Beauty/skin care guru doesn’t sell magic potions so much as the authentic life of the soul - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Beauty/skin care guru doesn’t sell magic potions so much as the authentic life of the soul

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Posted: Sunday, May 4, 2003 8:09 am | Updated: 1:25 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

"how you climb up the mountain is just as important as how you get down the mountain. and so it is with life, which for many of us becomes one big gigantic test followed by one big gigantic lesson. in the end, it all comes down to one word, grace. it’s how you accept winning and losing, good luck and bad luck, the darkness and the light."

Pretty profound words — especially when they’re the only ones on the front label of a bottle of bath and shower gel. They’re part of Cristina Carlino’s philosophy, which has blossomed into Philosophy, the Phoenix-based prestige skin care and cosmetics company.

Along the way she pioneered the micropeel facial procedure performed in thousands of plastic surgery and dermatology offices, sold a multimillion-dollar company to the largest cosmetics conglomerate in the United States and had a daughter, Grace, whom she considers a blessing and a focusing agent. In an industry with the singular goal of attending to the body, Carlino is a success thanks to her persistence in paying heed to the spirit as well.

"with our precious child consciousness we would press our backs to the earth as we gazed up to the blue skies above. our imaginations broke wild and our hearts ran free. not only could we see faces dancing in the clouds, we could see forever. heaven on earth is as much a place as it is a feeling. to get there you only need to close your eyes and remember." - HEAVEN ON EARTH BODY SCRUB

"I believe that fascinations in life always have a personal twist," Carlino said in the conference room of the company’s headquarters, sandwiched between the Hohokam and Sky Harbor expressways just north of University Drive.

Philosophy’s rituals of cleansing, bathing and purity likely have their roots in a Midwestern childhood spent enraptured by the mysticism that comes with being raised Catholic.

"The ceremony, the rites, the whole idea of baptism — I didn’t realize how much as a child I loved them," Carlino said. "To me, it was better than Harry Potter. It was magical."

But it wasn’t just the pomp and circumstance of Catholicism that stuck; Carlino said her professional and personal life is modeled by her faith.

"I look at my daughter or sunrises and sunsets and say, ‘There’s something way bigger than me,’ " she said. "I heard a great line the other day, it just struck me: God gives us life, and what we do with our life is what we give God. We do account for our days here on Earth. I believe that."

A quick accounting of Carlino’s days thus far: As a Los Angeles esthetician in the mid-1980s, she found a cultlike group of "lay peelers" whose aggressive but effective skin treatments required weeks of recovery.

"I thought there had to be a way to back that stuff way down," she said. "People don’t want dangerous beauty."

Carlino leased space out of a high-profile plastic surgery clinic in 1988 and began offering lunchtime peels; soon 30 customers a day lined up on Wilshire Boulevard.

When silicone breast implants were banned, the clinic went under. Doctors saw facial peels as a way to replace breast augmentation as a cash cow. Carlino decided it was time to become a businesswoman.

She first presented her Bio-Medic micropeel technique at a 1991 meeting sponsored by the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons; today more than 1,600 plastic surgeons and dermatologists are trained in the procedure. By 2000, BioMedic had annual sales of $13 million in 25 countries.

"it is not ‘if’ we will lose the things we love, it is ‘when.’ for most, love is

surrendered one piece at a time . . . first childhood, a promising romance, the passing of a loved one, and finally a child who leaves home. but as we lose, can we not gain a deep knowing that in the presence of grace, love for the sake of love is eternal?" - AMAZING GRACE PERFUMED HAIR CONDITIONER

While her company’s success was phenomenal, Carlino grew distracted and disappointed.

"That purist part of me knew I needed something that was more to the heart," she said.

Philosophy began as a side project, a line of more than 300 skin care products and cosmetics stored in Carlino’s kitchen. The first store to carry the line was Barneys New York, quickly followed by Nordstrom.

"We were completely lost in retail," Carlino said. "No one in this building had experience in displays, marketing, hiring people. . ."

The scant advertising budget afforded the fledgling company little exposure; Carlino decided to promote the line on QVC when there was still a stigma associated with home shopping networks.

Philosophy’s skin- care products sold well but the cosmetics side lost money, and the required churn of new seasonal shades meant introducing products Carlino wasn’t sure of. To salvage the company, she kept a few beloved makeup items, then jettisoned the rest.

"The seasoning of Cristina Carlino has led to less exuberance, more down-to-earth professionalism," she said.

Meanwhile, the family that had helped her build BioMedic was shifting; her sister’s divorce meant one of Carlino’s closest business partners was her now ex-brother-in-law. When L’Oréal offered to buy the company, Carlino realized she could focus her attention on Philosophy.

What closed the sale: After years of being told she couldn’t have a baby, Carlino discovered she was about to become a mother.

"amazing grace is the person who lives in a state of love, forgiveness and

total compassion. it is the person who is not afraid to be wrong and

doesn’t need to be right. it is the person who has let theirself


Business associates and acquaintances alike praise Carlino’s business acumen, but they talk faster and more excitedly when the topic is her demeanor.

"Just seeing her, she’s so unassuming, so quiet, with almost a peacefulness about her. I thought, ‘My gosh, this woman’s created this brand, so much came out of this little person," said Shelley Hunt, the Southern California-based cosmetics executive who signed Philosophy to Nordstrom.

