Nicolas Travis Woke Up With Severe Acne at 13 — Now His Products Are Sold at Sephora

Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person’s skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we’re passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry, so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they’re using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: Nicolas Travis, founder of new skin-care brand PSA Skin.

My teenage acne happened overnight — I went to bed with clear skin one day when I was 13, and the next morning, my face was covered with zits. It affected my self-esteem and my confidence, and there were so many times when I just didn’t even want to leave the house. I would use something that would clear up my skin temporarily, but then it would flare back up with even more breakouts, so I always felt like I was going one step forward and two steps backward.

I experimented a lot those days. In the beginning, I thought I had to focus on eliminating sebum production, so I used cleansers and toners that would give me that squeaky-clean feeling. If it stung, it meant it was working. More was more. I coated my whole face with Oxy10 — a 10 percent Benzoyl Peroxide cream — multiple times a day. I would let it dry and then apply another layer like it was a mask. My skin turned rough, dark brown, and started peeling. That was my first brush with inflammatory hyperpigmentation. That was when I started being more purposeful about what I put on my skin and slowly introduced one product at a time.

It was always a dream of mine to have my own skin-care company. I was so disappointed in what was available on the market, and whatever was out there left me wanting more. I studied biomedical and pharmaceutical science during undergrad and graduate school. For my master’s thesis, I wrote a business plan for a start-up skin-care company. I spent six months doing research, collecting data points, and learning about the industry.

After graduation, I applied to every major beauty conglomerate in every country I thought I could live in, but none of them got back to me. I ended up accepting a job offer at an ad agency and created social media strategies and ran campaigns. When it came to decide my next move, I felt this urge I couldn’t shake to go back and review my thesis. My thesis was based on an infusion of $1 million. I knew I was never going to make enough to save that much, but I realized that I could start the line with one product, which is what I did.

It took me a couple of months to pick up the courage to start my brand. I always thought that I needed experience and connections in the beauty industry — I had none — and I hadn’t paid my dues yet, so who was I to start my own line? I looked at the market, and I found a lot of white space that I thought we could fill. The goal was to launch formulas that deliver visible results that give you joy, so problem-solving is critical to us. Part of this process involves thinking about how we can make something even better. Clinically proven ingredients like vitamin C and retinol are brilliant, but they can also be unstable and irritating. Treating adult acne caused by stress and hormones involves more finesse than regular teenage acne.

Inclusivity and diversity drive everything we do. We don’t retouch any of our ads with models. To be truly accessible to everyone, we formulated PSA without drying alcohol, essential oils, synthetic dyes and fragrances, and sulfates, so that your skin barrier is respected — especially important at the beginning of your skin-care journey, as damage to your barrier is cumulative — and so your skin can take on the most positive, healthy glow.

We aspire to create a safe space for our allies to share their skin-care journeys. We have a weekly series where we get our allies to share their stories, and we focus on the journey because there isn’t one straight path to happy, clear skin. Everyone’s journey is different, and that’s OK.

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