Some people naturally exude positive energy, Annie Tevelin, founder of SkinOwl is one of them. Her enthusiasm for skincare and self-care is contagious. A former Lancôme makeup artist who went back to university to study chemistry, Annie has been dedicated to providing results-driven skincare products and simplifying our beauty regimen in a confusing industry. In this interview, Annie shares with us her unique journey, the importance of taking time for yourself, how necessary it is to do your research instead of blindly following the latest beauty trends, and her secret talent.
What is the story behind SkinOwl; also is there a meaning behind the name itself?
For a long time, I suffered from cystic acne and overall terrible skin woes, which put a strain on my wellbeing and confidence. Back in the days (about 8 years ago), I was working as a makeup artist for Lancôme. Ultimately, the amount of makeup I was wearing and the constant switching to new products took a toll on my skin. There was no big green movement such as the one we know today, so I tried everything to tackle my skin troubles. I went to see every dermatologist, I spent tons of money on skincare, all to no avail since my skin condition only worsened. So I decided to go back to school to study chemistry (cosmetic industry education) to learn about the real benefits of ingredients, get the insight on what works versus what is marketed as working.
I decided to start a private group on Facebook and call it SkinOwl – with me being the ‘skin owl’ so to speak. It was my alter ego. Owls are referred to as messengers of wisdom, so I hoped to be the messenger of wisdom in a very confusing beauty industry. Women were seeking beauty advice and product recommendations. By combining my makeup artistry education with my cosmetic chemistry education, I was able to provide solutions and help women. I had such a wide net of knowledge in makeup and health that I ended becoming a beauty adviser inside the group. As a result, the group grew from 6 people to 1600 in a matter of months. It grew immensely, to the point that I could not keep up with the questions. I helped others find the right products for them, I knew what brands put in their products, so I ended up thinking about making my own. My first creation was the Beauty Drops, which got rid of my acne in 32 days. I decided to introduce it to the SkinOwl Facebook group and the reception was incredibly positive. From that moment, I knew that I had a product that I could share and sell. Most people introduce a product unsure if it will appeal or not, but through this group, I already had that positive encouragement, which gave me the final push to create my brand. Four years ago, I started setting up the website, asking my best friend who’s a graphic designer, to do the logo which has remained the same. Looking back, that Facebook group was a beta test for starting a business.
Your first launch, the Beauty drops, have 2 ingredients each, can we go from that and say that SkinOwl’s philosophy is less is more?
Yes, because of my personal experience with skincare, about how products tricked me, I think transparency and simplicity are important. There are fewer chances to mess a product that has 2 ingredients. It’s been my job to find the biggest strengths of each ingredient. More than the quantity itself, it’s about highly sourced, great quality oils, and ingredients. For instance, I beta tested 250 argan oils, so I knew which argan oil had the potential to transform your skin from those which don’t.
Skincare can be simple, but it has to be result-driven, it’s not enough for me to have a product that smells lovely and feels good: the product has to work. This is absolutely possible, without resorting to synthetic ingredients, fillers, and preservatives. For me, it is just easier to get to that efficiency if you start off with fewer ingredients.
What’s the biggest skin/beauty misconception for you?
Overall, I’d say greenwashing. For instance, when you have those big horse companies that come with, say, a new coconut or a rosehip condition cream, put the entire focus and marketing campaign on that ingredient when in fact it only appears at the bottom of the list. The sad reality is a company is allowed to put it on the deck of the product, even if it’s less than 1 percent of an ingredient. It’s dangerous and I feel frustrated by the lack of ingredient integrity, especially for us, green businesses, who are genuinely using high quality and quantity of these aforementioned ingredients. Not to mention that if they were using as much of these ingredients as they claimed to, there would be a shortage of those raw ingredients.
How did you come up with your latest addition, the beauty bars? Facial soap bars tend to be quite polarizing, causing dryness and breakouts in some cases. What’s your take on that?
Our motto is that skincare becomes self-care. The line is a series of one-off products and not a linear line of products as you would normally expect. We went the other way round, by launching a beauty steam, a neck product and so on, but then some of our customers were asking us for a cleanser, toner, mask etc. to complete their regimen. If I find an ingredient and feel inspired by it to create a specific product, I’ll do everything to make it the best it can be.
