Photographs by Katie Murphy Photography
The sun is something of a frenemy. While we all look forward to the warmth that spring and summer bring, protecting ourselves from the ravages of too much sun exposure is essential to having healthy, beautiful skin. And starting at a young age makes sense considering that 80 percent of skin damage happens before you’re 18.
Willa, a new line of natural skin-care products for girls developed by Greenwich mom and former Hollywood film producer Christy Prunier, protects young skin and aims to get tweens and teens started on a path to healthy skin, free of harsh chemicals. Its mantra is, “Start young, stay young.”
Willa “Face The Day” is an oil-free SPF 30 tinted face protection specially formulated to go on silky-smooth and absorb instantly. Girls love it because it’s not sticky and won’t leave their face white like a ghost. And for a hint of daily glamour, “Born to Glow” is a natural SPF 15 tinted body lotion with a touch of shimmer that hydrates skin while evening-out skin tone.
“The whole idea is to get the girls to do it on their own without you having to nag, so we had to make sure that every product was formulated so that they like using it,” Prunier says.
The product line consists of 18 different items ranging from foam cleansers to lip gloss, all made using yummy natural ingredients like green tea extract, shea butter, acai berry fruit oil, grape seed oil and jojoba seed oil that smell and feel great on your skin. There’s even an acne spot treatment click pen appropriately named “Take Action” for those pesky breakouts tweens love to obsess about.
The idea for Willa Skincare came four years ago while Prunier’s eldest daughter and company namesake was taking a bath and complained to her mother about having to use her younger sister’s baby products.
“Why isn’t there something for me,” Prunier remembers her 8-year-old asking.
“OK, let’s find you something,” said the mother of three (Willa, now 13; Jack, 11; and Julia, 7), who looked in earnest for something just for Willa but quickly discovered a gaping hole in the marketplace for natural skin care products for girls. Instead, what she found was “junk that’s pink and loaded with chemicals,” which Prunier says is more appropriate for the trash can than for a girl’s skin.
That void in the market along with her own dramatic skin care story of facial skin cancer at the age of 29 propelled the entrepreneur to start her own skin-care line for girls.
Because when it comes to healthy skin, dermatologist agree, it’s all about prevention and starting young.
“I thought, I don’t wait until Willa gets a cavity for her to brush her teeth,” Prunier says. “I don’t wait for her to become diabetic to say let’s eat healthy. So why would we wait for them to get a breakout or a sunburn to get them to protect their skin?”
Pointing to a scar on her face from surgery she had to remove skin cancer, she says, “I didn’t want my girls to repeat my story.”
Like many of us in our youth who didn’t know better, the young Prunier rarely used sunscreen and remembers baking in the sun with a cookie sheet and baby oil, thinking the tan made her look healthy. And it wasn’t just the unprotected sun exposure that caused damage to her skin.
“I didn’t wash my face regularly and used harsh medicines on my acne.”
The first three years at Willa Skincare were spent on research and development. Every product formed started with the benchmark that it had to be natural.
There were focus groups with girls and ones with moms, too, all with the goal of trying to understand girls and what they did and didn’t want in a product. Interestingly, one of the things everyone learned is only one in 10 girls washes her face. Why? Because it turns out it’s not fun, facial cleansers get in your eyes and they don’t necessarily smell good.
The feedback from the focus groups proved invaluable to the genesis of Willa Skincare and informs every product formulated, down to the packaging.
“We’ve learned so much from these girls, ” Prunier says.
But probably the most influential tween has been the brainchild, Willa herself. The seventh-grader (at Eastern Middle School in Riverside) didn’t just come up with the idea. She’s actively involved in the company, too. From the beginning, she helped navigate packaging, what products to use and gave feedback like “you need to add a clip so that we can attach it to our bag.” Once the website was developed, she went to meetings with her mom and made her contribution. She even gets involved with the company’s social media as guest editor on the Willa Blog.
“Just having the voice of that tween girl was really, really helpful,” Prunier says.
Today, the tween continues to be involved in new product development and visits the New Jersey lab to weigh in on each product. The mother-daughter duo spend one day on the weekend dedicated to Willa Skincare, but Prunier is quick to point out that her daughter has a full life, which includes friends, school, piano, dance and track.
“I think she has a really good balance and a really normal life.”
Last year, Target launched the line in 300 of its stores. Next came J. Crew, Harrods, Henri Bendel, Drugstore.com and most recently, Amazon. Remarkable, especially given it all happened in Willa’s first year of selling its product.
For more, visit willaskincare.com.