Entrepreneur, business woman and author Kate Somerville is one of the leading practitioners in the skincare industry. In fact, she is personally responsible for the glowing complexions of hundreds of leading ladies, whose livelihoods depend on their looks. When it comes to a clear complexion and a gorgeous glow, stars like Jessica Alba, Paris Hilton, Sandra Oh, and Debra Messing depend on her. Kate was one of the first people to integrate skincare and medicine paving the way for medi-spa industry. It wasn’t until she developed the Skin Health Pyramid™, though, that Kate truly turned skincare into a science.
Kate believes that everyone deserves to have beautiful skin, and has dedicated her life to that ethos. In the following interview with Emily Sanderg and me, Kate’s candour and passion for what she does exemplifies what it means to live a life of excellence.
What is unique about your approach to wellness?
I’ve spent years working on myself and my soul, yet I only recently came to understand how effective this work can be in healing the human body and our skin. The state of our skin reflects the present state of our being. The skin is the largest organ that is visible to the eye and our skin is a reflection of what’s going on in our heads and our hearts. I strongly believe in technology, advances in science and the latest and greatest ingredients; after all, I use them in my clinic and in my product collection. However, they’re only a few tools on my workshop, or one dimension of total skin wellness. Healthy, radiant skin is the result of a healthy, radiant spirit, body and mind. Balance is the foundation – and it’s something that I’m still learning to practice myself. Like you, I have a lot of responsibilities; I’m a mom, the founder of a successful business, a wife, a friend and a daughter. Like you, my time and energy are often limited.
There is an old adage that beauty is only skin deep. Can you discuss the concept of beauty on a physiological level?
Over the years, I’ve seen so many people who were overcome with grief because of their skin challenges. They were all searching for one thing: a healthy complexion. I can’t tell you how many clients have cried in my chair because they were distraught and feeling powerless. I’ve watched men and women struggle with the state of their skin and it’s heartbreaking. Whether it’s the emotional turmoil caused by acne or the anxiety associated with aging, insecurities can negatively influence how these individuals see themselves, how others see them and how they live their lives.
Our skin is a reflection of our deepest selves. The expression “It’s written all over your face” is so true. We absolutely wear our lives on our faces: our joy and pains, our loves and losses, our victories and surrenders. I know when my clients are head over heels in love or simply in over their heads. How do I know this? – Sometimes they tell me, but mostly I know because the glow is either there or it’s not.
You pioneered the Skin Health Pyramid. Where did this idea evolve from?
I started thinking about this a few years ago when I was staying with a friend at a cabin in Big Bear. It was a lazy day and we were bundled up, sipping tea, watching the snow flurries outside the windows and brainstorming ideas for my book Complexion Perfection!.At this point, I had worked on skin for almost 15 years and time and time again I saw my clients skin transform. My friend swore to me that until we met, she’d tried everything – but it wasn’t until she did what I told her to do that her skin transformed from acne prone and sensitive to healthy and vibrant. As we talked about what worked for her and what didn’t work, the casual discussion turned into a dedicated research session. My mission then became to put down on paper what worked for me over the years.
I began asking myself, What is the formula for healthy skin? I focused on the big picture:What do I do to change skin? What’s required for skin to be as healthy as possible at any age? And, if it’s not healthy and radiant, what do I do to get those results?
I truly believe that your skin can look and act healthy at any age, provided that it’s cared for on every level. I reviewed hundreds of client cases in my head and hundreds more when I got back to my office. I began to recognize a clear pattern: regardless of skin’s condition, age, ethnicity or concern, there was a method behind my success in treating it. There was a formula for achieving and maintaining complexion perfection. I immediately put pen to paper and outlined the strategy and applied it to my clients over the years. I organized these principles into the Kate Somerville Skin Health Pyramid and conceptually modeled it after the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Guide Pyramid because it was so simple and easy to understand.
Discuss the evolution of the Kate Somerville brand and what social good do you see your brand contributing to next?
The truth is, many companies that create beauty products are really just marketing firms. They get formulas from a far away lab and just slap their labels on them. I truly believe this is what separates my brand, my products and what my team and I do from all the rest of the stuff out there. My products don’t get on the shelf unless they’re needed by my clients and tested by real people at my clinic. We only create products that work and help, that my clients can trust and that I believe in.
What is your beauty philosophy?
I read an interview with Michelle Obama in Oprah Magazine and she said her happiness was directly related to how she felt about herself. I think most of us are like this – when we feel good about ourselves we are stronger and meet the world better. I know when my skin looks healthy, glowing and clear, I feel better about myself.
What was it about skincare that you connected with?
As a child I suffered from severe eczema; I broke out from head to toe. There were patches on my hands, my arms, my scalp and my face. My skin would get so dry and inflamed it would crack and bleed. If you’ve ever experienced a severe case of eczema, then you know how uncomfortable it can be. I was overwhelmed by pain, both physical and mental. Doctors prescribed creams that would suppress the awful itching, but the creams never cured the wounds. I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin, literally and figuratively. It took my entire life to find physical and emotional comfort for myself.
What message do you want people to understand about you and the Kate Somerville brand?
