Having a non-linear career might seem stressful, but for Melanie Bender, it’s only fueled her success. Bender, 35, is the founding general manager of Versed®, a non-toxic, vegan, cruelty-free skincare brand, which she started working on in late 2017 and launched in May 2019. The beauty company originated as a spinoff from the popular fashion media and apparel brand Who What Wear®, where Bender was vice president of marketing and brand development.
“As part of my role then, overseeing marketing, I was given the very ambiguous charge to develop a new product in the beauty space,” says Bender, who lives in Los Angeles. “I got to captain the ship from the earliest stage, not really knowing what the product was going to be, what industry or category, or how we were going to sell it.”
Bender was tasked with putting together a roadmap for Versed and guiding it through all those decisions, to launch and beyond. But she wasn’t unequipped: before her stint at Who What Wear, she worked on brand vision and marketing for a $1 billion dollar development, and she co-founded a marketing consultancy to help companies reach millennials. Her background has made Versed a success, as it’s produced cleansers, toners, masks, peels, serums, and more. The line is sold exclusively on the brand’s site and at Target®. All the products are remarkably affordable, with much of the line being under $20, and they’re loaded with proven active ingredients, like retinol, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid.
Retinol shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.
Given Versed is a non-toxic, vegan, skincare brand, some people might be surprised to learn that Bender (a proponent of clean beauty) gets injectables. As it turns out, so was her closest confidante. Bender met her husband Matt during her collegiate years in her home state at the University of Hawaii℠ in Manoa, and despite all they’ve been through together — being married for 15 years, having a daughter Mila, 8, moving to New York, and then eventually to Los Angeles — the couple didn’t see eye-to-eye about injectables at first.
“When I first started doing them, my husband honestly had a hard time with it — he always saw it as wanting to look a certain way for other people,” says Bender, who married her husband at 22. “After talking to him, he got to understand that I was doing it for myself. He became supportive and really accepting of it.” She notes that her injectables regimen — much like her skincare routine — is a personal decision. Read on to find out what skincare and beauty products she uses on a daily basis, why injectable wrinkle reducers and her clean beauty routine are not mutually exclusive, and her best career advice.
Spotlyte: Tell us about your everyday mantras.
Melanie Bender: I have a lot of mantras. They're mostly about really staying in the present, and focusing on valuing yourself, and not looking to other people to provide that validation. One is: "You have the power to create your world. And you are."
Spotlyte: How do you stay present, and how do you spend your free time
MB: I meditate a little bit in the morning, and then do a longer session in the evening. That's been huge for really decompressing, and for flattening out all that energy in the mind. I love being outside and doing things that get us outdoors, hikes as a family.
My daughter and I recently replanted our garden, which was tons of fun. We planted a bunch of vegetables for salad: kale, basil, fennel, tomatoes. I think there's some zucchini in there. We're going to have to fight some of the bugs.
Spotlyte: What has your daughter, Mila, taught you about beauty?
MB: I love how she relates to beauty. She doesn't watch YouTube®, but she knows about tutorials. I get a lot of free beauty products through work, and I love bringing them home to her. When she uses them, it's with such a playful creativity. There was one time I remember I gave her a new beautiful eyeshadow palette, all bronzy shades — and she drew on a mustache and beard. It's not at all self-conscious. It's about play and experimentation, which is so fun. As an adult woman, that's really refreshing to see and feel, because the last thing we want to do is feel locked into a beauty routine and looking a certain way.
Spotlyte: What’s your morning skincare routine?
MB: In the morning, I'll typically exercise, and then wash my face with Versed Gel Cleanser to get that sweat and grime off. I prep it with Versed Weekend GlowTM Daily Brightening Solution, Versed Hydration StationTM Booster with Hyaluronic Acid (a daytime hydrating serum), then Versed Dew PointTM Moisturizing Gel Cream. It layers really well under makeup and won't get greasy throughout the day. It also keeps my skin hydrated if I'm in air conditioning or in the car. I use Tan-Luxe® The FaceTM Illuminating Self-Tan Drops, and then Supergoop!® ZincScreen® 100% Mineral Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 40 Sunscreen. SPF is a really important part of the morning regimen.
