Getting clear skin is not easy. Whether you’re battling adult acne or dehydrated skin from working all day in an air-conditioned office, the struggle to getting the skin you want is real. Which is why we decided to ask all the important skincare-related questions to Cammie Cannella, Kiehl’s Vice President of Global Education and Customer Experience.


What product would you recommend to someone who has never heard of Kiehl’s and is getting their first taste of the brand?

So when people come to Kiehl’s, we like to teach people about a healthy skin barrier and the benefits of that. But most people aren’t coming in saying, “I need a healthy skin barrier, can you help me?” They’re coming in because, they either have a concern. … So we try to address their concerns—whether it’s acne, dark spots, scars, the oily shine. Maybe they’re looking for a new moisturiser.

But after we address what they are looking for, we do talk to them about selecting the right ingredients and how they will help balance your skin. So ingredients like squalene, that are in our moisturisers, we use them because they’re in your skin also, it’s a botanical—it comes from olives. Ingredients like the broad spectrum sunscreen, which we now amplify with pollution technology. We know cities like Singapore, like New York unfortunately, are getting more polluted. Pollution is just as damaging as UV and when you’re exposed to both, it’s even worse.

It increases the damage to the skin, [hence speeds] up the aging process, so we want to strengthen the skin, protect it, so we talk to our customers about that. We talk to them about vitamin C as a building block, [and] stimulates collagen. It’s available in this formula, Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate, which addresses lines, wrinkles and skin texture.

The vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid. In this one, it’s a highly advanced molecule called Activated C. And it was a breakthrough to develop it in a clear format because Vitamin C is not clear normally. It needs to be protected from the air, the way this one is, from the light. But this one, because it is a more advanced molecule, it also, we tested it for breaking apart melanin molecules in the skin. So this is the most effective clarifying serum, possibly in the market. We believe it’s extraordinarily effective, and customers tell us that this is their number one whitening product. So we teach customers about ingredients relating to their own skin, and then how to build a healthy skin regimen around that.


I know you’ve given a lot of advice to people but what have been the best ones you have received?

Well, I’ll tell you two things if you don’t mind. Because the first one think you’ll feel it’s already obvious, it is sunscreen. That was the most important thing and I’ve heard it from dermatologists, from our Kiehl’s chemists. The preventative approach is that you can protect and prevent up to 90 percent of premature skin aging. After that, I believe that less is more. It really is. As much as you can get 14 steps in your routine, you can [also] build a very smart routine, with a lot of ingredients that don’t irritate the skin and give you a lot of benefits.

So somebody with sensitive skin shouldn’t use too many steps, shouldn’t use too many active ingredients. I think of some people feel, “Well, if 10 percent is good then 15 percent would be better. I need more of the active ingredients and more layers.” What happens is that you’re actually thinning the skin’s barrier and over time it’s damaging, it’s irritating, potentially. So best advice I got is ‘less is more’. So, a gentle cleanser, a replenishing moisturiser—and this is when the quality of ingredients come in: things that aren’t stripping the skin, balancing the skin. I mean, I probably would have to add the vitamin C [serum]—something like that would be the building blocks of a daily routine. That, to me, would be to me just as effective as a 14 step. Some people enjoy products, they put a lot of time into it. But we can give you results even in a very short amount of time too, and you get the right quality ingredients.


How about skin care advice that you don’t agree with?

I don’t agree with the advice to make your skin squeaky-clean. So there’s a lot of focus right now on cleansing with brushes, exfoliating cleansers. And I think it can be irritating to the skin if you wash it until it gets squeaky, to me that means you’ve taken away [all the natural oils].

And I don’t have dry skin—I have oily skin—so I used to want to remove all the oils. But I realise now that’s what dehydrates the skin so I don’t agree with that. I think that’s damaging to the skin over time.


Millennials are always quick to jump on trends. What are some of the biggest skincare mistakes that you see millennials doing?

We’ve always encouraged people to be knowledgeable about skincare. We’re not worried about today’s customers, they know so much about skincare, so knowledgeable—and we love that. So the thing that’s happened with today’s customer and especially with millennials I think, they look [things up] online.

There’s so much information online, but it’s hard to know with the resources [and] they get misled sometimes. So it’s very hard to break people out of a mindset. So let’s say they read, “Vitamin C makes my skin sensitive to the sun.” So they think, “If I use vitamin C, I’m going to be more exposed, I might burn my skin; I might irritate my skin.” And with Kiehl’s products that’s not true. We’ve approved our chemist formula to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s very hard sometimes [to debunk] the myths that people have because they found it online. So that’s a bit of a mistake, I would say.


