14 Successful Women on How They Got Their Start in Beauty

Two beauty founders:

Dorian Morris / Annie Tevelin

Anyone who works in the beauty industry will tell you that it’s an inviting, inspiring place, full of empowering women, evolving ideas, and the occasional (OK, constant) heated discussion about the merits of one holy-grail beauty product over another (seriously, though, don’t ever knock our Tatcha Camellia Cleansing Oil, $48).

Since we’re constantly interacting with and surrounded by such strong (and beauty-obsessed) women, we thought it’d be interesting to take a peek at their past—namely, the first jobs they ever had that paved the path to where they are now. Steve Jobs once said that the journey is the destination—and these stories are proof that the first step is often where you learn the most.

From beauty company founders to celebrity makeup artists, keep scrolling to leatn how 14 successful women first got their start in beauty. There’s a lot of wisdom ahead, so we recommend settling in. We promise it’s worth it.

Angela Ubias, co-founder of Common Heir

Angela Ubias

Angela Ubias

How did you get your start in beauty? 

My start in beauty was all chance. While I've always loved beauty and skincare and even worked for Esteé Lauder brands in college, I never imagined I'd pursue a career within the industry. After getting burnt out working as a buyer for a specialty boutique, I was on the hunt for whatever was next in my career. That's when I stumbled upon a sales and marketing role at a beauty manufacturer that happened to be in the Austin area and one of the original labs in North America to specialize in indie beauty. I won over the founder, snagged the job, and dove headfirst into the side of beauty not many know about. Manufacturing, formulation, product development, and operations are the less glamorous parts of the industry. However, I became obsessed with them and had the opportunity to cut my teeth alongside some of the most talented chemists and operators in the space. 

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

I've learned so many lessons at this point that I've lost count. I learned very quickly that the beauty world isn't as vast as it may seem from the outside looking in. Because of that, how you treat others and the reputation you build for yourself is paramount. It's as simple as following the golden rule—treat others as you'd respectfully want to be treated, and you'll quickly build a network and better yet, a community of advocates who are willing to help you succeed. It may sound cheesy, but it's the truth. Leading with kindness and authenticity is always en vogue. 

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty? 

Those of us that have had to break down barriers are eager to pay it forward. Don't be afraid to reach out to anyone you admire within the industry to ask for guidance or introduce yourself. Being a woman with potential layers of intersectional identity (perhaps you're also a woman of color or part of the LGBTQ+ community) in a vastly male-dominated space [is challenging]—so many of us have done what we've done to create ripples of change in an industry that needs it. Also, never be afraid of putting in the grunt work. It will always pay off.

Desiree Verdejo, founder and CEO of Hyper Skin

Desiree Verdejo

Desiree Verdejo

How did you get your start in beauty?

After practicing law for seven years, I entered the beauty industry with an indie beauty boutique in New York City in 2015. It was a curated space with clean brands catered to the unique hair and skin needs of people of color. My daily interactions with the customers in that boutique gave me a strong sense of their unmet needs and how they shopped. Many of the conversations I had with customers and lessons I learned about the skincare industry influenced the way I approached launching Hyper Skin.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

The greatest lessons in my career are all surrounding people. As the founder of a small, growing company, I wear a lot of hats that might be a freestanding role in a larger organization. I'm currently learning to let go, give people a chance to shine (or even make mistakes), and let my team know that I trust them.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

I would advise young women to pursue anything they want to do. Beauty is a crowded space, but there is space for unique perspectives and individuals in any market. I would advise young women who want to enter this industry to tap into that uniqueness and stay true to it.

Priyanka Ganjoo, founder and CEO of Kulfi Beauty

Priyanka Ganjoo

Priyanka Ganjoo

How did you get your start in beauty?

I fell into beauty because I was fascinated by the business. My first role in beauty was in Esteé Lauder Company's global strategy team. The brands I worked with the most were MAC and Clinique. However, I quickly became fascinated with indie brands, which led me to IPSY. At IPSY, I was one of the first merchandising hires and built and led the merchandising team over time. We would test hundreds of products every week and make decisions based on future consumer trends and historical data. This is where I developed my love for and expertise in beauty products. 

