Have you ever felt like people can see their reflection in your forehead? Or sensed your carefully applied makeup melt and migrate before noon? Has powdering your nose left your skin looking cakey—not cool and fresh? If you’ve said yes to any—or all—of these questions, then you are familiar with the pitfalls of oily skin. And so is Lita Cunningham, the Founder and CEO of Lalais, a luxury skincare and wellness brand launching today exclusively at Bergdorf Goodman and Lalais.com.
“I have always been a beauty junkie, so I love beauty, but it’s very difficult because I always had oily and temperamental skin,” Cunningham says. “I’ve been on Accutane, I’ve been on steroids, I’ve had laser treatments for the hyperpigmentation, I’ve been burned and recovered. I’ve done it all to try to manage it. Sometimes it would get a little better, and then I would start breaking out inevitably right before a big day or a major presentation at work.”
In today’s crowded beauty marketplace, it feels like there’s no white space left. But Cunningham truly found one when she tried to find products specifically designed for her oily complexion. When she couldn’t find any, she left her career as the global head of HR for Elizabeth Arden behind and followed her passion for skincare to fill that void.
“Ultimately, I knew that the best results would come from something that I could maintain every day,” Cunningham says. “When I looked on the market, I could not find something that was targeted to what my skin needed. Once I started diving into it, I said I might have found a little bit of whitespace in this saturated industry. This is a group of skin that needs very targeted solutions, but still wants to participate in the luxury skincare realm. I felt answering that call was my mission.”
Though Cunningham had spent many years at Elizabeth Arden, because she was in HR, she didn’t know anything about marketing or product development, or as she puts it, “nothing about nothing.” But Cunningham views that as an asset because starting from basic principles and having to build from there is what makes the brand so special. “These are bespoke formulas,” she says. “There’s nothing like them on the market; they’re truly differentiated and targeted. I didn’t have any preconceived notions about how things worked. That’s one of the reasons why it took so long because they’re truly made from scratch.”
A self-funded startup four years in the making, Cunningham took the time to do her due diligence, researching each and every ingredient, and testing formulas to find what worked and what didn’t, partnering with a renowned cosmetic chemist. “But I think the end result is magical,” she says. “To be able to have multifunctional products that are so targeted to all of the skin concerns of oily skin is something special, and the fact that we can stand proud and say that from ingredient selection to testing to efficacy that this is for all oily skin of all tones.”
Formulating for oily skin is tricky. The vast majority of products for oily skin are designed for acne-prone skin. “For many of us with oily skin, we don’t have acne and in fact, those sorts of products are not good for oily skin because they’re way too harsh and don’t provide the nurturing that oily skin needs, as well as address the bulk of concerns of that type of skin,” Cunningham says.
On the flip side, many products now claim to be formulated for all skin types. “You’re kind of intuitively saying wait a minute, if I have very dry skin is that same product going to give wonderful results to oily skin?” she poses. “How is that really targeting what my skin actually needs? A lot of companies formulate for the masses.”
Those with oily skin often have a plethora of concerns all at once, from battling excess sebum while simultaneously fighting dehydration, breakouts and dark spots that won’t fade. That’s why Lalais is formulated based on cocktailing multiple active ingredients. “They utilize different pathways to target those various skin concerns,” Cunningham says, noting that her products are multitaskers that can help users declutter their shelves. “I wanted to simplify that stress and regimen for her. These are formulas that are going to work for you and address your concerns, and you can go live your life and be fabulous.”
Dispelling common myths about oily skin is also a cornerstone of Lalais. “One misnomer is that oily skin is very tough and resilient,” Cunningham says. “That’s a misnomer for melanated skin as well. The industry markets it like this skin can take anything, and that these harsh acids [will help you] glow overnight. In order to achieve that you need things that are at a very low pH, causing a very inflammatory reaction and for oily skin and melanated skin, those are a big, big no-no. I learned that these skin types are actually quite delicate, and need precision in terms of formulas that are hoping to address the concerns, so that the consumer can see visible results, but without that irritation and inflammation.”
Lalais is intentionally launching with a tight edit of four products. The Perfecting Serum is an exfoliating treatment clinically proven to visibly improve all oily skin concerns, with 100% of testers stating their skin looks and feels less oily. The Retinol Renew taps three retinoids for an effective anti-aging approach, while the Skin Perfecting Complex is the first daily supplement specifically designed to target triggers for oily skin, with 94% of testers reporting positive changes in their skin in eight weeks.
Finally, there’s the Blotting Compact, with incredibly chic and super hygienic touchless 100% natural blotting sheets made from wood pulp paper from Japan that’s designed to leave makeup undisturbed. That product came about from the temporary solution of using napkins to blot excess oil from skin, which can smudge everything around. “The true efficacy of the paper is that it’s able to absorb without disturbing makeup,” Cunningham says. “You want to be able to freshen up without introducing another ingredient or product.”
Then there’s the name of the brand itself, which was inspired by a form of ancient French poetry in which none of the lines rhymed. “At the time, it was viewed as very chaotic,” Cunningham says. “But later it became known as one of the most beautiful art forms, and that was representative of our tagline which is ‘from chaos comes beauty.’ It’s akin to oily skin, but also quite frankly akin to our lives these days. We hope that for a consumer who’s been struggling, who’s been stressed, who wants that indulgence and luxury of beautiful textures and a beautiful presentation and experience, but targeted to solve her issues and skin concerns, that this brings that together for her.”
Eventually, Cunningham hopes to expand Lalais to a full lifestyle brand, launching products to round out her offerings from the bathroom to the kitchen. “We’re looking forward to putting forth products that are truly differentiated only when they are of the utmost quality,” Cunningham says. “I am really glad that we went through the pain of doing everything in its own time when it’s ready because the products are of an unparalleled quality. We paid attention to every single detail of this brand, to the colors to the weight of how everything feels. There is just as much care and attention to inside of the products as well as the outside. What we want to convey is that you don’t have problem skin—it’s just been misunderstood.”