On a recent Friday morning, Karen Ballou is in the gym, as she is taking our Zoom call from the fitness center in the hotel where she is staying while on vacation. Mid-workout and virtually makeup-free, Ballou is glowing—and she credits it to the natural products found in her luxury skin care line, Immunocologie. With nearly four decades of experience in the industry, Ballou’s résumé includes working with world-renowned brands, from Redken to Elizabeth Arden, writing curriculum for estheticians-in-training, and collaborating with some of the best dermatologists and plastic surgeons in the country, all the while developing hundreds of products along the way.
It was her battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, however, that ultimately inspired Immunocologie. Shortly after her diagnosis, Ballou was told to drink a tablespoon of raw earth clay every day to calm her skin’s inflammation. The transformative results prompted her to harness the ingredient to create Immunocologie, with natural products that also support the skin’s immune health.
The Vital Clay Mask not only deeply cleanses skin and refines pores, but negatively charged minerals also help balance and extract impurities produced by pollution, UV, and radiation. A cult favorite among beauty editors, it has even made the rounds backstage at Fashion Week with models making pre-show. Another buzzed-about ingredient is found in the Super 7 Elixir Serum, which uses actual snail slime to smooth fine lines and tighten the skin. And everything (even the slimy stuff) has been given the luxury treatment—right down to the shelfie-worthy packaging. Of her beauty philosophy, Ballou says that “It’s a mindset of how we can not help just self-indulge but also be thoughtful about how we care for ourselves.” After all, skin care is self-care.
When did you decide to launch your own company?
When told that I was in remission, I felt like I could go and do something to make a difference. So I started Immunocologie, and Immunocologie is so meaningful because it means the study of the skin’s immunity. Everything that I’m doing is about taking the largest organ of our body and how we give it the right ingredients to help our skin and our bodies.
You can take this concept that’s green, it’s clean, it’s healthy—and get people to understand that we can feed our skin this nutrition and not feel that it’s all a placebo effect. The cosmetic industry has had so many smoke and mirror brands; it just feels good; it doesn’t do anything for us. So the question is, “How we make a difference?” It’s like clothing. You can have a soft piece of clothing, but it’s nothing compared to a piece of cashmere. It’s beautifully done and feels incredible on the skin. That’s what I hoped to do with an Immunocologie, which is to create this hydrating, beautiful transformation of the skin.
What are your thoughts on how skin care is so intertwined with your self-esteem, or lack thereof?
It’s so much more than just the fluffiness of a cosmetic. It’s much deeper than that. It’s a relationship that you have with how you feel and how you face the world. It’s your confidence level, and how it empowers you is essential. When you don’t feel good about yourself and your skin is not looking good, it makes you feel bad. You start to forget about how wonderful you are. I want to always keep that at the forefront of how wonderful you are.
How many products do you use?
Before Immunocologie, I had between 25 and 30 products. Since Immunocologie, it’s so much more straightforward; I use a cleanser, exfoliator, serum, moisturizer, and a mask. You don’t have to be out there trying every product; just stay focused, stay healthy, and it leaves you time for other things because you’re not always worried about the next product or spending money on things that aren’t going to work. What I used to do is what many women do today: I’d try this and try that, and you never get satisfied. I want people to know they can finally be happy and they don’t have to wear as much makeup when they are doing something healthy for their bodies.
What product are you most proud of?
The clay mask is so powerful for all skin types. But I also really love my Super 7 Elixir. Once I went in to see a dermatologist because I thought I had something on my nose and wanted to get it checked out. Afterward, I put on the Super 7, and when I went back she said, "What did you do? It's gone." I told her I used my Super 7, and she said, “Of course, it repairs the cells." I get the same testimonials from customers, and it tells me I have to keep going forward. This is part of people's lives now.