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

Follow your instinct and back it up with hard work. Multiple times in my career, I was told by senior leadership at companies I was working for that my decisions were not the right way to build a career because they did not follow the conventional path. I was vocal about things that I thought could be done better, which wasn't always received well in the corporate world. As an entrepreneur, however, that's a strength. It took time and faith in myself to find my voice and purpose. 

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

The beauty community can be surprisingly small. Start building your network early and cultivate it over time. You can learn much more from a meaningful 20-minute conversation than you could with hours of online research. I need to work more on this advice myself!

Annie Tevelin, founder of SkinOwl

SkinOwl

SkinOwl

How did you get your start in beauty?

I moved to Los Angeles to work in the music video and commercial world and had a lot of exposure to makeup artists while on set. I was intrigued and decided to take a part-time job behind the counter with Lancôme. I worked for Lancôme for three years, and it was there that I realized the power of skincare. I was immediately fascinated by products and ingredients and learned so much from that experience—from managing a team to making the customer's experience memorable. Now, as a business owner myself, I realize how much that job prepared me for where I am right now.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

I learned the importance of building a strong team and understanding people as a whole. Working behind the counter for a beauty company requires a lot of energy, understanding, and patience. If you don't like people, you won't get very far in that line of work. I learned so much about people by asking about their skin or what lipstick shade they were looking for. At the end of the day, if you understand people and their personalities, you can earn their trust. Once you gain trust, the sky's the limit.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

Coming from Washington, D.C., where everyone has "real" jobs, the beauty industry always seemed as daunting as it was exciting. I knew it was the industry for me, but it also seemed impossible to find work that could sustain me over time. The best thing I ever did was work part-time in the industry. I worked weekends and nights to feel out whether I liked the industry at all. I didn't give up my full-time job until I realized I wanted to give it a real go. I also didn't shy away from working for free for people. Find a makeup artist or a hairstylist, or a beauty exec, and ask if you can assist them for free. Everyone needs help, and they'll remember the work you did down the line when they are in a position to hire someone for pay.

Julie Schott, co-founder of Starface

Julie Schott

Julie Schott

How did you get your start in beauty?

I studied creative writing at Pratt, which meant that internships were available year-round, not just during the summer. So my first real internship was at Elle Accessories, and I worshipped the editors there. One editor used to wear a fur inside and drink champagne at her desk. When the semester was over, I asked to spend the next one at Elle. There was no room in the fashion closet on my first day, so I moved to the beauty closet to work for genius beauty director Emily Dougherty (who gave me my break in print once I graduated).

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

Just say yes.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

Don't wait for an opportunity; make your own. I love finding a YouTube makeup page or Snapchat that I've never seen before. Great work won't go unnoticed for long.

Jessica Richards, founder of Shen Beauty

Jessica Richards

Jessica Richards

How did you get your start in beauty?

My route of ending up in the beauty industry is probably much different than most. My background is in fashion, and after getting pregnant with my first son, I decided I was going to be a stay-home mom. That didn’t last long. I soon realized there were no great beauty shops [in my area], so I decided I would open one. I am beauty obsessed, so that helped, but really just research, determination, and a lot of passion got me to where I am.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

The most important thing I’ve learned is to work hard and stay humble. For my beauty store, though, I've learned to sell what I truly love. People buy from people, so I know if it’s in my store, I stand behind it. Just because the product has a big name doesn’t mean it’s right for Shen or my customer.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

You need to find out what it is you are passionate about and then be the best you can be. Work hard and stay humble. Nothing comes easy, and nothing is handed to you. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time can help, but if you can’t deliver, then it doesn’t matter.

Joan Malloy, president and CEO of Alterna Haircare

Joan Malloy

Joan Malloy

How did you get your start in beauty?

When I was working as a junior marketer fresh out of college at ITT, a Fortune 500 company, I was selling on Bloomingdale's floor when their GMM noticed me. He was impressed by my selling skills and ease when talking to customers. He approached me about working directly for Bloomingdale's. Although I wasn't initially overly interested, I ultimately agreed to an exploratory interview with the head of human resources, which led to a one-on-one interview with him. After spending an hour with him discussing a career path in retail—at one of the finest retailers in the world—he ended up convincing me to become one of the 'Bloomies Babies' (in his words).

