Consumers are looking for wellness at the intersection of mental health and beauty, paying attention to how products make them feel as well as how they look or benefit their physical status. Enter: psychodermatology: an emerging beauty trend that harnesses mind-meets-body beauty practices.

In an excerpt for our Future 100: 2023 Report, Selfmade founder and CEO Stephanie Lee defines psychodermatology for VML Intelligence as “a discipline that explores the relationship between the brain and skin.” We reconnected with Lee for more on how mental wellness, pleasure and beauty coincide at Selfmade.

Why was it important to you to create Selfmade and these products that “inspire the human pursuit of self-exploration,” as you state on your website?

I've grown up in the beauty industry. My mom, a refugee from Vietnam, went into trade school and became a hairstylist. I remember when I was five, like dancing in the aisles between chairs and sweeping up the hair and getting my nails done by the ladies when they didn't have clients. I also worked at Mac Cosmetics at the counter as a retail makeup artist. When I was working at Mac at more of a corporate level doing product development, I had a mental health crisis.

I had major anxiety, major depression, and it was interesting to be a person of color and never to have used the words “mental health” before. I recognized that I had no tools, resources or conversations around my emotional wellbeing.

So I dove deeply into therapy, and I realized [this information] about human behavior and relationships and patterns is not taught in schools. You're lucky if your parents can teach you about things like having a secure attachment. But [when you’re just trying to] survive, there's no ability to talk about those things.

I quit my job, traveled around the world and had conversations with folks around mental health and self-worth and brought all of those pieces back. It was important to me because the brand got its start through these real conversations and research.

How do you feel mental health fits into the beauty industry?   

It's really interesting working in the beauty industry when so much of the conversation around your worth is about an exploitation of flaws. In therapy, [I was] paying so much money to embrace my inherent worth that I was born with for free. Those two things were really in conflict of each other.

Our data shows that those with a higher feeling of self-worth are 10 times more likely to see themselves as beautiful. When it comes to consumer brands, what I have heard is when you look good, you feel good. That's so extrinsically motivated what we know, from a mental health standpoint, is the exact opposite.

When you feel good, you look good, and you don't care about what other people think, and that is extremely powerful. Essentially, that's what [Selfmade is] rooted in and why mental health and psychodermatology are so important: it is the exact moment of the relationship with ourselves when we stand in front of that mirror and see ourselves.

[Selfmade uses] psychodermatology as the window into our emotional world. We’re using our skin as data points into our emotional world in order to truly take care of ourselves in a deeper way.

Three core behavioral concepts – attachment, resilience and intimacy – are used to categorize Selfmade’s products. Why have you focused on those three in particular?

When we look at the pillars of emotional health and mental health, those are three things that are very tangible and actionable areas of our lives that we can build on. These concepts are actually our product families. Instead of highlighting what's “wrong” with my skin, these three lines are what we want to build into our lives.

When it comes to “attachment,” this is all about hydration, filling yourself up with moisture barrier repair, because so much of attachment is about true bonding and healthy boundaries. The idea behind “resilience” is that friction leads to growth mindset. That's why it's a scalp and body scrub, and the line is really about repair and recovery. “Intimacy” is about comfort: making your body a home, because it requires so much vulnerability to be intimate and to feel pleasure.

How have consumers responded to Selfmade’s products and emotional wellness messaging? 

Most of the feedback I get back is “no brand has ever spoken to me like this,” and I think that's really cool, because every single layer of this brand is based in behavioral, social, and emotional wellbeing, and having a brand speak to you in a different way validates who you are in this world.

It's resonating in a deeper way with folks in terms of our products incorporating the emotional wellbeing aspect. The intention is to change and nurture that relationship with yourself as you use our products.

I love beauty and I love that we get to change the definition of “what is beautiful” to “feeling beautiful." Beauty as an emotion is a really cool thing to see come alive for people.

There are no tools for young people to know how to understand their own emotions. Gen Z is searching [for answers] and they're willing to experiment with what will actually make them feel better.

How has Selfmade connected with gen Z, and how has it harnessed their values as a generation?

I built this with a junior advisory board of gen Z folks. I'm not gen Z, and that's why the junior advisory board piece is so important. If I really think about the reason I'm building this business, it’s because this is what I wish I had when I was coming of age, when I was younger. [I wish] that I had a brand talking to me in a way that felt more real. How can we tangibly do things and baby step into that [emotional wellness] work?

In terms of gen Z and why is it so important, this is a generation that's the most diverse ideologically, racially, ethnically to date, and within the next 10 to 20 years will be the largest living generation since the boomers. They're an extremely powerful force and at the same time, they're coming of age.

They've grown up with the fear anxiety around climate change. They've grown up with the repetitive trauma of school shootings, they're coming of age during the pandemic.

There are no tools for young people to know how to understand their own emotions. Gen Z is searching [for answers] and they're willing to experiment with what will actually make them feel better.

How do you incorporate mental wellness into the brand?

The way that we do our product development is really different, I think, than most product development processes for consumer goods. When I do the pipeline, I'm basically marrying psychological concepts with a product, product experience, and product benefits. I work with our mental health experts to validate our processes and messaging and to align those [mental] benefits with the benefits of this actual product: that’s how those two things intersect. That validation is really key.

We do a mental health deep-dive for every single product launch. Every single person, including our teammates, our partners, and our junior advisory board members attend. It's a basically a Q&A where we talk about why this product concept is important: how is it important to BIPOC, how does it affect gen Z, what are the benefits of doing it? What are the obstacles to achieving it? We basically build mental health practices into every facet of the brand from the website to the copy, to the product, to the Instagram post to the product experience that we create.

Every single one of these products is based off of a mental health psychological concept.

Why do you think aligning products and rituals with wellness is important? How does that help support emotional wellness as a whole?

Ritual is routine plus intention. We can do the motions everyday: slap on the serum, move on. But if we can be intentional with our time, that is a self-validation moment that can be very powerful.

We are habit-stacking emotional care and wellbeing on top of your product usage. We want to be on your vanity, in your shower, on your nightstand because that's how often you should be caring for and thinking about your emotional and mental health. You have to weave it in seamlessly. This is about how you can turn it into a livable lifestyle and adopt it.

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