When mapped, big cosmetics and skin care firms don’t have a very large footprint in Massachusetts, let alone Central Massachusetts. Memories of acne and a family recipe may change that.

Schoolmates, Sophia El Hayek and Alexandra Haigis attended Saint Bernard’s Central Catholic High School before perfecting their business plan at Assumption College and co-founding Phenic Natural Skin Care in April.

Growing up, Ms. El Hayek said she experienced “really bad skin” and bounced from product to product trying to curate a regimen that would help decrease her acne and improve the health of her skin. Continuing her interest, and research of, the cosmetics and beauty industries through her college tenure, she enlisted Ms. Haigis to help build a sustainable, all-natural brand and market it to millennials and GenZ’ers.

While Ms. Haigis did not experience the same skin issues, she said the products she did purchase to treat her skin and maintain moisture were designed to “cause [her] to use more.”

With the launch of Phenic Natural Skin Care, she said, “I wanted to make a skin care line that didn’t have chemicals, was cleaner, and would help the user in the long run.”

The recipe is one passed down from generation to generation among the members of Ms. El Hayek’s Lebanese family. In true oral history fashion, when Ms. El Hayek and Ms. Haigis decided to mass produce the age-old recipe they had to start from scratch in more than one way.

“The recipe was just ingredients. We had to figure out the percentages,” said Ms. El Hayek.

“That’s how you know it’s a really old family recipe.”

What makes Phenic Natural Skin Care stand out among a litany of cosmetic and beauty products, said Ms. El Hayek, is the inclusion of squalane oil derived from olives.

Found in olives and sugar cane, among other sources, Ms. El Hayek called it a “star ingredient” and the base of much of their five-item product line.

“Instead of sitting on the surface [of your skin], it gets absorbed really well which is good for hydration and aging,” she said. “It restores the natural moisture in your skin and doesn’t feel like a super thick product.”

Both in their late twenties, the brand born out of home trials and family friend reviews has already made an impact on the regional scene. The pair were selected to exhibit at the highly-competitive Beautycon event in New York the month they announced the business. A bi-annual cosmetics and beauty sector exposition, Beautycon is held in Los Angeles and New York City in the United States.

Proud of the New York invitation and impact they made during the event, Ms. El Hayek said: “Our product is very relevant right now because [of] its simple ingredients, there are no chemicals. I’m happy with where we are in the industry right now.”

Participants in both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Startup Worcester cohorts, the two women found the program while searching for commercial space to mass produce their products. A partnership between the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, Venture Forum, SCORE, and Worcester CleanTech Incubator, the program’s mission is to help launch and house the city’s next generation of entrepreneurs.

“We were doing this on our own, in a bubble” of friends and family, said Ms. El Hayek. Looking back at their selection by Beautycon and ensuing awareness, they credited the mentoring and physical incubation space with “that first push” as a startup, said Ms. El Hayek.

Moving forward, operating from what the pair agree is a more affordable city than New York or Los Angeles, the founders hope to grow out-of-state awareness while attracting venture capital.


Emily Gowdey-Backus is the director of communications at the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached via email. To read the entirety of the November 2019 edition of the Chamber Exchange, visit the newspaper archive.