Allies of Skin and PSA Founder Nicolas Travis on Creating Two Successful Skincare Brands in Just Five Years
Dealing with acne-prone skin is an emotional rollercoaster. Trying various skincare products and even prescription treatments becomes a never-ending cycle before finally landing on a routine that actually works.
For Allies of Skin and PSA founder Nicolas Travis, the confusion of reading ingredient lists and figuring out how to incorporate them into his routine is what propelled him to eventually launch two best-selling global skincare brands rooted in research, science, and creating the most efficacious formulations possible.
Travis's concept for Allies of Skin originated as a grad school project, but since launching the Singapore-based brand in 2016, the products have quickly become popular on Instagram by beauty editors, influencers, and skincare enthusiasts alike sharing product reviews, not only because they deliver results, but also because they solve common hang ups people have with certain holy grail skincare products.
Take vitamin C, for example. While many formulas oxidize in a few months, Allies of Skin's formula doesn't contain water in order for it to stay fresh.
However, impressive results come with a price (sometimes tripe digits), so Travis launched PSA in 2020, a more affordable sister brand that mixes science-backed ingredients with fun, 'grammable-worthy packaging.
"If you take a look at PSA, it looks a lot younger and fresher, but when you look at the ingredients and percentages of actives, you see that you can be 17 years old with your first breakout, 28 and figuring out your first retinol, or 45 with fine lines and wrinkles, and the brand will work for you," says Travis. "It's not just for the younger audience, even though it was kind of created in that way. It's also for the skintellectual on a budget."
Here, Travis shares his journey as a beauty brand founder, what sets his brands' formulas apart, what he hopes for in the future of the beauty industry, and more.
How did you wind up in the beauty industry?
My passion for skincare started as a teenager. I had really severe acne and found the whole process of shopping for products really daunting and intimidating. My background is in biomedical and pharmaceutical science, and I have always been fascinated with how the skin works as an organ. When you think about it, the beauty industry may seem superficial, but we're actually caring for the largest organ we have, which is the skin. When I was doing my masters degree, I spent about six months writing a business plan for a skincare company because I always knew I wanted to be in the beauty business, but I also thought I had to pay my dues because I had zero experience.
After I graduated, I applied to every single beauty company in every country that I thought I could live in and none of them got back to me. I had to go get a job, so I ended up in the advertising world doing social media and public relations. I was doing really well but I wasn't fulfilled, so I had this urge to go back and revisit the business plan I wrote. The plan was based on having a million dollars to fund the business, and I quickly realized I was never going to make a million dollars working at an ad agency so I reassessed the plan. My sister and brother gave me loans so I could have three products, and that's really how it started. I spent two and a half years in research and development, then we launched with three products in the spring of 2016.
In 2020 you launched PSA, the sister brand to Allies of Skin. What inspired this line and sets it apart?
Two and a half years ago, Allies of Skin launched in all Sephora locations in Asia. While I was in countries like Malaysia and Thailand during the training, I realized that the cost of one $120 Allies of Skin moisturizer is about a third of the monthly take-home pay of a Sephora salesperson. While they get free products during the training, every single one of them came up to me to tell me while they love the products and saw incredible, quick results while using them, they would never be able to afford them. With Allies of Skin I didn't want to be constrained by budget; I just wanted to make the most efficacious formulations that I possibly could. I realized as we launched it didn't make me very happy to just serve the 1%. I also wanted to democratize skincare because just because you can afford a $120 moisturizer, doesn't mean you should go buy a $120 moisturizer
So I saw an opportunity to make a range of efficacious but accessible products made with easy-to-understand ingredients at the right percentages. I went to Sephora Asia with the idea and they gave me a budget without seeing any products. This was in 2018 and nobody knew what COVID was, so they gave me a launch date of March 20, 2020. I felt as though there was a white space for products that are not only really great to look at, but also easy to understand. The PSA line includes commonly-used products with best-in-class ingredients and there's the steps and instructions on all of the packaging.
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Allies of Skin and PSA are now global skincare brands that everyone can use. What's your approach to creating products that cater to a wide range of needs?
We start by looking at market: taking what is broken and the pain points of consumers to try to make something even better. For example, vitamin C is a holy grail product, but if you dig deeper, you'll find out there are a lot of pain points consumers experience with the product. It can oxidize within three months, potentially make you break out, and high percentages can cause irritation. So, I looked at vitamin C and figured out what I could do to make ours really special. The result is waterless 35% and 20% vitamin C serums. By omitting water, the pure vitamin C stays fresh longer, and ours stays clear for up to a year. Lets also take retinol, for example. It's of the most widely research ingredients and dermatologists swear by it, but one of the pain points is that you have to acclimate to it. I wanted to figure out how to bypass that. So we found a form of retinol that's encapsulated and time released, and because of this, it gives you all of the benefits without the traditional irritation or redness.
As a skincare brand founder, what do you hope to see in the future of the industry?
We strive to create a safe space for people to talk about their skincare journeys. I think we're often used to seeing the before and after, and we're so fixated on the after. When we see someone who's cleared their skin in a few months, we might think we're doing something wrong, but in reality, everybody's journey is different. It doesn't matter if it takes five years to clear your skin or it's a hormonal thing where you need the help of a gynecologist or dermatologist because topical products can't treat your issues. We like to create an environment that isn't fear-based, but instead talks about your skincare goals, helps you figure out the right actives and percentages, and bring it back to science.
Shop Allies of Skin and PSA Products
Allies of Skin 35% Vitamin C+ Perfecting Serum
A potent waterless, non-oxidizing formula is what sets Allies of Skin's vitamin C serum apart from the other options out there. Along with two forms of stable vitamin C to minimize dark spots and boost glow, the serum contains superoxide dismutase and glutathione to reduce inflammation and repair signs of aging.
To shop: $118; dermstore.com
Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum
This night serum minimizes dark spots, pimples, blackheads, and large pores thanks to potent blend of AHA and BHA acids. Bakuchiol and peptides round out the formula, preventing signs of aging including fine lines and wrinkles.
To shop: $92; dermstore.com
Allies of Skin Molecular Silk Amino Hydrating Cleanser
An effective cleanser is the foundation of every skincare routine. Allies of Skin has formulated the Molecular Silk Amino Hydrating Cleanser with all skin types in mind. The foaming gel cleanser washes away dirt, excess oil, and makeup without stripping the skin. In fact, the silk amino acids hydrate and provide antioxidant protection.
To shop: $38; dermstore.com
PSA Light Up Flash Brightening Mask
Speaking of glow ups, this face mask from Allies of Skin's sister brand, PSA, is a must-try for all-round dewy, radiant skin. Hero ingredients vitamin C and E work together to reduce blemish dark marks, dullness, and repair and protect against UV damage. The nourishing grapeseed oil base offers antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits to ensure the mask is safe for acne-prone skin. Use it morning or night — just don't forget to follow up with SPF.
To shop: $32; revolve.com
PSA Midnight Courage Night Oil
As the last step in your skincare routine, this nourishing face oil seals in moisture and offers anti-aging benefits care of backuchiol and a gentle, advanced retinoid that's less likely to cause irritation and redness.
To shop: $38; revolve.com
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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