"She’s an incredibly spiritual person. That comes across in everything she does," Hunt said. "And when you speak with her one-on-one, you’re the most important person in the world. You’re like a believer. All of a sudden, she’s running this crazy cult, and she has such heart."

Allen Burke, director of cosmetics at QVC, spent a year convincing Carlino that her line would be a good match for the shopping network.

"People can tell immediately that she’s incredibly bright and passionate about the products she’s developed," Burke said. "She knows every product backwards and forwards, what it will do and won’t do.

"Part of the reason we love her so much is that she’s so blunt and frank about it. When a viewer calls and says, ‘I have this malady, is this a good product?’ and she says no, they love that."

Hunt said Carlino’s connectivity extends to her products, as well.

"She has a way of taking a very technically advanced skin care brand and putting a little bit of whimsy in it, so it’s accessible to customers. People who never would buy a brand like that, people who think science-based skin care is scary, just fall in love with her."

First-time Philosophy customers often are drawn to the line’s scented bath products — low-commitment body washes that smell like strawberry milkshakes, orange sherbet or oatmeal cookies. Returning customers are women who’ve discovered the more serious products, like Hope in a Jar, a face cream with lactic acid, or Falling in Love, a pheromone product designed to improve a woman’s own self-esteem and thus make her more attractive to others.

SARK, who has written 11 colorful self-growth books such as "Eat Mangos Naked" and "Wild Succulent Women," said Carlino is special because she’s "able to function and be in the business world in a very creative way.

"I think that’s a feat in itself, because it’s often a case of left and right," said

SARK (an acronym for Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy), who met the cosmetics mogul at the turn of the century, when Carlino donated Philosophy goodie bags to a San Francisco "pajama party" that raised funds for a charity that aids the homeless.

"You don’t think of cosmetics executives as being very evolved. But she’s been a whole new thing. I’m just a huge fan."

"the natural aging process causes the soft tissues of our faces to begin to descend. our eyebrows frown, our lids droop, our eyes appear hollow, our noses and ears are larger, and our jawbone is less defined. we can fight the process or we can yield to losing our bodies, gaining our souls, and finding our grace." - AMAZING GRACE FIRMING BODY EMULSION

"We miss many opportunities being in Phoenix," Carlino said. "But you have to be where you’re happy. I love the blue sky. I love the people here; these are real people. I love being able to go to work and see my assistant wearing a football jersey. This is a warm place to work, a compassionate place. If you’ve got to work and be away from your family, this is a great place to be."

She knows larger-scale success might come quicker if the company of 100 employees were based in New York with the other players, or if she cut promotional swaths through magazines and department stores.

"I’m not trying to be difficult," Carlino said. "I have that desire to create, to invent, but also to be left alone. Not everyone is built for the limelight. That’s a gift — it is! — but it’s not how I prioritize my life. I’m Everywoman, I’m not a model or a superstar."

She thinks it’s difficult to be a full-time career woman and a full-time mother, because both suffer.

"This little person in many ways requires more than anything I do professionally because of the love involved," Carlino said of her daughter. And although she and her husband installed a home office, "You can’t work and watch your child at the same time. It’s one or the other — and you don’t cut back on either of them, so you get fewer times dedicated to you."

But Carlino says having Grace has led to total clarity in the creative process: She knows exactly what she should do right away.

"There’s no more secondguessing," she said.

"She’s like any other baby — she’s not an alchemist, she’s just like every other kid you see at the pediatrician," she said. "They’re all cute, they all don’t listen — but to me she’s special."

"if you really want to be somebody, you don’t have to be great, you only have to be good. good people live by the golden rule, and in doing so they become somebody to everybody. great people live by their own rules, which too often become self-serving. therefore, don’t be great, just be good, and if you’ve got to be great, then for goodness sake, do something good." - BE SOMEBODY EXTRA-RICH BODY CREAM

The Philosophy Web site — — bears Carlino’s stamp: It sells products, sure, but also includes downloadable gratitude journals for logging daily things you’re happy for and "hero" links to Operation Rainbow and Operation Smile, organizations of surgeons who perform facial reconstruction on disfigured children.

The downloadable 50-page Guru guide asks us to consider issues that often go by the wayside in everyday life:

• A guru has no fear: "there are a number of men and women who have given their lives for this country. make a list of how you can honor them and your country."

• A guru is parent to all: "your mother needs to hear from you, whether here on earth or in heaven. what would you like to say to her? "

• A guru prays or meditates daily: "learn how to pray and meditate every day, every night and most importantly thank god instead of asking god for help. what are you most thankful for? "

Carlino donates all proceeds from the sales of particular items to organizations she believes in: Cedars-Sinai Research for Women’s Cancers; charities for the homeless; organizations for the widows and children of the firefighters who died in the World Trade Center attack; the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation ("because if anyone can make miracles happen, superman can").

"Philosophy, just now in its seventh year, has found its ‘voila!’ format," she said, adding it took that long before BioMedic was where it needed to be, too. "When you don’t go to college and have an MBA, as I didn’t, maybe it takes seven years to get it right."

Where to shop

Philosophy products are available at the Philosophy store, 410 S. Mill Ave., Tempe; Nordstrom at Scottsdale Fashion Square, 7055 E. Camelback Road, and Chandler Fashion Center, 3199 W. Chandler Blvd.; Sephora, Scottsdale Fashion Square, 7014 E. Camelback Road; and online at and

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