With the beauty bars, I was overall imagining the idea of self-care, I did not think that squeezing a gel out of a bottle or a tube promoted any kind of self-care. To me, it did not feel like a ritual. My own experience with a face cleansing bar was extremely positive. It cleared up my own acne – back in the day, the one by Erno Laszlo changed my skin. The beauty bars are there to kickstart the beauty regimen with self-care. It’s a sensory experience: you’re touching, you’re feeling, you’re smelling, you’re rinsing, something you do not quite experience with an average pump bottle. The reason some people shy away from soap bars is because the main ingredient tends to be coconut oil: it’s a popular ingredient but it can be incredibly drying and it doesn’t penetrate the pores. All of our bars are coconut oil free, instead, we use jojoba, shea, activated charcoal, bamboo, green tea, and essential oils. Basically, we used ingredients that you could find in a cream cleanser or a balm, but we put them into a bar. The charcoal bar has worked its magic on my skin, you can also use it directly as an exfoliator, bar to face, gentle exfoliation. Each bar goes with its Beauty Drops, they are color-coordinated.
Tomato bar + lavender beauty drops: for oily inflamed skin that needs UV protection. Not drying, unlike many acne products.
Charcoal bar + geranium beauty drops: for those who want to get rid of fatigue and product build up without getting rid of natural oils. Also great for combination skin type.
Matcha bar + clary sage beauty drops: for moms, people who experience onset aging, tired, and sallow skin. The matcha bar is like a shot of espresso, or in that case a shot of green tea for their face. Each bar has its specificities. So far, the feedback regarding the soap bars has been incredible and hopefully changing the way people are thinking about cleansing. I haven’t used a cream cleanser in 4-5 months and my skin has been thankful for it.
Do you have a morning ritual?
Walking my dog. Obviously, it’s not like we have a choice because he demands it every single morning. I put on some yoga pants, a sweatshirt and we set off for a 40-minute long walk with my bag filled with dog treats and a water bottle. There are some cool areas around my neighborhood, so we explore. At first it was is something I was doing for my dog, but in hindsight, it is as beneficial for me as it is for my dog. I do it before checking my emails or social medias. That’s how I start my day: I get up, go outside for some fresh air and blood-pumping activity. If I did not do it, it would affect me as much as it would my dog. I love it, it’s a moment to rest, enjoy the day before going to work. I can work 14 hours a day, so I definitely need a moment before I dedicate myself to SkinOwl.
You mentioned your past experience as a Lancôme makeup artist, so your makeup bag has probably changed over the years. If we had a peek into your makeup bag, what would we find lately?
I’ve been loving the Eye of Horus mascara, I’m obsessed with it. There’s also the Vapour Stratus soft focus skin perfecting primer (s904). I’m wearing it right now, it makes me feel like I have a light tinted moisturizer on when it’s actually just a primer. If I’m using foundation, I apply the liquid foundation by Sappho for great coverage. I’m also loving the Zuzu luxe lip liner, shade ‘Fresh’ to line and fill in my lips, I wear it all the time. I used to wear Spice by MAC and that’s the equivalent. I love W3ll People’s Bio-Brightener stick, I use it on my top of cheeks, brow bone, down my nose. I’m into big lashes, sometimes with a little eyeshadow along my lashline, but I’m more about the skin having an awesome glow, with a soft contour and highlighting. Overall, I like to keep it simple.
I have to ask…I’ve read and heard many people rave about Lancôme’s Hypnose Drama mascara. Would you say that the Eye of Horus mascara is the green equivalent?
No (laughs). Back in my makeup days, I did not use a lot of Lancôme skincare or makeup, it was mostly their foundation and blush, however, Hypnose Drama is the best mascara I have ever used in my entire life. As a makeup artist, I have used it on countless of people and they all freak out over the quality. Hypnose Drama was lengthening, thickening, volumizing and curling at once, so it has taken every single part of me to find a “greener” version. For me, it’s more about having a non-toxic conversation rather than the fact that everything needs to be organic. I just want to make sure that none of the ingredients contribute to provoking anything serious. I can’t use this mascara anymore, but Eyes of Horus is the closest thing I’ve found. My tip: put it on, wait a minute or two and start building again. You can actually get pretty awesome lashes with it.
People would be surprised to know that…
Good question. I have played classical guitar for 20 years and I’m a singer. I’ve been playing acoustic guitar since I was 15 and I’ve been singing blues and soul songs my entire life. If I did not do SkinOwl, I’d probably be a professional singer.
Green hunter, wellness junkie and pun maker on the website, I'm on a journey towards a kinder and healthier life. @lizthegreenspirit on Instagram.