Q&A With Immunocologie Founder Karen Ballou

Karen-Ballou-immunocologie[Image: Karen Ballou]The skincare expert and cancer survivor describes the story behind the natural luxury brand.

In 2008 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. During treatment, I decided I wanted to be able to give back to my skin. I’d already been doing that my whole career—I’d spent 30 years being an esthetician and developing skincare products—but it was always for other companies. So during treatment and remission I began trying to find a way to take my existing career and combine it with my passion, which was to get the skin to perform and offer the best possible results.

Other brands are high performance but with high levels of chemicals, but I wanted to focus on the natural field. It’s a controversial field, however: Natural feels good, but it doesn’t always offer results. I wanted to do something that was performance driven—naturally performance driven. I wondered how I could change the way we think about natural. After all, why can’t natural be luxury, and vice versa? Up to that point, those two things weren’t coming together. I just knew that I needed to do this as I’d created so many products for so many people. I thought, ‘I’ve survived cancer and I’m still here—I have to do this.’ I wanted to be able to tell my story, have skin be the best it could be and give back to women around the world. I wanted to make them feel confident about themselves. So that’s how the brand was born three years ago.

Tell us how the French green clay came into play.

I started thinking about the clay I’d been using while working with French brand Gabriel Couzian. We’d taken a clay and broken it down into fine molecules by placing it in water and centrifuging it. We then applied this clay water on skin and observed how it helped with many issues. So while I was getting better I experimented by adding some hyaluronic acid to it. I immediately saw how it hydrated the skin. So I then began thinking about how I could take that, use the clay as a delivery system for natural ingredients, and turn it into a brand. That unique delivery system is our proprietary Vital Oligo Science. I chose French green clay, as opposed to red or black, because it’s the strongest mineral clay on Earth and contains the highest concentration of minerals that perform vital functions in the body. We developed it with a bio-chemist from France.

Aside from the clay, what are some other key Immunocologie ingredients?

We use baobab; Burgundy grapes, which contain resveratrol; oil from a unique desert date palm tree only found in a remote part of West Africa; and, of course, our famed snail mucin. Snails shed their cells twice a year in a liquid, which we collect on trays, then freeze-dry it to use in a powder. It becomes liquid again when we bring it back to life. It’s antimicrobial, antibacterial and can also help regenerate the skin. It’s good for scarring and post surgery; it helps repair the skin and also gives it a glow by brightening and rejuvenating. It’s like natural Botox!

Related: DAYSPA Tries the New Immunocologie Facial at Chuan Spa Pasadena

What’s your wellness routine?

I work out every day—it’s a well balanced routine that incorporates cardiovascular, plus weights and a proper recovery. If I’m traveling I’ll do a shorter workout, but it’s really important for me to get my heart rate up every day as it helps with my body’s energy. It was so crucial for me to work out regularly as I was getting well, when my bones were hurting so badly from treatment. Sometimes we get very busy in our lives and forget to take care of ourselves. As I was finishing radiation a friend suggested I’d feel better if I did more exercise. I thought I was doing enough—even when I was sick I’d try to walk the dog every day as it was so good for my mental health. However, one of my sons brought it to my attention too. So I started off by running a quarter mile, then a half mile, then a full mile. Now I can easily run four or five miles—even six or seven. Looking back, I think the angels were trying to send me a message!

I always make sure I have protein, such as my chia-probiotic smoothie, as part of my recovery—even if I can’t work out I still do the recovery. When you have cancer you gain weight from the medication and so on. But I learned a big lesson during that time—I realized I needed to eat to lose weight, and to not starve myself. Eating protein was a big part of that. I eliminated carbs and lost 35 to 40 pounds. Also, sugar can feed cancer. Going through cancer taught me a lot about food, in fact. For instance, you can’t eat raw fruit and vegetables while you’re undergoing treatment because of the risk of bacteria. Now, of course, I have them. I eat asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, turmeric, ginger and nuts processed in the right way. But I do believe in ‘everything in moderation.’

Why are social equity and stewardship so important to you?

I really think the social side of our society is much more aware than ever before. I was on a women’s board trying to help the homeless and Aids patients long before it was fashionable. Having a brand that can do things that are sustainable and giving back is my passion. More and more people are trying to do it but they have to be doing it for the right reasons—it can’t be a gimmick. For me it’s part of my business model. And it has influenced my children too—now Immunocologie has turned into something of a family business. My oldest son Ryan is our director of communications, my second son Ian has helped me with the financial side of things. He started a charity when he was 18 years old, the Big Andrew Foundation, in honor of Andrew Gmelch, who died of cancer aged 15 in 2007. Money raised goes toward hospital bills for cancer patients. I also have two younger kids, Erin and Justin, one also works for a charity and the other is graduating this year.

What else do you want people to know about Immunocologie?

The products really and truly balance the skin. Because of the way we formulate them, they can treat all conditions and all skin types. It’s not an antiaging line in the classical sense—you can slow the signs of aging by looking after yourself, and by not sitting on the couch watching endless TV, eating French fries and so on. By eating well and drinking right our bodies are in a much better state. So if we’re balancing hydrating skin and keeping it lubricated then it’s in the best state it can be.

RELATED: Spa Repositioning: Q&A With Mary Zavaglia

What’s the future of green skin care?

It’s here to stay. It’s only going to get better and healthier for all of us. The whole landscape of beauty is changing and will continue to change dramatically, and we’ll live in a place where turmeric scrubs and clays will be the norm. Immunocologie is about energy. When you use the products, you walk away feeling a certain energy. You can’t put it into words but you know it exists and you know it’s positive. We’re going into a place where our bodies are more positive as we’re being nurtured, and in turn our mental state will be healthier. We’ll be able to do things in a better way. We can’t go backwards—we can only get better and better. My Immunocologie facial [available at Chuan Spa at the Langham Huntington in Pasadena, California], includes energy work. I want clients to feel it, and get their body energized and their blood flowing. The service is designed is to meet the needs of our bodies and minds, to get the mind into the right state, the body into the right state (healthy!) and create that mind, body and soul connection.

What are your plans for the brand?

We just launched our body serum. I have other things up my sleeve, but that’s all I can say for now!

—By Lesley McCave

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