As a foodie, I was most interested in going into the gourmet food area of Bloomingdale's. Still, the GMM said my combination of "passion, personality, and creativity" would shine in the beauty department. My three-plus years as a merchant at Bloomingdale's set the platform for my career as a successful marketer. The lesson is simple: You never know who is watching or taking note of you and your work, so always be your best. I could have never imagined at the time that I would be in the beauty business 25+ years later, but I'm still loving it.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

 So many things come to mind, but the number one thing I still live by every day is to always go with my gut—especially when making important business decisions.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

I've managed many people in my career, and I've seen a lot of people succeed, and a lot of people fail. The key difference between the two is that those who succeed have a real passion for what they do. Whetheyou'rere looking to break into or grow in the beauty industry, if you have passion, you will succeed. Conversely, without passion, you will fail.

Gina Marí, founder of Gina Mari Skincare

Gina Marí

Gina Marí

How did you get your start in beauty?

I first became aware of my passion for skincare when I developed adult acne in my late 20s. I met an aesthetician who completely fixed my skin within six weeks. I was so inspired by the impact and positive change in my life that I decided to pursue skincare. I went back to school and immediately started working for her.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

Understanding the histology of the skin is the most important aspect. Identifying issues and guiding clients toward the proper solutions is fulfilling and can have a huge impact on a client's life. I recommend keeping a copy of Fitzpatrick's color atlas and synopsis of clinical dermatology on hand at all times.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

Keep learning! My staff and I are constantly reading and brainstorming about new and innovative ways to achieve great results. Also, don't be afraid of hard work. When I first started, I often worked 12-hour days. It takes time to build a solid client base. If skincare is your true passion, the hard work will be worth it.

Romy Soleimani, celebrity makeup artist

Romy Soleimani

Romy Soleimani

How did you get your start in beauty?

I knew many people in the industry because I always took every internship that came my way while I was at college. At one point, I was a production assistant at Calvin Klein. A friend of mine from college was working in the advertising department, and it was her job to communicate with the agents for hair and makeup. Linda Cantello was the makeup artist for the campaign; she was and is one of my heroes in beauty. It just so happened that she was looking for an assistant. I met her, we clicked, and the rest is history.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

It's all about hard work, staying strong, being ready for anything that comes your way, staying calm. And most of all, navigating the multitude of personalities that come your way.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

Be open to any opportunity that comes your way. Something can always lead to something else. Being an assistant is all about opening yourself up to possibilities. And in today's age, it's important to think outside of the box and understand what sets you apart and be creative about how you present your ideas.

Fiona Stiles, celebrity makeup artist and Reed Clarke founder

Fiona Stiles

Fiona Stiles

How did you get your start in beauty?

Ah, back in the dark ages, when I started doing makeup (also known as the early '90s), there was no internet. Information was very, very hard to come by. I didn't know anyone who worked in fashion, so I just had to wing it. I would read the credits of magazines, go through the white pages in the phone book, and call them at home to ask if they needed an assistant. Ballsy and totally naïve, but it worked!

I'm not sure how I met him, but I met one of Craig McDean's photo assistants and told him I would love to work with Pat McGrath. Somehow word got to her or her agent, and I had a meeting with Pat. At that time, she lived in London and would come to New York for jobs. I was her only assistant on most jobs unless we had a lot of girls on set, so I got to work closely with her. She is a lovely woman who oozes warmth, humor, and talent. Weirdly, it never even occurred to me to work at a makeup counter or for a brand. I just dove in headfirst, and thankfully I learned to "swim" quickly. It was all very serendipitous, and I count my lucky stars constantly.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

Be quiet and listen. Absorb everything around you; look at the lighting on set and observe what the editors and stylists are doing. When you are on set, your knowledge needs to expand beyond your immediate area of expertise. Also, when you are just starting a career, you are young most of the time. Try to take in as much as you can from the seasoned professionals around you; let your brain be a sponge and soak it all in.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

Be nice to everyone. Be kind and grateful. There are many talented people in the world, and if you're working, you are lucky. No one "deserves" to get any job, and clients come and go. It's a very fickle and fluid industry with a new flavor of the month every time you blink, even more so now. Consistency, a good 'can-do' attitude, and a healthy dose of warmth will take you far. Oh, and clean your brushes every time you use them, and keep your kit tidy. You don't want someone to look at your messy, dirty kit and get freaked out before you even start their makeup.

