Tell us a little bit about how you got started in the industry and what was your motivation to pursue dermatology?
To trace back my roots in the clean beauty industry takes us back 40 years. As a pre-teen, I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which inspired me to pursue a life in science for the good of the planet. At twelve, I worked in a university lab with the aim of developing plant derived non-toxic modes of pest control to replace the chlorinated hydrocarbons used as pesticides that were poisoning us. I was very knowledgeable about plants and insects and knew that certain plants were natural insect repellents, hence the rationale of my research. After working on this for several years I serendipitously walked into the Harvard the lab of my idol Dr. Carroll Williams as a Freshman. This was followed by five years in the Harvard Bogorad lab studying plant science. In between Harvard College and the MD PhD Program, I was made a Fulbright Scholar under Dr. Fotis Kafatos in bioengineering of agricultural crops; my goal was to find natural variants to replace GMOs. By the time I headed to Harvard Medical School, I had already lived a lifetime of developing methods for clean beauty. After medicine, I completed a PhD in molecular genetics looking at the development of humans from cells to the complete organism. I chose Dermatology because it allowed me an outlet for my artistic talents as well as the ability to continue to do research while being a full-time physician. Once I completed Dermatology as Chief Resident at NYU in 2000, I am immediately focused on discovering plant-derived ingredients aimed at preventing and reversing the damage to skin that occurs due to time, sun exposure, genetics, and pollutants. During the early 2000s, I became dermatologist consultant under Carol Hamilton for L’Oreal Paris and later transitioned to Lancôme, the only scientist outside of L’Oreal labs commissioned to conduct clinical studies; my work on their jasmonates have been published in peer reviewed scientific journal. The culmination of my expertise as a plant scientis, dermatologist and laser specialist was the launch of the first luxury clean brand 37 Actives in 2009. After a decade of building the formulas, I relaunched the world’s cleanest, most scientifically active skincare as MACRENE actives in 2020.
How would you describe your skincare philosophy and the mission of MACRENE Actives?
My ultimate goal is to replace cosmetic procedures with active ingredients, and I firmly believe that I have achieved it. MACRENE actives is the cleanest luxury, scientifically proven and clinically effective line which replaces injectables and lasers with plant-derived actives. It was launched alongside my seminal textbook, Alexiades’ Cosmetic Dermatologic Surgery (Wolters-Kluwer-Lippincott) which provides a guide to the appropriate and proven medical, cosmetic, and surgical treatment options for every condition to the skin.
The mission of MACRENE actives is to harness exceptional natural ingredients—a combination of potent plant actives sourced from the land and the sea—in order to create one-step topical skin care solutions to replace aesthetic procedures. MACRENE actives is designed to achieve total skin health and youthful vitality by boosting skin longevity, repairing environmental damage, providing powerful antioxidant support and fortifying the moisture barrier with over 50 organic actives in each product.
Tell us about the farmland that you purchased and how you utilize it to grow organic crops for MACRENE Actives, why was it important for you to do this?
The motivation for buying the farm was to harness my brainpower and experience in plant science to discover new active ingredients from plants for skincare. In my quest to raise the bar in clean skincare, I purchased the land and returned it to an agricultural property and protected wetlands.
I am growing organic botanical crops for MACRENE actives and nurturing a toxin-free natural wildlife zone in the Hudson Valley. While I have planted many varieties, the over 50 varieties that re-sprout each year are the ones I study and utilize. I believe in growing what is meant to grow in the soil and environment. My organic crops come back each year with natural rainwater and without any fertilizers or pesticides whatsoever. I believe in natural completely wild botanicals.
What are some other important causes that you are in support of personally that you have successfully brought into what you do at MACRENE actives?
MACRENE actives donates at least 10% of profits to charities. These include research and education at Harvard University and the NAACP.
How has MACRENE actives evolved over the years and how do you continue to steer the brand into new and possibly uncharted territory?
I started creating the hero cream in 2007 and made a number of lab batches before launching the Actives brand; after that, I did not rest on my laurels - I updated the formula with new actives every year or two over the past decade; then in 2020 I relaunched and rebranded as MACRENE actives taking the products to the cleanest level of luxury, sustainable, scientifically active and clinically proven efficacy. The purpose of the rebrand was to take the brand to the highest level of clean and efficacious and to be the leader and front runner and definer of clean beauty for the industry.
Since the relaunch, we’re growing and extracting from organic plants that I’ve identified and chosen. From this, I plan to have a fund of knowledge from the future for the industry. From these plants, I hope to spearhead a new genre of ingredients, where I can do anything I want with them—where I can accomplish anything from these plant-based ingredients. That’s my dream. We’re also launching a tinted moisturizer and concealer with plant-derived ingredients.
How do you maintain inspiration and motivation to drive your business forward?
Boundless energy and enthusiasm, mainly driven by an active mind and a body that follows! I have always had a brain that works super-fast and sees things long before others do. I recall being in the lab at Harvard and making a comment about a patterning gene that I hypothesized governed both feather and hair spacing, sparking giggles and comments like “outlandish” in the conference room; a year later, the head of the lab conceded in a packed auditorium that my idea was correct without mentioning my name, and a female post-doc nudged me “wow, you were right!” In beauty, I have always felt decades ahead of my time in pushing the clean toxic-free goal, but better late than never to see that the field finally on board. I am sure I will be dead many years before most of my ideas are accepted, but because I am a woman, my name will not be mentioned.
