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Guest Editor - Barbara Paldus

PUBLISHED ON
May 23, 2024
TAGS

Barbara Paldus, the Canadian founder and CEO of California-based Codex Labs, is revolutionizing how we care for our skin. Here, she shares how her background in engineering and her career in Silicon Valley startups led her to launch a biotech company that produces science-backed skincare.

 

I was born in Kitchener- Waterloo. We spent a few years in Holland, France and Germany while I was growing up. When I came back from Germany, I decided I wanted to become a scientist. And my guidance counsellor at the time thought that since I had a lot of extra class credits, I could take some first- year math classes at the University of Waterloo.

 

I accidentally ended up at the engineering admissions office where they said that if I completed Grade 13 English and Algebra in summer school, I could get my high school degree after Grade 11 and start university that fall, which I thought was cool. That's how I ended up in electrical engineering at 17, and I loved it.

 

From there, I did my master’s and Ph.D. at Stanford University. My first business was a spin-off from my PhD research: Making analytical equipment where we could examine trace elements in human breath (to detect everything from cancer or diabetes to gastric ulcers), carbon cycle and climate-change gases. We were also looking at different problems, mostly in industrial and environmental applications. I did that from 1998 to 2005 when I left because I wanted to run a company. It was a different time in Silicon Valley and there were very few female CEOs. Because I had a non-compete, I started a company in biotech, called Finesse Solutions. We ended up making automation systems for bio-processing and became a very large global supplier of this automation for biological therapeutics. Most of the Covid-19 vaccines are made with my equipment.

 

When my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I decided I wanted to spend more time with him. I sold the company and had a five-year non-compete. That’s when I started thinking about how he had a lot of allergies to some of the compounds that were in baby skin-care products, and wouldn’t it be fun to look at skincare not from a beauty perspective, but from a health perspective — what biologically keeps you healthy. Healthy skin always looks beautiful, right?

 

The first thing we wanted to attack was eliminating the use of petrochemical- derived ingredients, and that led us to fermented ingredients such as PreservX for preservation, which was our first patent. And that became a cornerstone of everything we do. That's how all our products ended up being microbiome-friendly, too.

 

With every product, we show the clinical data, not just consumer feedback. We test everything and we have partnered with a large clinical-testing facility in France. They use analytical instruments that measure what your product does. And we've put all those numbers in our efficacy panel, which is similar to the nutrition panels on our food. We say, “This will be the average change in your trans-epidermal water loss, your hydration or the amount of oil you have on the surface of your skin.” It’s all measured. We also take consumer feedback to make sure that the product feels good and doesn’t smell bad. As none of us have water sensors in our skin we can’t measure our own hydration, so our opinions of how well a product works are not really quantitative. For example, in a study where we had an oil-control cream, it physically dried out the skin by removing the extra oil, but the user feedback from the study was that people felt “more hydrated.” It goes back to being an engineer. I want to quantify everything.

 

We also try to be sustainable in everything we do. That's another reason why we manufacture with biotech — because you can control the quality of the ingredient but, more importantly, because of the reduced water usage, electricity usage and transportation. You grow the cells, you extract the cells, you don't have to pick plants, you don't have to use agricultural land, you don't have to worry about heavy metals in the soil and you don’t have to stress about good crop yield or bad crop yield because the weather changes that year. Bringing biotech into skincare both from a sustainability and performance perspective has been really important over the last four years.

 

I don't like to think of us as a beauty company because we're more about healthy skin. We get feedback like, “I don't have to wear makeup anymore. I do when I want to, but I don't have to.” That, to me, is another happy person. It’s a nice feeling. I've been using Codex products for almost four years since we first had prototypes. And my aesthetician says, “Barb, you don't need me.” That's great.

 


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