Shanzey Al-Amin and Niha Amin, co-founders of Bridal Glow by Zeyl Beauty

BridalGlow

BridalGlow

How did you get your start in beauty?

Niha: I started my first job in the beauty industry at 17 at Kiehl's. Growing up with a beauty-obsessed mom and two older sisters, I was always incredibly fascinated by the beauty world. Working at Kiehl's was my first look into the world of diverse skincare, catered for all genders and gender identities. This experience also confirmed that the beauty industry is where I was meant to be. 

Shanzey: My first job in the beauty industry was at 18 with Anastasia Beverly Hills as an account coordinator. During this time, brows were a huge trend in the beauty space, and I loved being a part of the new direction that the industry was heading and sharing with others how transformative something as simple as brows can be for your overall look. I grew within the company and landed as the Nation Director for the brand before departing to create Bridal Glow by Zeyl Beauty.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

Niha: Beauty knows no language; it is an extension of expression that deserves to be celebrated and embraced. I have always championed the need for inclusive beauty. There is absolutely a space for everyone in the beauty industry, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or age. This industry has an incredible power to cultivate a space where people can feel like they are part of a larger community and learn so much more about themselves in the process. 

Shanzey: Walk your own path and create your own unique journey. The beauty industry is always full of new trends, ideas, and prospects, so don't be afraid to get creative and experiment! Find yourself the right mentor to help guide you in this process. Lastly, never underestimate the power of determination and hard work. Keep your head down and get your job done—whatever it takes. Do what you love, and success will follow.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

Niha: Just get started! Whether in a retail capacity or through a behind-the-scenes position at a beauty company, getting your foot in the door is important. Roll up your sleeves and get to work—hard work speaks volumes! Growth opportunities will present themselves, and you will eventually find the avenue of beauty that was meant for you.

Shanzey: Use the power of social media to establish your interest in beauty and network with others in the industry. No matter where you are in your journey, take others along with you and share your passion for beauty. Don't shy away from connecting or collaborating with people in the industry because these opportunities might lead you to something bigger than you could have imagined!

Noelly Michoux, co-founder of 4.5.6 Skin

Noelly Michoux

Noelly Michoux

How did you get your start in beauty?

My career in beauty started shortly after I moved from living in France to New York City. I was the Brand Manager for various luxury color cosmetics and fragrance companies. I worked closely with black|Up, a color cosmetics company designed specifically for melanin-rich skin. With a minimal budget to work with, I quickly started connecting with makeup artists, influencers, editors, and beauty gurus I thought would be interested in the brand. I learned from these conversations that there was a collective frustration about the lack of diversity and inclusivity in the beauty and skincare industry. I became obsessed with understanding the root of this issue and spent hours researching, learning about different skin phototypes, and looking at the gaps that exist within the industry today.

That's when I had the inspiration to start 4.5.6 Skin, along with my co-founders, who are experts in dermatology and product formulation, specifically for melanin-rich skin. 4.5.6 Skin is a pro-melanin, science-backed skincare line that is customizable to give your skin exactly what it needs. More importantly, 4.5.6 Skin puts women of color at the center of everything we do. We celebrate the beauty and diversity of the melanin-rich skin community. 

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

Being an entrepreneur requires a lot of resilience, and having a result-oriented mindset can make it challenging, especially when things get difficult. Shifting from a results-led approach to an intention-led approach helps me stay resilient. Our intentions are more powerful than any results. Even when the result of an effort didn't turn out the way I had hoped, my intentions will always be true and alive.

I constantly reflect on changing the skincare industry with customized products formulated specifically for melanin-rich skin with melanin-driven skin science. Focusing too much on the results only led to self-judgment and self-sabotage. However, after shifting my focus to an intention-led approach, I have felt more empowered and inspired to continue building my business, leading my team, and keeping my own fire burning.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

The beauty industry has been reshaping itself largely due to a desire and need for more diversity, genuine inclusion, and transparency on how products are made. To other young women who want to be in the beauty industry: You have to be disruptive and bold. In a competitive market, it's not just about creating a buzz on social media or having the right "look." It's about finding ways to truly serve your customer market and provide solutions to problems that no one is addressing. 

Dorian Morris, founder and CEO of Undefined

Dorian Morris

Dorian Morris

How did you get your start in beauty?

