Top Dermatologist Shares How the Largest Dermatologist-Operated Skin-Care Website Started, Plus Which Products are Currently Flying Off the Shelves

Top Dermatologist Shares How the Largest Dermatologist-Operated Skin-Care Website Started, Plus Which Products are Currently Flying Off the Shelves featured image
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We spent some time with Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD to hear the origin story of LovelySkin.com, which now serves over 1.5 million customers, on how it became the success it is today and which products their customer base can’t get enough of.

Tell us how you came up with idea for LovelySkin.com.
“I was tired after a long day and while I was driving home from a satellite office, my thoughts were just floating. Suddenly, I thought, ‘You know, why can’t we sell skin care like Amazon is selling books?’ That was in 1997, a time when—picture this—Amazon only sold books. I started working on it with the small team that I had at the time and hired an outside person to create a website. Then, I hired a person to create some content around the products. We already had a very rudimentary website for my dermatology practice, but it wasn’t really doing anything, it was just a placeholder that talked about the hours we had and what services we performed. LovelySkin.com gradually filled out and we sold our first product in 1999.”

What was the first product sold on LovelySkin?
“It’s no longer on the shelves, but it was MDForte. It’s been nearly 22 years since our first product, but the system for selecting our offerings hasn’t changed too much from the original concept.”

Was LovelySkin.com an instant success?
“It was always a labor of love, because it took us two years from the start to even sell a product. We didn’t make a dime for the first five years—in fact, we lost about $50,000 each year for the first five years of LovelySkin’s existence. People kept on saying, ‘Are you still doing that thing? It’s really not doing all that well, is it?” I said, ‘No. It’s really not, but I enjoy doing it.’ The search engines weren’t really functional in the way they are now until 2002. That’s when we gained the ability to connect with people who were interested in skin care products and match them up with what they wanted. That was really the key factor in our initial success.  Then, we coupled that with unsurpassed customer service that goes out of their way to make sure we treat customers like family.”

Tell us a little bit about product selection at LovelySkin.
“There are quite a few brands out there that want to be a part of LovelySkin, and we love to test and try them, but we are arduous in our evaluation. The testing crew is a combination of myself, my wife, Nancy, the staff members, and even my patients sometimes. The goal is to make sure that the product is a good product that we would use or recommend to a friend or patient. And we’re always on the lookout for good new products.”

Tell us a little about your most recent brand additions to LovelySkin.
“We recently took on brands ranging from Sente to Mila Moursi. Introducing them was a big undertaking, especially during the pandemic, but we did it. We also carry classic ‘cosmeceutical’ (cosmetics with pharmaceutical benefits) options such as SkinCeuticals, Obagi, Revision Skincare, Epionce, and Neocutis, and delight in offering samples with each and every purchase. Our customers love the samples because this offers the option of trying out a new product without having to purchase it initially.”

Are there any products at LovelySkin you’ve helped develop?
“Yes, we have several other lines that are our very own, including FixMySkin 1% Hydrocortisone Healing Balm and Lip Balm, which I developed along with my son, Dr. Daniel Schlessinger, who is now a dermatology resident. It came from an idea that Daniel had when he was just twelve years old. He worked on it with me and it is now patented and has sold hundreds of thousands of units. It was the most gratifying thing that I have ever done, to be able to work with my son to produce this remarkable product that helps dry lips, eczema, psoriasis and a host of other skin conditions.  Additionally, we have our own flagship line, LovelySkin LUXE, a suite of products that I personally helped to develop, right down to which ingredients are used in the line.”

2020 has been an interesting year for many businesses.  Has the pandemic affected LovelySkin?
“Customer habits and needs changed during the pandemic and we pivoted with them. Whether it was, for example, a shampoo like Pureology, Moroccanoil, Kenra, Surface, or several other hair care devices, we made sure to keep an ongoing supply, even during the pandemic. Products such as CHI flat iron, usmooth, ColorProof, XFusion, and quite a few others were challenged during the pandemic because their normal supply chain was disrupted, but we’re proud that we were able to still offer them when people needed them.”