Spotlyte: What’s in your makeup bag?
MB: I wear a little bit of makeup when I'm going into the office, typically Bareminerals® Complexion Rescue® Tinted Moisturizer Hydrating Gel Cream. It’s clean, it doesn't have any pore-clogging ingredients. I do have hormonal acne still, like so many women do in their thirties. That's a big consideration with anything I'm putting on my face. I use a little bit of concealer under the eyes where I have dark circles from not getting enough sleep. I love to fill in the brows a little bit with a brow gel. Glossier® Boy Brow® is still my favorite.
I use the Kjaer WeisTM Bronzer Compact. I love RMS Beauty® for eyeshadow and cheek contouring. Then, typically, a little bit of Kosas® Color & LightTM: Crème Cream Blush & Highlighter Duo 8th MuseTM High Intensity on the contours of my cheekbones and a little bit on the bridge of my nose to give a little bit of a pop there. I’m always, always, always curling my eyelashes, and Ilia® Limitless LashTM Mascara helps hold the curl. I typically finish it off with Koh Gen DoTM MaifanshiTM Natural Lighting Powder, because I tend to get oily throughout the day. With that, I can go through nine hours in the office and feel put together all day long.
Spotlyte: What is your evening skincare routine?
MB: The first thing I do is take off makeup, SPF, and all that stuff that accumulates through the day. Typically, I double cleanse in the evening with Versed Gel Cleanser and Cosmedix® Purity Clean Exfoliating Cleanser, and then use the same Versed Weekend Glow Daily Brightening Solution and hydrating serum, Versed Hydration StationTM Booster with Hyaluronic Acid. That's a very thin serum, so it's great right after I wash and before I layer on other things.
I alternate my retinol about every other night. I've been using some form of retinol for 10 years or more. If it's one of those nights, I'll use my retinol, put on a deep hydrating moisturizer, like BibaTM Cream Barrier, on top of that, and then good to go. And then if it's an off night, I typically have a regenerating night cream that I really like. That goes on after the hydrating serum.
Spotlyte: What is your stance on anti-aging?
MB: For me, it's very much about feeling like myself and like the best version of myself. Now that I'm in my mid-thirties — staring down my upper thirties — there are things that I didn't have to do in my twenties that I very much have to do now to keep looking like myself.
I definitely try not to put any pressure on myself as to what I should look like as I age. I started to get gray hairs, and I actually kind of dig them. With respect to skincare, I’m as preventative as possible. I’m taking care of myself, having a really consistent exercise routine, drinking lots of water, and eating really cleanly.
Each woman picks and chooses what things she wants to embrace, and what things take her outside of that comfort zone of what she wants to see and feel.
Spotlyte: Do you get facials?
MB: I have a facialist that I see that I absolutely love, Biba in Los Angeles. She's really great with hormonal acne. I have a thyroid condition and that makes the hormonal breakouts so much worse, so I see her every two months. She does a deep clean when I see her, so I don't ever break out.
I also use a microcurrent facial toning device, NuFACE Trinity®, at home. I've used that for over a year. It's a really great maintenance product that you see a physical result from. You use it three times a week. Weekly, I use the StackedSkincare® Dermaplaning Tool.
Spotlyte: What other treatments do you get?
MB: I did Fraxel® for the first time this year with Dr. Sam at Facile®. I grew up in Hawaii, so I have a lot of sun damage. I definitely saw little bits of sun spots and hyperpigmentation, and that got significantly more noticeable for me as I got more into my thirties. That was the primary goal of using Fraxel. It's also great for light wrinkles, and I also had some post-acne scarring from those hormonal breakouts.