Singapore is really hot, but we also stay in air-conditioned rooms like half the time. So why would you recommend to someone living in Singapore and going through all that?

Yes you’re absolutely right the change in environment can be so irritating to the skin. So even though it’s hot and humid many of the concerns our customers here have [are related to] pores, clogging, oiliness, shine and blackheads. Sometimes people are very dehydrated though because of the air-con. So one of our secret weapons, one of our well-loved products here by customers is the Hydro-Plumping Re-Texturizing Serum Concentrate. It has won awards for the technology that delivers pharmacy-grade glycerin, which is a highly hydrating ingredient.

So it’s not oil-based. It’s putting moisture back into the skin through the deepest layers of the surface moisture barrier. It also contains shiso leaf extract, which anchors to hydration into the skin and holds it. And the results is flooding the skin with water. So it plumps it up in a very youthful way without adding oil. So this can be used all over the face, all around the eyes, underneath any products. So if you want to build this into your routine, it would be the first thing you put on after your cleanser, your toner, your mask, and before any of your other leave-on products. This becomes the secret, and even if you’re not using any moisturiser because you’re too oily, this might help you address that dehydration that you might be facing from the flying, from the air-con, and give you a healthier-looking skin.


What would you recommend for acne-prone skin or someone who is having an active break out?

If they have acne-prone skin, there are a couple of different things. The first thing—again, because we need to target what they came in for, so I don’t want to scare them with the whole big regimen—so I would want to talk to them about an active ingredient, like salicylic acid. Because that’s a proven pharmaceutical ingredient that unclog the pores, so it helps cure that acne and helps keep the pores clean, so it prevents acne blemishes, it reduces the flare-ups. … Adult acne is very different often because the skin is more sensitive; it’s not as oily. So that would be one of the things I would make sure they understood. The Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash would be appropriate because it’s cleaning the oil. And you want to be careful with acne, not to irritate it and not to attack it.

You know, I had combination skin and I was attacking my skin and making it worse. I was breaking out more, so this is a soothing product that I cannot recommend more to people. Even for [people with] acne-prone skin, sometimes they’re under the care of a dermatologist who’s using medicine, so we need something soothing like the Breakout Control Blemish Treatment Facial Lotion, like a calming treatment that keeps the skin free of redness, free of problem flare-ups. Hydration is also important. So I’d talk about maybe an oil-free gel, or like the hydrating serum that I was telling you about. If they felt like they were dehydrated, this would be a way to deliver the hydration without the oil. So it’s not going to feel oily or clogging to the skin. And then another aspect of acne could be pores just enlarged pores that gets clogged very easily.  So that customer, I will talk to them about rare earth coming from the Amazon. And Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask, our clay-based mask is very popular here because it helps, almost like a mini facial that you can do at home. For a big event, use it all over the face. [Alternatively, apply it] just in the T-Zone to unclog the pores to keep them clean and tight, so they look smaller, they stay clean to prevents breakouts. … And lastly, acne is also sensitive to the sun, so I would talk to them about a sun protection.


You once said that “to be cool, hip or trendy are things you can’t try to be”. Considering cool, hip and trendy at the very things millennials look out for, how does Kiehl’s appeal to millennials?

That’s an excellent question. I mean I don’t know if you agree with me, but the reason I say that is you can’t find your own coolness, and certainly not as a brand. Because people think you’re trying or that you’re forcing it and you’re suggesting it. They have to discover it for themselves they have to think it for themselves. So I think the other word that people tend to use with Kiehl’s is authentic and real, and I think it’s because we have a history. We have this personality, this adventure spirit: the motorcycles, the skeletons and the fact that we’re down-to-earth.

The fact that we wear the trainers together with the lab coat—it’s very expert but approachable. And because we’re helpful to the customer, not pushing, it feels like we’re all on the same side And lastly, because people just discover us themselves, so they feel that sense of ownership. And that’s cool, because they have identified themselves, their own values with Kiehl’s. So they like simple packaging because it’s good for the environment, and they think Kiehl’s is cool because we have simple packaging, or maybe they think we’re cool because we have the skeleton and the bones look is cool. There’s different reasons people could think Kiehl’s is cool. We’re from New York. There are different things but it’s a very personal thing. I think millennials want to feel respected, they don’t want to feel sold to, they want to feel like they’re the expert. And we’ve always put the customer at the center. We let you take the sample and you’re the expert, you decide. I think that empowers people to feel very good about Kiehl’s too.


This story was first published on Cleo.