Did your customers buying habits change during 2020?
“Clearly, the public has embraced the concept of investing in skin care that offers more benefits than what they can purchase at the drugstore. Especially during the pandemic, people saw so many issues in their skin related to the use of face masks and the challenges they had from not being able to get to their dermatologists, aestheticians, or salons. There was quite a bit of change in what we saw flying off the shelves. Natural and organic/clean skin care became ‘hotter’. Brands such as Eminence Organics, jane iredale mineral makeup, Colorescience mineral makeup, and spa-quality brands like Yon-Ka became more popular throughout the pandemic, perhaps offering a respite from the constant, everyday challenges.” 

Anything else that your customers love at the moment?
“More self-care devices, such as NuFace, DERMAFLASH, and FOREO were sold and a tremendous shift happened in regards to hair care products. We definitely saw an increase in sales of hair care products during the pandemic. Some of our newer shampoos and color options, such as L’ANZA, sold phenomenally well during the pandemic. Interestingly, we saw a decrease in makeup sales, because makeup wasn’t quite as necessary. If you were wearing a mask, you could convince yourself that makeup wasn’t necessary. It was a very definite flip.”

Have you noticed any other increases in skin or hair conditions during the pandemic?
“While our sales for makeup decreased, it almost exactly mirrored the increase in sales for hair care products. Additionally, hair loss seemed to become a reality for many during the pandemic. One of our biggest products sold throughout the pandemic was Viviscal Professional, which was popular prior to the pandemic, but increased significantly during it. Also, lash and brow-focused products such as neuLASH PROFESSIONAL and neuBROW PROFESSIONAL surged as Zoom calls became ubiquitous and other methods of lash and brow enhancement weren’t readily available.”

LovelySkin is known for their award-winning customer service.  What sets it apart from other sites?
“Many sites just give you products with a range of skin types. But most people struggle with the questions of ‘Are you dry? Are you oily? Are you a combination of both?  We strive to take it one step further to offer condition-based skin care. For example, ‘Do you have rosacea? Do you have eczema? Do you have acne?’ are more meaningful in many ways, than, ‘Are you dry, oily or sensitive?’ It’s extremely difficult to fit a person’s skin tendencies into three or four skin types.”

Give us an example of how the LovelySkin customer service team works with customers.
“Because we have always felt that if our customer has an issue, we want to get to the bottom of it, our team takes this sort of question very seriously. If somebody calls us up and rattles off a long list of ingredients to which they are allergic, a skin condition they have, or something else that has stumped them when going to their local department store or doctor, we can actually offer them a consultation with award-winning customer service representatives, who often consult with me, so that we can find the right product for their skin.”

What might they recommend to someone with skin sensitivity issues?
“Brands such as Avene or La Roche-Posay have clean and dermatologist-approved sensitive skin ingredients. Also, many people have sun allergies. For these individuals, we have products, like Heliocare supplements, an outstanding product for people who are allergic to the sun and simply cannot tolerate going outside or those who want an extra form of sun protection in addition to sunscreen. Customers desire better sunscreens than the ones they’re going to find at the local drugstore—and they can get it delivered to their home with free shipping.”

On the topic of sunscreen, which do you recommend to your patients?
EltaMD sunscreen is a phenomenal product that not only does a great job, but also provides a good feel when used. They offer products that range from an everyday ‘city-block’ to more powerful products for intense sun exposure. EltaMD even offers a sunscreen that works well for acne-prone individuals.  We also carry TiZO sunscreens, which offer a completely mineral-based, chemical-free line of dermatology-recommended products.”

How are you involved in the day-to-day operations at LovelySkin?
“LovelySkin provides the combination of a board-certified dermatologist who is behind the effort, but also in front of the effort. It’s not at all uncommon for my staff or customer care to write me with an issue and say, ‘What would you recommend for this individual?’ Sometimes, I will shortcut the process and say directly to the querying customer: ‘This is what you need.’ It’s often interesting to see the responses of people when they have a dermatologist answer their question on the internet at 2 o’clock in the morning!”

With all of this under one roof, as well as a 4,000 square foot retail store in Omaha that also offers onsite opportunities to learn from skin care representatives and his well-trained staff, LovelySkin.com is truly a mecca for skin care.

Sponsored by Joel Schlessinger, MD

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