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Get to Know Stripped Beauty's Cosmetic Chemist Cathie Arpino

You might be wondering where our product formulations come from or where we learned to make skincare products. The answer is simple: it's a family thing! Meet my mom, Cathie Arpino. Besides being my mentor, she's a badass cosmetic chemist with over 35 years of experience formulating high-quality skincare products. I decided to sit down with the amazing woman behind it all and ask her some questions.

Before I get into the interview, let me backtrack a little. I launched Stripped Beauty in 2018 with the intention of slowing down skincare. Growing up with both of my parents working in the skincare industry, I've always loved it. My first job was packaging and labeling dermatology-grade products, and I was obsessed with the idea of making my own.

My mother has always inspired me, and we decided to team up to create lab-to-face skincare. Our products are formulated, manufactured, and shipped in-house at our lab by real people. We're not here to be mass-produced; we're here to offer what your skin needs. Anyway, I hope you enjoy these questions I got to ask her while drinking our morning coffee break.

What sparked your interest in becoming a cosmetic chemist?

I was always intrigued by science and went to school for chemistry. After graduation, I started working for the Estee Lauder Companies, where I began my career as a cosmetic chemist. I moved upstate to start a family around 1996, where there was no work in my field, so I went back to school for nursing. After working as a nurse for ten years, I found my way back to the lab, and that's when I started Hudson Valley Skin Care around 2012. Hudson Valley Skin Care is a face and body care line that incorporates local ingredients into every product, skincare powered by our community. Chemistry will always be a part of me, so I'm very thankful to have circled back to formulating cosmetics.

What interested you in making natural skincare?

I was studying natural skincare in the early '80s, and it always sparked my interest; I love the power of nature. When I started Hudson Valley Skin Care, I wanted to use naturally derived ingredients as much as possible. This taught me how to perfect products using minimal ingredients and no silicones or fancy filler ingredients. This philosophy was quickly adapted into my regular formulation, and it's what I prefer now. Why use harsher/not-so-eco friendly if you don't have to?

What inspires you when formulating a product? How do you know what to add?

The happiness that something I made can bring to someone is truly amazing. People's skin is important to them, and I love to help people feel good and achieve their dream skin. I love contributing to bringing positivity to people's day; there's no greater feeling than someone telling me they love a product I made. When formulating, I try to keep up with what the industry is doing. I always have my go-to fav ingredients: Shea Butter, Squalane, Jojoba Oil, Argan Oil...basically anything that is healing and moisturizing. I also take a simple approach because why use more when you can use less? I try to challenge myself and create high-quality, stable formulations with as few ingredients as possible. This brings the cost down for us, our customers, and is overall better for the environment. 

What is your favorite type of product to make?

Soap. It's so rewarding. You get to create and watch the chemistry behind it. When making soap, you combine fats and oils to produce the chemical reaction of saponification. As you make it, you can feel it thicken and heat up. It takes roughly one month for it to cure and be usable: so cool! I also love soap-making because of its endless possibilities for colors and scents; it's limitless!

How do you feel about words like "natural" and "clean"?

"Natural" and "clean" are tricky words since there is no current legal definition to regulate them. What is considered natural to someone might not be considered natural to another. Of course, there are general guidelines to distinguish "good" ingredients from "bad" or "toxic" ones. However, without regulation, there are no limits on what a product must contain to be "clean."

To me, "natural" means the ingredient hasn't changed much from its natural self in nature. Examples of this would be natural oils and waxes. I identify the word "clean" with ingredients backed by science that are effective and safe for the skin. Instead of focusing on words like that, I prefer to look at the whole formula and make sure it's formulated responsibly and transparent as to what is in it. I tend to stray away from the word "clean" because most ingredients are fine as long as they are formulated correctly and balanced with other ingredients. Ultimately, words like "natural" and "clean" aren't bad. I think it's incredible what the beauty industry is moving toward in terms of transparency.

What moment in your career are you most proud of?

It's hard to pinpoint the proudest moment of my career, but if I had to choose, it would be launching Hudson Valley Skin Care. I spent years formulating for other brands and went back to school to become a nurse. Hudson Valley Skin Care is what brought me back to cosmetic chemistry and led me on such a creative journey filled with amazing people, and I couldn't be more proud of that. Seeing our local community use something I made, and now all over America, is so rewarding and special.

What is your favorite Stripped Beauty product?

Definitely the Glow-to Facial Oil or Fountain of Youth Hydrating Serum. I'm obsessed with Squalane and Hyaluronic Acid so these two products are a must have for my combination skin.

What does beauty mean to you? 

Beauty is the freedom to be yourself: self-expression, confidence, and empowerment. 

What advice would you give to others interested in working in cosmetic chemistry/product formulation?

If you love beauty and science, definitely go for it! Learn and study the industry, read labels to understand ingredients, and test as many products as possible. There are so many free resources to learn online, and there are tons of easy products you can start with, like a face mist or body butter. Be confident and never give up; creating products is a constant trial and error process, but the reward is worth it once you get the consistency and feel you want.


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