In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, how do you see the future of skincare and your client’s relationship to it?
We live in a natural world and we need to harness the power of plants and homeopathy to develop a symbiotic relationship with our potential adversaries. Cancer, viruses, and super-bacteria...I envision that the potency of plants in both diet and on skin is the answer to our ability to naturally fight off pathogens and diseases.
How would you describe your average client and do you see it changing as more people begin to invest in themselves and their skin?
I am dealing with a segment of the population where they feel this urgency to live life to the max, because who knows if there’s a tomorrow. Do as much, get as much, perform as much, buy as much. I think it’s fed by Instagram among other things. So what happens is, I have a segment of people in their twenties who want filler and Botox and lasers. This is very different and new from when I started in the ’90s, because there was no laser, there was no Botox. So we have this countercurrent of that and what I’m doing. It’s pretty common knowledge that IMG and DNA models come to me, and my goal is to get their skin so beautiful that we’re not using artificial lasers or injectables. But for the young people that are coming to me for those things, I’m just making sure it’s a really natural touch. But that is a real trend I see.
I am still coming up against the type of patient that is very procedure-based. And I haven’t quite cracked that. My ultimate goal is, again, to make procedures obsolete. But ultimately, people have to believe in science. And I firmly believe that I have achieved it. If you use the right ingredients, my ingredients, in your twenties, that your skin won’t age. Everything else, I don’t know. I can’t stop osteoporosis with a cream. Maybe down the line.
What is one book that changed your life?
We already spoke of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring which is single-handedly the main inspiration for my going into science at the age of 11 or 12. Since then, my textbook which took 4 years of my life and represents the way my mind works, an algorithmic approach to skin conditions so that each individual gets the very best care.
What are you most grateful for?
My parents and childhood: we had family, community yet all the excitement of innovation happening without the overload of the internet and excessive un-validated information. If something was published, it had been through an intense vetting process to get there. Today, students have a more challenging time because they must filter through excessive data to find the actual nuggets. This is why Harvard has told me my class of 1988-89 were the most successful classes on record.
What does your evening routine look like and how do you like to relax?
In the evening I wash my face using a couple of pumps worth of the High Performance Cleanser in my palms and I lather in my palms applying to damp skin on the face. I rinse it off with lukewarm water then I pat try my face and immediately apply my MACRENE actives Face Cream. I apply approximately a hazelnut size amount using my mother of pearl spatula. Next to apply -my serum around the eyes to the forehead and especially jawline. My neck and décolletages applied next from the jawline all the way down the side and front of the neck, chest, and tops of hands. I apply a dab of my lip treatment to the upper and lower lip while the lip is still nude.
I try if I can to sleep through the night. Growth hormone is released during the late stages of sleep. If you can’t get a full night of sleep every night try at least once a week to get a full 8 1/2 hours. This is why it’s called beauty sleep.
Do you have any rituals that help you stay grounded?
Once a week in the evening, usually Sunday night, I soak in a bath with Lavender and Eucalyptus from the farm to relax. My absolute favorite self-pampering is being in Greece on my island of Skyros and sleeping to quite late in the morning. Then spending the entire afternoon taking several dips in and out of the sea. Because my life is so packed with activity throughout the year, slowing down time and just being one with nature like this is truly satisfying for me. The other time that is truly meditative for me is when I’m on the farm doing my gardening by myself (with perhaps Zeus my shepherd accompanying me).
What is one beauty myth you wish to dispel?
That shopping multiple products and applying layers and layers is the way to go. There is no reason why you cannot get 50 active ingredients more efficiently and healthier into the skin in one product, and oh by the way, that is exactly what MACRENE actives has accomplished and patented!!!
When do you feel most beautiful and why?
When I am outdoors on the farm or in Greece. I think the natural environment of beauty from plants, light, and sea penetrates into my being to imbue my own inner light.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received and how have you passed that advice on?
When I was a PhD student in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School when Dr. Philip Leder, the founder and then-Chairman of the department, told me that I was going to be successful because I had “focus.” In order to succeed at a goal, he said, you must be able focus, and he said unlike other MD-PhD students, he said that he saw that I had this ability. It is great to have a lot of ideas, passions and interests, but in order to get something done, from life goals to good skin, you must focus. To translate into our beauty world, I have observed that customers who shop around too much or switch from product to product without focusing on a single regimen, fail to succeed at good skin. Therefore, my advice to customers and patients, pick your doctor and regimen wisely, then focus on that plan without distraction and you will achieve your goals!
What's next for yourself and MACRENE actives?
I am working on the world's best sunscreen, a body product and other top-secret innovations that I hope to launch in the coming year. I’m also busy making extracts from my organic plants that I’ve grown on the farm to discover new plant active ingredients for the industry.
I look at myself as the modern Estée Lauder. I want to be the pioneer, because if we do the work of actually identifying what’s in our active ingredients, we’re going to find it’s a gold mine. That’s something that will be my legacy for future generations of people in the beauty industry.