You're down for about a week, as in your face is just looking a little funky. I noticed some immediate, visible changes, but it wasn't until I saw the before and after picture that I was blown away. The difference is it looks like I have makeup on — when I don’t! — because it's just so much smoother. It helped with some of the unevenness. My goal now is to do it once per year, assuming that I can schedule in that downtime.
As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.
Spotlyte: Have you tried injectables?
MB: It's a super personal decision for everyone. For me, it's been injectable wrinkle reducer in the forehead, elevens, and crow’s feet. I get filler [on top of the] cheekbones and [in] the lips. I go to Dr. Sam a few times a year. I'm not on a set schedule. I go when things aren't maybe looking how they used to. I started with injectable wrinkle reducers around age 30 and filler around 31, 32.
Injectable wrinkle reducers temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face, including the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet; they should not be used more frequently than every three months. Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, both injectable wrinkle reducers and injectable fillers have potential risks and side effects. Talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you.
Spotlyte: Versed is a vegan, clean brand. How does that fit into the nature of your skincare and aesthetics regimen?
MB: For me, it's really important that the products that I'm using are following the most stringent guidance that's out there as far as what’s safe. We formulate to the European Union standards, which are the most stringent in the world. They have really, really robust policies against known toxins and known hormone disruptors.
I'm not strictly vegan, but I follow a vegan lifestyle very closely. Once you get married and have a family, having a very black-and-white lifestyle becomes a lot more challenging. I feel better when I'm eating vegan food.
I'm certainly the last person to have a sweeping judgment as to what someone should and shouldn't do. I've looked at the majority of the products that I'm using and what feels safe based on the research that's out there. Things like injectables are a personal decision for me.
Spotlyte: What other factors do you consider when choosing beauty products?
MB: Sustainability is something I personally feel really passionate about. It’s also an area where our brand and a lot of other companies feel compelled to lead, because we're not seeing much of that from the government. With a clean beauty policy, that’s something that we're seeing happen more across the board.
It’s very much in line with the decisions that we're making in our home. It comes down to what we eat, making sure that we're recycling everything correctly, driving a plug-in hybrid. We're putting in solar panels on our house. That's been a longer priority for us.
Spotlyte: You clearly live a thoughtful, healthy lifestyle — what is your workout routine?
MB: The first thing I do when I wake up is meditate, to set the tone for the day. I work out every day, and I love getting up in the morning and really getting my heart rate going.
I love running. I had told myself I hated running all my life, and at some point a few years ago, something just clicked. You can do it anywhere. It's an incredible workout. I can also listen to a great podcast or music. It fits into my daily schedule so easily. So about five days a week, I run, and on the other days, I love Pilates to even that out and do more toning. In LA, I go to Sweat Pilates℠. And in New York, I go to SLT®.
I've worked out consistently since my late teens. In my twenties, it was about losing weight and being a certain size. In my thirties, it’s about feeling great and taking care of myself. It just makes it feel so much better.
Spotlyte: Taking care of yourself is important at home and within your career. What's the best on-the-job advice that you've received?
MB: One is follow your curiosity and go after what excites you. I have a very nontraditional career path. I felt like I was all over the place, but there were just so many interesting problems to solve. Rather than thinking inside a certain lane and “I have to do this for this long, and then do this,” I really let myself be flexible.
When I look back at the last decade of business — especially in beauty and fashion, where I've focused — the industry has changed so, so much. By letting myself follow those changes as they happen, I've been able to be really prepared for where the industry is now and where it will be in the next five or 10 years — versus maybe being inclined to focus on, “Well this is how the career path looked like in the past.” Now, a lot of that is obsolete or a lot less in-demand.
Spotlyte: Any other advice for entrepreneurial, business-minded women?
MB: For a lot of women starting in business, know that we're people-pleasers — we don't want to push back on things — but no one else is going to do that for you. The other piece of advice that's been really important to me as a woman in business is really knowing for myself what's important for me — what are the non-negotiables for myself, and making sure that I’m staying true to that.
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