Bellevue Club member Gabriel De Santino is the president and CEO of Gabriel Cosmetics, Inc., an international makeup and skin care company that holds its natural ingredients above all else. he says keeping true to his pacific northwest roots was critical to his success, and here's the story of why.
Reflections magazine: How did you get interested in the beauty industry?
Gabriel De Santino: Growing up, my grandmother lived by the ocean in Mexico, and it was so therapeutic going outside and breathing the ocean air. There are so many natural ingredients found in the sea that are healthy alternatives to traditional medicine. When I moved to Washington in 1986, I decided I wanted to do something to continue grandmother’s tradition with clean products.
RM: She made beauty products from things in the ocean?
GDS: She did. She compounded them herself. I remember helping her gather seaweed from the beach, and then she would do whatever she did. Back in the day, they weren’t called naturopaths, they were called witch doctors. So she was the village witch doctor, and people would always come over and pick up their jars of tonics and tinctures. To me it was fascinating growing up with that. It became a lifestyle, and basically that’s what it still comes down to today—creating a healthy lifestyle.
RM: How did you get into the beauty industry professionally?
GDS: I always wanted to work with skin. I really enjoy it. A friend and I opened up a hair salon where I was in charge of the skin department, and I was having a hard time finding an aesthetician that had the same values as I did. So at the end of the day, I decided to go to school myself to get my license from the Euro Institute of Skin Care. I started working with customers and helping them treat their skin problems—everything from dry skin to eczema and acne and everything in between. I’m very hands-on, and I’d give customers products to take home and give me feedback.
RM: And how did makeup become a part of the equation?
GDS: After working with customers, they really liked that the ingredients were clean and pure, and they would ask if I offered makeup. I started thinking that would fill the void or complete the circle, and I started working on developing a makeup line. I wanted to replace harsh allergens with healthy ingredients.
RM: What are the most common harmful ingredients found in beauty products?
GDS: Coal tar derivatives, FD&C coloring agents, mineral oil, anything toxic. If it has more than four syllables, it’s not good for you. Following that philosophy, our products are non-GMO, some are certified USDA organic, others are gluten-free vegan. And we never test on animals, just my sisters. I have five sisters.
RM: Are they officially part of the business too?
GDS: One of them is. The others are doing their own thing.
RM: How did you launch your products?
GDS: Because our customers live a healthy lifestyle, I had the idea to sell products in health food stores. I thought about it and decided to reach out to a local health food store, PCC, and they loved the concept, philosophy and the idea that I was local. They brought us into their stores, but what I didn’t know at the time was they were the largest co-op in the country. So other co-ops came to shop in PCC because they have high standards. That was 25 years ago.
RM: Do you feel like the makeup line filled the hole you were talking about?
GDS: Absolutely, because I really believe you have to think about the whole deal. For example, I have customers who are buying $75 bottles of supplements, but are using mass-market cosmetics. Their skin is breaking out and they don’t know why. So a lot of my job is education. Whatever we put onto our skin is absorbed into it, so education is so important. I’ve been thinking about skin and how best to take care of it for years. Other companies are now heading in that direction, they’ve finally caught on to natural cosmetics.
RM: How do you go about designing a new line of makeup? How do you pick and create trends?
GDS: I go to a lot of fashion shows, and I travel quite a bit abroad. That’s how I get a feel for what is going to be on trend, but it’s hard to predict the future. You’re working so far in advance.
RM: Are there specific cities that you find yourself repeatedly going to for inspiration?
GDS: Paris and London. I love sitting in Heathrow airport. There’s always so much going on, so much color in every sense of the word.
RM: Can you share your own personal skin care regime?
GDS: I get up between 5:45 and 6 a.m. and wash my face with our Red Seaweed Purifying Gel Cleanser. Then I follow it with the Red Purifying Seaweed Tonic, which is a spray to balance the PH. I finish with the Marine Red Seaweed Moisturizer (I use it day and night). Oh, and the Marine Anti-aging Eye Cream. People think they can use regular moisturizer around the eyes. If it doesn’t say eye cream, don’t put it around your eye. Also twice a week I use the Sea Clarifying Mask to absorb all the toxins out of my skin, and keep it looking polished and healthy.
RM: How much does diet play a part of your skin care?
GDS: I think nutrition is 95, 96, 97 percent of all wellness. I have a super clean diet, almost vegan, but not quite there. I drink a green shake every morning that I make with flax seed, tons of green leafy vegetables, beets and anything I find locally produced. I like to make my own food so I know exactly what I’m putting in my body. Again, it’s more of a lifestyle than a diet.
RM: Do you feel the same about a good work out routine?
GDS: I call my workout my daily vacation. I’m really able to mentally detox and think about nothing. Just really focus on the moment and getting it done. Working out helps a lot. I do 45 minutes of cardio at the gym, and then shower up and get ready for work. I also see my trainer in the afternoon, five days a week. If there’s time, I like to do power hot yoga two or three times a week, and that helps to cleanse the skin of toxins. And I drink a lot of water too. It helps to lubricate all the vital organs and flush everything out.
RM: What is trending for spring?
GDS: There is a fine line between trends and fads. This year we released the Techno Warrior color palettes for spring. It’s for daring women and focuses on the eyes, with a slightly warmer terra cotta check and lip.
RM: Who is your beauty icon?
GDS: I like classics like Sophia Loren; I really like old Hollywood. But I also think our customers fit that role. They are confident, and they are who they are. That to me is a trend-setting person and icon. And my mother too. She likes to help the community, which I get from her. I also adore my godmother who is 89. She’s always ready for a good time.
RM: What is in the future for you?
GDS: Definitely more of an international presence, more global distributors. Right now, we have three distributors in Canada, France and Australia. There is definitely room for growth, and we’ve made some really good online partnerships since last year with Target and Costco. We were able to reach some customers who didn’t have access to our products before.
As for our team here, we’re always on top of new trends, new ingredients and new collaborations. I’d love to collaborate more with the fashion industry, but it has to be a company with the same philosophy and values. Although there are some emerging organic natural designers in fashion week.
For more information, please visit gabrielcosmeticsinc.com.