By Marilyn Moyer
When Laura Xiao moved from snowy Stockholm to arid Las Vegas, she learned the harsh truth that comes with living in a desert: The bone-dry air can take a toll on your skin. Lips are especially vulnerable.
Xiao — an advocate for all things organic — wanted a balm to soothe and soften her chronically parched lips. But she found that most made-in-America lip-care products contain lots of chemicals, even those that promote their natural ingredients.
Her search for an all-natural solution turned Xiao, 29, into a beauty entrepreneur. Henné Organics launched in 2015 with a single offering, the Luxury Lip Balm, formulated by Xiao in her Southern Highlands home. The creamy concoction contains just seven ingredients, including avocado oil, beeswax and shea butter. Today, more than 200 global retailers — from Brooklyn and Berkeley, to Oslo and Zurich — carry Henné’s eco-luxury line of organic lip balms, tints and exfoliators. Xiao also counts the spas at the Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles and the Four Seasons in Palm Beach among her clients.
Next on the roster: Nordstrom. The luxury chain will begin selling Henné Organics online later this year.
“One of my goals is to overcome the stereotype that organic beauty products aren’t as effective as those made with chemicals,” Xiao said. “In fact, they can be equally effective — and much healthier. Think about it: When you put something on your lips, you’re going to ingest some of it. If you use conventional lip products, you’re ingesting an insane number of chemicals.” Organic sugar cane crystals are the prime ingredient in Henné Rose Diamonds Lip Exfoliator, Xiao’s second beauty creation. Combined with rose essential oil, the sugar crystals gently scrub away flaky skin and residual lipstick. For those not into rose, the exfoliator now comes in two other scents: Lavender Mint and Nordic Berries, which Xiao describes as “inspired by Swedish nature.”
Xiao’s embrace of Swedish nature — as well as the country’s eco-friendly sensibility and minimalist design aesthetic — formed the foundation of the Henné lip line. Henné means “her” in Swedish. And even Xiao’s product packaging reflects the “less is more” approach to life she experienced in Northern Europe. The look is timeless chic: black tubes and small jars bearing the brand’s name in simple white letters.
But there’s a lot of U.S. in Henné products, starting with the founder herself. Xiao, a Chinese-American, grew up in Kansas. As a teenager, her athletic passion — table tennis — took her to training programs and tournaments around the world.
She met her future husband, Johan Axelqvist, at one of those international tournaments. He was a Swede who shared Xiao’s wanderlust. After college, she moved to his homeland, and together, they traveled across Europe. They also lived for short stints in places on their mutual “bucket list,” including Australia and New Zealand. “Living abroad and moving frequently forced me to declutter and truly focus on the essentials,” Xiao explains on her website. “This habit quickly developed into an essential part of my being and has led to a strong appreciation for beauty in simplicity and luxury in the basics.”
When it came time to settle down, the couple knew they wanted the U.S. to be their professional home base. They considered California, but chose Las Vegas instead.
“Nevada was simply a better choice based on economics,” Xiao said. “It’s tax friendly, especially for a small business.”
She and her husband already owned a small web development company. But Xiao was determined to break into the indie beauty business with a brand exclusively focused on organics. The question was: What type of products? “After my experience adjusting to Nevada’s climate, lip balm made the most sense,” Xiao said. “I also realized that generally, lips get less attention than other parts of the face when it comes to protection and nourishing products. The opportunity to launch a luxury organic lip-care line was wide open.” Xiao began developing various formulas using all natural ingredients. She knew she wanted a balm that was soft and creamy, unlike the hard-wax consistency of most commercial types. Once she landed on the ideal formulation, the next step was taking Henné Luxury Lip Balm to market. She began with the modern equivalent of cold-calling — sending emails and product samples to upscale beauty retailers. Today, Henné line sales are so healthy that Xiao plans to expand her production space in Las Vegas. She is also developing a new product — an organic lip mask — in response to requests from customers.
“Each ingredient in the lip mask will enhance collagen production,” Xiao explained. “That’s important because collagen production drops off as we grow older. Lines around the lips are one of the first signs of aging.”