Despite the plethora of beauty products available on the market, it can be hard to find exactly what you’re looking for. This need for a specific item is the origin story for many beauty entrepreneurs — including Karisma SkincareTM founder Lisa Mazzarella, who was compelled to develop a clean, non-toxic face oil. But unlike many beauty entrepreneurs, Mazzarella doesn’t have a background in skincare, beauty, or even consumer goods at all. In fact, for her entire career, the 51-year-old Huntington Beach, CA native was a lawyer — a partner at a law firm and general counsel for two multinational corporations.
Her transition from attorney to beauty founder, formulator, and CEO was a slow one. “I continued to practice on a consultant basis up until about four months ago,” she admits. “I was very scared about giving up my career, my income, all I knew for so many years. It was my identity for most of my adult life.”
Despite being worried about losing her life savings, Mazzarella committed to building Karisma Skincare, a clean, luxurious line (prices range from $70 to $185) that includes facial oil, face polish, a honey mask, and more. And, as it turns out, her background practicing law was extremely helpful in starting her company. “I know how to really dig into a subject, and I don’t stop until I have a 360-degree understanding of it,” she explains. “I did a very deep dive into the skincare industry itself, which affirmed there was a white space for Karisma.”
For Mazzarella —a long-time beauty junkie who has an early memory mixing a raw egg with avocado and olive oil to make a DIY mask in her youth — one of the most important facets of Karisma would be the ingredients, which she insisted would be both simple and easy to understand as well as clean and of the highest quality. “I relentlessly tested ingredients,” she says, “and uncovered what country and area [of it] produces sustainable and the most pure and effective ingredients,” she says. Her hard work paid off: The brand soft-launched in January 2020 with positive feedback. Not only did the brand get EWG Verified (meaning that the formulas are free from questionable chemicals and other ingredients), but luxury retailer Neiman Marcus® picked up Mazzarella’s collection. Keep reading to learn more about the Malibu-based entrepreneur’s inspiring career change, the key to success in the skincare industry, and how she keeps her skin soft and wrinkles smooth.
Spotlyte: What prompted the idea for Karisma Skincare?
Lisa Mazzarella: I had been a competitive swimmer from 4 years old through high school, and a sun worshipper before anyone thought a minute about wearing sunscreen. I knew my skin was on borrowed time.
I had originally developed the Ultimate Facial Oil for myself because my skin had become dull and dehydrated. I had tried every product, from the most expensive to the most basic and nothing was working for me. I wanted a multi-tasking face oil that would bring back luminosity, diminish fine lines and wrinkles, fade my [dark spots], tighten, brighten, and fight blemishes. It was a lot to ask from one product, but I don’t like complicated skincare routines.
Spotlyte: As someone who didn’t come from a beauty industry background, how did you figure out how to make a facial oil?
LM: I researched, went to seminars, took classes and formulated for years, using different blends and qualities of essential oils for their purity and efficacy. I learned that the highest quality ingredients achieved the best results in the shortest period of time. One particular formula almost instantly gave me smoother, more luminous skin without looking or feeling oily. It absorbed beautifully and had calming and uplifting aromatherapy qualities.
I use ingredients that nourish, heal, repair and renew – [that] actually bringing back skin’s youth. We are completely transparent — you know all of the ingredients and their benefits.
I never wavered on demanding the best ingredients from my manufacturer — so much so, they began using my vendors because they just could not match the quality of my oils.
Spotlyte: How did you know you were onto something with your formulas?
LM: My esthetician noticed the radical change. My pores — which are usually congested — were clear and tighter, my face luminous, and she said I even looked more confident! I gave her a tincture to try, and she called [later] that same day, asking to use it as a finishing serum on her clients to lock in all the benefits of her facials and calm skin from extractions.
Then her clients wanted to buy it, and my friends (who are very sophisticated skincare users) wanted to buy it. The word got out, and other estheticians, pro artists, and even actors wanted to buy it. The exact same thing happened when I formulated my Sheen Body Oil. Organic word of mouth created so much demand that I looked into scaling.
Spotlyte: What happened when you tried to make products in bulk?
