Following a conference talk in 2018, Harvard Medical School professor and dermatologist Dr. Sarina B. Elmariah was approached by philanthropist and entrepreneur Stephen Kennedy Smith — the nephew of President John F. Kennedy — with an unexpected proposal: to join a new skin-care brand he had founded. She was skeptical at first.
“I’m not only a skeptic, but a naysayer,” she said. With research focused on neurosensory disorders in the skin, “I just kept saying ‘I don’t know that I’m the right person’” to join the brand, she said.
But Smith was persistent, and this month, skin-care brand Aramore launched with Elmariah among a team of high-caliber co-founders hailing from Harvard and MIT. With an emphasis on ingredients that have been studied in the growing body of research on longevity, the brand debuted with a supplement and three topical skin-care products.
Now the director of the UC San Francisco Center for Neurosensory Disorders in Skin, Elmariah said she was sold on the direct connections between health and beauty that were part of Smith’s vision for the brand.
“The goal for me as a dermatologist who manages really complex skin diseases is to improve your overall skin health,” she said. “Everything that goes into preventative health care is about aging better.”
Smith’s foray into the skin-care world began with his philanthropy and investments in biotech, where he has become particularly interested in longevity. When it comes to skin care, he sees longevity as distinct from the concept of “anti-aging” in the beauty industry.
“You don’t want to fight nature. We want to work with nature to optimize our biology so that we can fill our human potential. That, to me, is a better goal than trying to look young forever,” he said.
Smith first founded the brand after meeting Dr. Anna Mandinova, an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, and learning about her work on NAD-boosting compounds at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Also part of the founding team of scientists are Dr. Brad Pentelute, a chemistry professor at MIT; and Diana Saville, the co-founder of neuroscience accelerator BrainMind and a PhD student in molecular and cellular biology at UC Berkeley.
The brand is the first to launch under Smith’s consumer health company, New Frontier Bio. On the company’s five-person panel of strategic advisors is Moderna co-founder Derrick Rossi, and the company’s CEO is former Bareminerals CMO Claudia Poccia. It has secured $10 million in funding, with Ambrosia Investments and private equity firm Cranmere’s founder Vincent Mai serving as the two lead investors.
Also on the strategic advisory panel is Brandon Ralph, a creative consultancy founder and the former chief experience officer of Equinox. The brand’s products will soon make their way into the 10 largest Equinox locations in the U.S., which will also offer facials with the products.
Smith, who also founded digital therapy startup Pear Therapeutics, became interested in the field of longevity via inspiration from the lawmaker side of the family. His cousin Patrick Kennedy, a former House representative, was the author of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act and founded the One Mind for Research conference that led Smith into investment and philanthropy on brain health.
“I got interested in the brain first. And that’s what led me to the skin, because I visited Harvard Stem Cell Institute to look for models where we could test compounds that would work in the brain,” he said.
The process of developing the Aramore products involved surveying existing research on longevity for ingredients that showed results in scientific studies. The ingredients in the supplement and topicals are all listed on a page on the brand site with studies linked to each. The brand plans to make clinical data on the products themselves available in the next six months, said Smith.
Saville, who focused on identifying potential candidates for included ingredients, explained the challenges in developing a supplement.
“It’s such an unregulated space; it’s very hard to verify the quality of what you’re getting,” when it comes to supplements in general, she said. Ingredients in the brand’s $55 supplement include those gaining attention for their evidence in the longevity space, such as NAD+ and plant-based ingredients like milk thistle. The founders say the latter improves liver function in a way that manifests in skin results. NAD+ is also found in the brand’s $175 nighttime cream and $150 day lotion, while a $185 nighttime booster contains retinol.
Research on longevity is making its way from biotech to the beauty industry. Other brands such as OneSkin have been launched by longevity researchers tapping into scientific evidence on skin-care results.
“The science is ahead of the commercialization,” said Smith. “What you’re starting to see emerge is more of these longevity-based brands that are actually scientific.”
Currently, longevity research has not found a way to make one biologically younger, said Smith. But he is optimistic.
“There’s definitely the possibility that, within our lifetime, we’ll be able to turn aging backward,” he said.
When it comes to skin results, the founders promise more.
“There’s a biological genetic clock, and then there’s an aesthetic clock. And I absolutely think that the ingredients we’ve included in our products will turn back the aesthetic clock,” said Saville. Clinical studies of the products will examine collagen, elastin, pigmentation and deepness of wrinkles.
“There’s actually a fundamental cellular mechanism happening here that is extending your skin longevity,” said Smith.
Beyond the scientific world, consumers are becoming more interested in how to apply longevity research to their own lives. The “Longevity” Reddit group surged from 64,000 members in 2020 to 137,000 today.
Aramore’s founders expect enthusiasts in both longevity health and beauty to take interest in the products.
“There’s two types of consumers that are interested in this. There’s the health-conscious consumer and there’s the beauty-conscious consumer. There’s a little bit of crossover,” said Smith. In a market study conducted by the brand, “skin-care consumers were very interested in the idea of longevity, but very few of them had heard about NAD+.”
The brand is also interested in reaching “skintellectual” young consumers focused on prevention, as well as those encountering the signs of skin aging.
While science is at the forefront of the brand’s messaging, it’s still open to celebrity links — actresses Marisa Tomei and Julie Bowen attended its L.A. launch event last week.
And marketing inspiration even comes from the example set by JFK himself.
“I always learned from my uncles that you had to have a message, and you had to have integrity and believe in people that they would understand” the message, he said. Like in politics, the brand is focused on keeping its messaging around ingredients and the evidence to support them clear and easy to digest. “We’re going to try to articulate that to people and hope that they respond.”