Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they’ve learned on the job.

By Erin Lukas
May 25, 2018 @ 3:00 pm
Frank Terry 

The one thing that's ruining your shot at a good hair day? A ton of damage. According to Virtue Labs founder and CEO Melisse Shaban, we're in the midst of a major hair-damage epidemic. 

Shaban's built her brand on the premise that healthy hair leads to shiny hair. The line's hero ingredient is one that's previously never been used in haircare: a patented, game-changing strain of keratin derived from actual human hair. Its effectiveness is the reason that in the year since its 2017 launch, the brand's been picked up by HSN, Blue Mercury, and Violet Grey.

We chatted with Shaban on why she returned to haircare, how technology sets Virtue Labs apart from other brands, and more.  

How did you land in the beauty space? 

I fell into it when I was born. My dad worked for Revlon for 30 years, so the industry has pretty much always been a part of my life. But more than “beauty” itself, what really interests me is how consumers relate to products, and how those products can make people feel about themselves on a daily basis. 

You worked in hair, then skincare, then hair again. What made you want to return to it? 

One of my first big jobs was General Manager of Aveda when it was still privately held by its founder, Horst Rechelbacher. Since then I’ve been COO of The Body Shop, and CEO of Fekkai as well as StriVectin. So you could argue that maybe hair has been a bigger part of my career than skincare, but suffice it to say, I’ve had a lot of experience in both.

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Tell me a bit about how the concept of Virtue Labs was born.

Really, the whole idea for Virtue started with this transformational technology, which was never intended for use in haircare at all. Alpha Keratin 60ku is a patented form of the human protein keratin that was developed in the study of regenerative medicine to help severely wounded military soldiers—with beneficial applications for bone, tissue, and nerve regeneration.  

By chance, it was also found to have enormous benefit for repairing hair. Contrary to other “keratins” you might have heard of, which are highly processed animal by-product (feathers, sheep's wool), this is a unique protein that is derived from human hair, and carefully extracted to remain whole and fully functional. 

Because it is essentially hair, it “sees” cracks of damage, and goes where repair is needed to give you the best hair possible. It repaves the cracks of damage in the hair shaft like repaving a road. 

It was seeing the amazing, transformational results this technology has on damaged hair that made me want to share it with the world, and we hold the exclusive rights to this technology for cosmetic usage.

Why do you think the brand has become a success in such a short time? 

Although my team and I have been working on Virtue for more than five years, the brand has only been in market since February of last year. Women are responding because the technology actually works—they see and feel a real difference in their hair. Sales results have been very encouraging so far, and I’ve never been a part of any brand that has won so many editorial awards so quickly—more than a dozen in less than a year!

Why was it important to attach a celebrity hairstylist like Adir Abergel to such a scientific brand? How did you choose him?

It’s not so much the “celebrity” aspect as much as Adir’s authenticity as a professional and a human being. Naturally, when we started developing the Virtue products and seeing some of these clinical results, I wanted to get them into his hands to get his feedback. Once he started using them, he became very excited and knew he wanted to be involved in a bigger way with the brand. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have him on board as Creative Director. 

For all the science and technology behind these products, hair is also aspirational, and there is nobody in the industry better than Adir at making hair look amazing. His work on the red carpet, and in editorial and advertising, is simply extraordinary.

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How do you care for your hair? 

Unlike a lot of women, I wash my hair every day. I use Virtue Recovery Shampoo and Recovery Conditioner, and I supplement once or twice a week with the Restorative Treatment Mask. Our brilliant color director Sharon Dorram keeps my color in tip-top shape, and for cuts I see Sally Hershberger.

What's the most common mistake women make that's detrimental to their hair health and how can they fix this? 

I’d say hair damage is at an epidemic level. The sad truth is that just about everything we do to our hair can be damaging—harsh shampoos, chlorine in water, even simply brushing it. The biggest stressors are heat styling and chemical processing like coloring. Both can create cracks in the hair shaft, allowing moisture and protein to leach out and leaving hair dull and brittle like hay.

What's next for the brand? 

I honestly believe we have just scratched the surface of what this protein can do. We’re a technology-based line, and that will always be our point of difference. As we continue to develop the brand, we will only go where the technology leads us. But suffice it to say we’re starting to see encouraging results in our explorations with regard to color vibrancy and retention, and also hair growth, so stay tuned.