LM: Every manufacturer tried to trade out my ingredients for commercial cheap oils. This led me to take a good long look into the expensive products I had used — and I discovered they were mostly water and low-quality ingredients and [inactive ingredients]. I was infuriated and felt betrayed. I knew there was a need for truly clean, results-driven products just because of the demand for mine. I felt that I could help empower people to feel as beautiful on the outside as they did inside.
Spotlyte: What has been your biggest obstacle and how did you overcome that?
LM: One obstacle was learning when to stop working and take care of myself and my family: My husband Jeff, and kids Jake, 18, and Grace, 16. I’m so passionate and driven, I just don’t stop. I have learned with a start-up there will never be enough time to get everything done. I have to force myself to take a break now and then to reset. I now understand how it is easy to become a “workaholic” when you’re doing something you truly love. My friend finally said “you have to get out of your office” and “you have to see another person once a day.” She would come over and drag me out of the office and take me for a walk!
Spotlyte: What have your kids taught you about beauty?
LM: My 16-year-old daughter constantly reminds me I look better without makeup.
Spotlyte: What beauty lessons do you plan to pass on to your kids?
LM: Wear sunscreen always on your face, neck, chest and hands. The very first thing you do morning and evening is wash your face, use toner and moisturizer. Do not touch blemishes. Do not touch your face during the day. Wash your face very last in the shower or bath, paying special attention to your hairline, jawbone, upper back, and chest. When it comes to makeup, less is more.
Spotlyte: Do you think your kids will follow your entrepreneurial footsteps?
LM: Because they are teenagers, I really don’t know what they will do in the future. My daughter is extremely creative, constantly creating on all media. My son wants to go to a top business school. He loves finance and wealth management. I assume he will pursue something in those areas.
I do not think they will join the company and that is OK with me, as I think it would have a potential strain on our relationship. I do not think they will have a career in beauty. They show no interest in beauty trends other than using my products!
Spotlyte: What advice do you have for people looking to break into the beauty industry?
LM: If you don’t know about the beauty industry, do your homework before committing to becoming a start-up. Skincare is an overcrowded market and it is very hard to establish presence. Have a plan. Map out your projected spend — which will change, but an estimate helps — so you know what a heavy long-term investment you will be making.
Prepare to work harder than you ever have in your life. Read trade publications every day to stay current and connected. Build a solid team. Network with skincare-related groups and like-minded people on LinkedIn®. Reach out to on brand influencers. Breaking into and understanding the industry takes time and effort on top of formulating, manufacturing and running a business. It is never-ending hard work, so be sure this is something that is fulfilling and that you are passionate about.
Spotlyte: Who has been your biggest cheerleader throughout this process?
LM: My father. He has been my rock my entire life. When I decided to commit to entering the skincare market, he never once questioned me. He just keeps saying, “What can I do to help you? I want to make sure you succeed.” He is 95 years old, and I can talk to him about the struggles we are having and he always has sage advice.
Spotlyte: When you aren’t working, what do you enjoy doing for fun?
LM: Ever since starting Karisma, I work 16-hour days. I have to force myself to get out and do something. Every night, I read to relax — no TV for me! I love every type of music, except for the hardcore rap my 18-year-old son Jake listens to! My choice of music really depends on my mood.
Spotlyte: What is your fitness regimen like?
LM: Regularly I do a mix of yoga, CrossFit® and hiking. I try to work out 5 to 6 days a week for one hour. Hiking and yoga are not just workouts. They are a place for me to just disappear. I simply focus on my breathing in yoga and on the beauty of the trails when hiking. They set my mind free.
Spotlyte: What is your skincare routine?
LM: I use Karisma because I like how simple it is and love the results. Depending on if I’m wearing makeup, I wash with either the Karisma Skincare Deep Cleansing Facial Oil and/ or the Karisma Skincare Face Polish.
If I’m in a rush, I use one pump of each. After a shower, I dry my face and put on the Karisma Skincare Quickie-Honey Mask to moisturize, tighten, purify and brighten my skin. Then I use Karisma Skincare Sheen Body Oil on my damp skin. I rub it in and finish drying off. By then, the Honey Mask has worked its magic and I rinse it off.
Then, I use Karisma Skincare Eye Believe Dual Acting Eye Treatment. It instantly works to brighten, tighten, depuff, reduce dark circles and diminish the look of fine lines and wrinkles. Karisma Skincare Ultimate Face Oil is always the last step. It locks in moisture while inhibiting sebaceous glands where I’m oily.