I'm a true beauty junkie. I was "that" girl rocking the brown Wet N Wild lip liner in junior high. During undergrad at UCLA, I interned in advertising at The Source Magazine and media planning with various ad agencies. But I always knew beauty was my true passion. After graduation, I started my career in retail at Robinsons-May (which would become Macy's) and worked in the women's fragrance division of their executive program. One fun highlight of that experience? Meeting Beyoncé during an appearance for her fragrance launch. 

While at Harvard Business School to get my MBA, I interned at J&J Beauty. I did a field study with Carol's Daughter while writing a case about Lisa Price's entrepreneurial journey. Post-graduation, I joined General Mills to learn about brand building, managing a profit and loss statement, and leveraging consumer insights for strategic action.

Using my consumer packaged goods toolbox, I joined Kendo as an early employee (it was a division of Sephora when I started). This experience taught me how to win in the prestige beauty landscape through robust education strategy and disruptive storytelling. Next, I joined Sundial, leading an exclusive Sephora haircare launch, which taught me how to be scrappy within a team (true entrepreneurship 101). I also worked at Covergirl, which taught me the difference between mass versus prestige and how to manage large marketing budgets and vast groups of agency partners. Each experience on my journey has built key tools I can now leverage as an entrepreneur.

After building brands for other people, I decided it was time to build one for myself, and that's how Undefined was born. I launched Undefined because I felt something was missing in the industry: authenticity, inclusivity, and the courage to do things differently.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

You can do good and do well at the same time. There is power in infusing purpose into your model. Undefined's focus is Clean, Conscious, Inclusive, and Plant Magic. These four pillars keep me focused on my mission to "undefine" what the beauty and wellness industry looks like.

Undefined meets people where they are on their wellness journey, and ultimately, I want folks to feel comfortable, empowered, and able to find tools to help them thrive. Wellness shouldn't be illusive or exclusive—let's democratize it.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

Look beyond the surface level "smoke and mirrors" and ask tough questions to understand the company's culture. It's important to work for an organization that creates an ecosystem of support and champions diverse voices. Diversity is broader than the color of your skin or gender. Look for diversity in terms of seniority, background, and functional expertise—all perspectives should have a seat at the table.

For those looking to start a brand, listening to your community and solving their problems is critical. But also, don't forget to infuse your authenticity into the storytelling because your story is your superpower. Understand what makes you unique and don't fall victim to "comparison-itis." I'm a bit of a contrarian, but I believe you have to act and not fall victim to analysis paralysis. Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down. Nimbleness, agility, and scrappiness will get you far. Entrepreneurship is all about constantly learning and reframing failure as insight. 

Tiffany Buzzato, founder of Dew Mighty

Tiffany Buzzatto

Tiffany Buzzato

How did you get your start in beauty?

All my childhood friends were shocked when I finished college and started in the beauty industry. I was a tomboy and never wore makeup. I knew I wasn't cut out to do lab experiments, so I scoured the internet for any job willing to hire people with zero experience. It was slim pickings. A few weeks before graduation, I replied to a listing and skipped a genetics class to drive into L.A., dressed in my first suit for the interview.

When I got that job, I still remember day one in the applications lab. I was taught how to make a multi-lamellar emulsion and never looked back. I'm still obsessed with the magic of formulating and have found new ways to keep exploring and testing the boundaries of "what could be" for beauty.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?

The biggest lesson I learned is that a plan is merely your best intentions written down. It hardly ever translates to the reality that unfolds. I began looking at planning as a compass checkpoint or directional guide. It's the general understanding that information and situations change (some you can control and some you don't), all of which can put you on a different trajectory but still in the right direction.

What advice would you give to other women who want to work in beauty?

Try and find your overlapping in! Mine was science, and I fell in because of a fateful opportunity, but many find their niche based on their current skills. Like most industries, beauty has its glamourous side, but it's also filled with science, operations, and everything in between.

It can be very relationship-oriented, so getting your foot in the door will take resilience. Once you are in, soak up as much information and gain as much experience as possible for your role and the other departments. There is a lot of repetition and networking needed within companies, so understanding all the roles and how they fit together is super valuable.

Another pro tip would be to volunteer yourself often. This will pay off big in the long run, and eventually, your reputation of being a hands-on, passionate team member will open the doors that were difficult to crack at the beginning of your journey.

Related Stories