Welcome to Byrdie's series, The Hustle. We're profiling BIPOC individuals in the beauty and wellness industries who are usually behind-the-scenes. From the cosmetic chemists formulating your holy-grail serum to CFOs driving the biggest beauty companies forward, these people are the definition of career goals, and they're getting real about the journeys that led them to where they are—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
Ron Robinson is one of the most revered cosmetic chemists. However, he never dreamt of working in the beauty industry, calling himself an "accidental cosmetic chemist." Instead, all signs pointed to Robinson becoming a medical professional, majoring in biology and chemistry at Adelphi University before enrolling in medical school. "I grew up with a family that wanted me to be a doctor, and I didn't know what else I wanted to do with my life," he shares. "After a year of med school, I dropped out. I didn't know what I was going to do. I moved back in with my parents, and they pressured me to get a life."
As Robinson figured out his next move, he began sending resumes to countless companies. Soon, he found his big break in beauty. "Stillwater's Clinique division called me in for an interview in 1990, and they hired me on the spot," he says. "They loved my chemistry and biology background. I loved the fact that there was this whole world where I could blend creativity with science and formulate cosmetics."
Over the last three decades, Robinson has led product development at the most notable beauty corporations in the world (like Lancôme, Revlon, and Avon). In 2008, he decided to channel his years of expertise into his own venture, a blog called BeautyStat that focused on clarifying the confusion surrounding formulations and product purchasing. From there, the platform evolved, and Robinson decided to launch his brand, BeautyStat Cosmetics, in 2019. As a skincare founder, he's created one of the most beloved vitamin c serums and several other standout products. Ahead, Robinson sheds more light on his journey in the beauty industry and the lessons he's learned along the way.
Tell us about the behind-the-scenes process of creating BeautyStat and your first product, the Universal C Skin Refiner.
I didn't launch BeautyStat until I formulated thousands of iterations of the serum. We discovered a way to stabilize pure vitamin C, so that was the concept that made us launch the company. Vitamin C is great for the skin but is notoriously unstable. I wanted to make a product that didn't oxidize, smell bad, or frustrate consumers. It took a lot of hard work to create something that is solving a big need. With BeautyStat, we were able to stabilize vitamin C and ensure that it's delivering significant results. It does everything consumers want—from evening skin tone to addressing fine lines and wrinkles to firming the skin. That process is what made me continue to create.
Your Universal C Skin Refiner has won awards from multiple outlets. As a business owner, how does that make you feel?
It's a pinch-me moment every time I hear about those types of accolades. It just shows the uniqueness we have in being a cosmetic chemist-founded brand. As long as we focus on the consumer and create products that meet their needs, I think those types of accolades may continue.
How do you set BeautyStat apart from other brands?
More than ever, the consumer is looking for data and authority. What sets us apart is the fact the cosmetic chemist has emerged as a new expert. No one knows more about what goes into a product than I do. The fact that we're a cosmetic chemist-founded brand and have criteria in place to make sure that we're delivering a product that meets a consumer's need makes us unique.
What are some of the challenges you've faced while navigating your career and building BeautyStat?
Some of the challenges I've experienced have been being the only person of color in the room or, in some cases, the entire company. When I started, I was often the only one of color in a scientific position, so there were few role models. It was a challenge to see how I could rise through the ranks and get to the next level. I had to focus and prove I could deliver results and contribute to the business, and that's what kept me going.
Later in my career, it was challenging when I was looking to raise money and grow BeautyStat as a skincare business. I could get a meeting with an investor, but getting them to write a check became a challenge, even though we had so much going for us. However, I always focused on the fact that I had something great, and I used all the resources I had in order to take the business to where it is today.
In addition to running BeautyStat, you are also a chemist for Hailey Bieber's skincare brand Rhode. What is it like juggling two huge brands?
I don't sleep as much as I used to, but I think it's simply because of my passion to help consumers. When Hailey reached out to me, she had this great concept, and I wanted to be involved. I have to divide my workload in order to be able to help both brands, but most of my time is spent working on BeautyStat. I'm always open to helping and consulting with other brands, but BeautyStat is the focus.
What are your thoughts on the current state of diversity in beauty? How can the industry continue to improve?
I started in this business over 30 years ago, and there was no one of color in this space. I used to go to a lot of events and tradeshows, and I was often one of the only people of color back then. Fortunately, that has changed. There are a lot more great brands and entrepreneurs of color. I try to mentor some as they approach me because that's another passion of mine. I think although we've made some strides, more could always be done to have that representation. This not only applies to the products on the shelf but also to senior leadership teams and the supply chain. We need to make sure all brands have people of color represented at all levels. I'd also like to see more accountability year after year. Brands should ask themselves, How much have we changed? What have we done? Have we invested heavily? Have we brought these brands into our retail presence?
What is the best career advice you've ever received?
The best career advice I've ever received is that you can have it all, but you can't have it simultaneously. With all the hard work I'm putting in right now, I realize there are other things I might be sacrificing. But once I can get what I'm focusing on to a point where it's excelling, I can move on and start to build other things that I'd like to work on, personally and professionally. That advice keeps me excited about the road ahead.
What is something you hope other Black entrepreneurs trying to enter the beauty space take away from you and your brand?
I always tell people to ensure their ideas are vetted as much as possible. There are a lot of great ideas, but not all those ideas can make for a growing business. Test your concept and ensure it's a market fit and has scale potential.
Other than the vitamin C serum, which BeautyStat product would you recommend to someone trying the brand for the first time?
I recommend trying our cleanser. It's gentle and great for all skin types. What's unique about it is it has medical-grade sulfur in it, which works to help detoxify the skin and kill all the bacteria that can cause inflammation on the skin. However, it keeps the healthy bacteria intact because our skin needs healthy bacteria to function adequately.
Where do you see Beautystat in the next five to 10 years?
I see Beautystat becoming a go-to brand for consumers that are looking for high-performance products and don't mind spending a little extra to get true results. I see this brand going amongst high-performance, science-based skincare brands.