About three times a week I use a retinol cream. The one I use is Ayur-MedicTM Retinol Cream for Wrinkle and Blemish Control. I like it because it does not ravage my face. I put Karisma Skincare Ultimate Face Oil on top to seal it in and balance out the drying and irritation side effects of retinol.
Editor's note Retinol shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.
The same routine applies for day and night, but the only difference is that at night, I apply a bit more Eye Believe Dual Acting Eye Treatment and Ultimate Face Oil for a deep night treatment.
Spotlyte: What’s in your makeup bag?
LM: First of all, I hardly ever wear makeup. However, when I do, I use Karisma Ultimate Face Oil, not only to moisturize my skin, but to provide luminosity and a smooth, perfect palette for makeup application. To add a little brightness under my lash line, I use YSL® Touche Eclat Radiant Touch. For concealer and foundation, I use Too Faced® Born This Way® Super Coverage Concealer and Giorgio Armani® Luminous Silk Foundation. For bronzer, I use Bobbi Brown® Bronzing Powder. For blush, ILIA® Creme Multi Stick. I use Hourglass® VeilTM Translucent Setting Powder. I use Givenchy® Prisme Visage and Aether Beauty® Summer Solstice Palette for eyeshadow. On my eyebrows, I use Anastasia Beverly Hills® Perfect Brow Pencil and Anastasia Beverly Hills Clear Brow Gel. For setting spray, I use MAC® Cosmetics Setting Spray.
Spotlyte: What is your stance on anti-aging?
LM: Aging gracefully, and being comfortable and confident in your own skin, is a prevalent thought when I think of “age-defying.” I started Karisma Skincare not for the sake of vanity, but to build confidence and empowerment. When your skin looks good, you naturally feel more confident. That, combined with a realistic expectation of what can and cannot be done to stave off the aging process establishes reasonable expectations and a healthy attitude towards meeting the challenges of aging without insecurity and stress.
Spotlyte: Who is your dermatologist?
LM: Dr. R. Sonia Batra at Batra Dermatology℠ in Santa Monica, California.
Spotlyte: What is your stance on injectables?
LM: They are a great way to [treat] wrinkles and lines. I think they are fine when used in moderation. I have tried injectable wrinkle reducers in my crow’s feet and forehead wrinkles. I started at 39 years old. I see Karen Lynn at Westside Medical AestheticsSM. I once got filler in the cheeks, at 48 years old.
Editor’s note 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: How can non-toxic skincare and injectables go hand-in-hand?
LM: Just because Karisma is clean and non-toxic does not mean I live an entirely “clean” life. I eat clean, exercise, meditate, and take the best care of my health possible. For me, injectable wrinkle reducers [temporarily smooth] areas where I have the deepest wrinkles.
Spotlyte: What other in-office treatments have you tried?
LM: I had IPL on my face 14 years ago and it really helped with the melasma that formed during my second pregnancy, leaving my skin more evenly toned. I tried Fraxel® on my face about six years ago to address fine lines and wrinkles. Both procedures were at Dr. Batra’s office.
Spotlyte: Do you get spa treatments?
LM: I’m very disciplined when it comes to facials. I get them once a month. Sometimes if my skin is problematic, I will go every two weeks. I get regular mani/pedis. I occasionally treat myself to a massage, but have not had time since starting Karisma!
Spotlyte: Do you have a mantra?
LM: “Give love always. Worry is a wasted emotion. Have no regrets. I’m OK and will always be OK, no matter what happens.” These are my “go to” mantras, depending on the circumstance.
When my heart is open, and I’m doing the very best I can, if things don’t work out as planned, it is not the end of the world. They help me reinforce my survivor mindset. If I have done everything I can with integrity and authenticity, and know there is nothing more I can do — no matter the outcome, I can look back knowing I did my best, have no regrets, and make the best out of the situation at hand.
Read about more inspiring women in the beauty world:
- Huda Beauty Founder Huda Kattan on a Surprise DIY Beauty Ritual, Injectables, and Working with Family
- How Dara Levy’s In-Shower “A-ha Moment” Resulted In a Glowing Skin Empire
- Chillhouse Founder Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton’s Eye-Opening Advice to Her Younger Self
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