Everyone has the right to radiance; it’s not just reserved for celebrities, brides-to-be, or those who are simply born that way. You’re in control. You have the power to change your skin and change your life. It’s more than possible, I see skin change every day, whether it’s breakouts vanishing, full-blown rosacea clearing up, or the lines of aging diminishing. I’m passionate about the partnership with my clients and with those I share advice. Now I want you to have skin you’re proud of. It’s my job to provide you with the knowledge and motivation to do it; it’s your job to bring the trust and commitment.
When you were in your early 20’s, did you envision that you would be where you are today?
When I was 18, I decided to go to college. I went to Fresno State to pursue a degree in design and began dating a great guy. I also met an individual who would ultimately become the most influential woman in my life – my boyfriend’s mother, Barbara Wells. Barbara was loving and supportive and she taught me that I didn’t have to live in chaos. I was in control of my life and I had the power to change whatever it was I didn’t like. I could get things under control and be whatever I wanted to be, have whatever I wanted to have and achieve whatever I wanted to achieve. Even today I continue to replay her words of encouragement in my head. Barbara was my guiding light, showing me that anything is possible in life. She died from cancer when I was about 20. Nevertheless, she remains the most inspirational woman I have ever known. Her message continues to guide me, personally and professionally.
Because of Barbara, I was finally able to make decisions based on what I wanted. I had always wanted to live in the coastal town of Cambria and I made the decision to move there. I had no money, but there I was in my little blue Volkswagen Bug on the two-lane highway to Cambria, one of the most beautiful towns on earth. That’s where and when my life started to change.
What are some of the moments in your life that influenced your current course?
When I was a child living in Fresno, life seemed perfect. Being teachers, my parents would be in school when I was, and then we spent our afternoons together at home. Later, we moved to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where my parents bought a beautiful piece of land and planned to build a house. In the meantime we lived in a huge barn on the property, and my mom designed the whole space on her own. I loved this time of my life and remember it affectionately, but things began to change.
This was the 70’s when it was all about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. The fun that filled my parents’ early years started to take over. The party lifestyle soon ruled my mom and she and my dad began to fight nonstop. The situation escalated as her drug and alcohol dependencies grew. She just couldn’t be a mom anymore…or a wife for that matter. She left us and went to live in Santa Barbara. I was nine-years-old and clearly remember the feeling – it was so painful. I knew she loved me, but I didn’t know what I could do to make her come back. In many ways I was relieved she was gone because the fighting stopped. It was the worst feeling in the world to be a young girl without a mom.
For the next year it was just my dad and me living in the barn on our land. It was incredibly eclectic and artistic, with a beautiful garden, a trailer for a kitchen and an outhouse for a bathroom. I was the only person I knew who lived this way and I’m convinced it was a source of my creativity. We’d always have family friends over and every weekend seemed like a celebration.
It seems funny that I grew up to be in the beauty world because I was such a tomboy in those days. I’d ride my horse Ginger to the school bus stop every day. When the bus came, I’d let her go and she’d run straight back home. In the afternoon, I’d walk the two miles home giving me a lot of time to daydream. Even though I missed my mother the chaos had stopped and my life was good.
What are the essential products young women need to have in their tool kit for skin health?
There are five essential things women can do to ensure skin health. Do each step of my Skin Health Pyramid on a weekly or daily basis:
- Protect-use sunscreen
- Hydrate-the skin and body
- Feed-get all the nutrients you need; take a multivitamin and apply an antioxidant serum
- Stimulate collagen-use retinols and peptides to stimulate collagen production if you’re over 25
- Detox-Use a good cleanser and exfoliate
How did you get involved in the skincare industry?
In college I became good friends with someone who was a dermatologist. She and I would talk endlessly about eczema and all the efforts I put into healing myself. At the time, the field of esthetics was very new, yet I was always intrigued by skin health and beauty and this seemed like something I could finally sink my teeth into. I went back to school and a few months later I had my California esthetician license.
While I was in school I had an idea. I knew I wanted to work side by side with doctors to complement their services. This was unusual at the time, as most estheticians were facialists employed by spas. I put together a business plan and shortly after graduating I opened my own clinic inside a cosmetic surgeon’s office. I didn’t know anything about running a business and was scared to death. However, I overcame my fear and just did it. I met other estheticians and nurses who were working with doctors as I was. This was the beginning of a burgeoning field.
Before long, my personal life took me to Los Angeles, I sold my clinic and got married. In Los Angeles I worked with a skin-care company in product development and was the Director of Education. I educated doctors and surgeons in the efficacy of the line and its ingredients along with how it could support their business and treatments. My passion for product development began here.
I enjoyed my work; however, the travel associated with it became overwhelming, so I again set up an esthetics office with a cosmetic surgeon in Santa Monica. At the time, he was the top surgeon in his field and his clients included major celebrities. This doctor gave me the tools and inspiration I needed to fully pursue my dreams and career goals, he saw how I was constantly mixing and matching product lines to get my clients results. One day he took me aside and said, “The only way you’re going to make a difference is through innovation. You have six different skin care lines here. Learn from them and make your own,” so I did. From that day on, I started to develop my own product collection.
Follow her at @KateSomerville