflammatory acetyl hexapeptide-1 and antibacterial shiso mint, and two SPF 30 and SPF 50 options made with six organic, eco-friendly UV filters as well as collagen-boosting proline and wrinkle-fighting dunaliella microalgae.

Another talking point that requires further education from his perspective is the importance of repairing skin barrier function to boost its appearance, health, and well-being. He states: “If you do not properly repair the skin barrier you will not get smoother skin or less wrinkles and fine lines. I believe that consumers need more education, but the question is do they have time for a good education or do they prefer a quick advert claiming miracle results of an anti-aging cream?”

Indeed, the current markers of desirable skin aesthetics (dolphin skin, wrinkle-free faces, poreless T-zones) are often at odds with the realities of the skin’s natural condition and health. For those seeking professional interventions, Dr. Lens is seeing increased demand for a natural outcome by means of nonsurgical, noninvasive procedures. The global dermal fillers is expected to hit $9 billion by 2030 with a CAGR of 7.8%. However with that booming industry comes questions around procedure safety. “My concern is that many people who are not qualified are performing procedures that only qualified medical doctors should do,” he notes. A 2023 study by University College London across 3,000 websites offering injectables found that two-thirds of practitioners offering the service are not qualified medical doctors.

Alongside the booming market of nonsurgical interventions, the Zelens brand has also witnessed the shift of beauty retail from purely physical to an omnichannel experience. Today its range is stocked at prestigious online and offline retailers across the globe like Cult Beauty, Tmall, Selfridges, and Galeries Lafayette. “When I started my brand, retail stores were the most important sales points and people trusted so much advice from beauty specialist in these stores. Nowadays, people prefer to shop online and they are highly driven by the advice of beauty bloggers. However, due to many tutorials on products, online consumers became more knowledgeable, more savvy. I adore when the consumers express the interest to know more about ingredients and how they work in biological systems,” Dr. Lens reflects.

The founder sees integrity and the quality of the product as the key to his longevity in the competitive skincare landscape. “When I say integrity, I mean that you are developing products using functional concentrations of active ingredients that have proven results in clinical studies and that you are not making false or misleading claims. For me integrity is going even further,” Dr. Lens explains. “No compromise at any step of skincare development and production. And I will not hide; you have to have a passion for what you are doing from the first step in formulation and through the whole process.”

That passion is still as strong as ever with expansion plans for the future. Zelens is planning a larger expansion into the China region now that the animal testing regulations have been removed, building on the cross-border success the company has built with its skincare-first foundations. Given the extensive research backing and precise formulas of each new release, development looks promising. Further additions to the brand’s newly launched spa line are also currently underway. The brand expanded into the professional space in May 2022, with four treatments debuting at The Langham Hotel’s Chuan Body+Soul spa in London. Features include the use of 3D URF equipment, which merges multipolar and ultrasound radiofrequency to promote lymphatic drainage and cellular repair. True to its brand DNA, Zelens is continuing to push forward to new skincare frontiers.


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