Jane Wurwand

Jane Wurwand is the co-founder and co-owner of Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute, which are recognized as game-changing brands within the sphere of professional skin care education. Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Wurwand lives and works in Los Angeles, where she and her husband are parents of two teenage daughters.

I was not quite three when my father died, leaving my mother, me and my three older sisters on our own. It was the tragedy of my early years and the way my mother weathered it that equipped me for the many decisions that have made me who I am today, and why I am so passionate about women’s empowerment.

My mother hadn’t worked in 15 years but was qualified as a nurse. At age 38 she went back to work the night shift at an Edinburgh hospital, and somehow cobbled together a patchwork of care and education and meals for us all. I’ve never forgotten her lesson: even though life may seem unfair, if you are healthy and trained in some kind of skill, you have options.

People talk about “balance” in life, but that’s really for people who already have choices available to them. Everyone else needs resilience. Reproductive health care is critical to that resilience.

People talk about “balance” in life, but that’s really for people who already have choices available to them. Everyone else needs resilience. Reproductive health care is critical to that resilience.

When I was 13, I got a weekend job at a local beauty salon to pay for movies and other things that teens like to do. I fell in love with the industry: it forges community and it supports women in many more ways than appearance. Signs of domestic violence, for example, were often noticed first in our salon, and we could persuade the victims to get help. Young girls afraid to talk to their parents about sex sought our advice on birth control methods as well as hairstyles.

I also saw that salons can be an economic powerhouse for women, a path to independence. So when I graduated high school, I went straight to study skin care, and that has been my whole career. And because I wanted to build a business, I chose to wait until I was 36 to have my first child.

Too many women worldwide, have no such options – no access to training in a transferable skill, no freedom to choose the timing and number of their children. One friend without access to family planning became pregnant at 15, was sent away and never returned to school. I was lucky; my story could easily have been more like hers.

I worked hard, got my beauty-school diploma in 1976 and launched my company, Dermalogica ten years later. I came to America in 1983 with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and we opened a small training center in Los Angeles, to train licensed skin care professionals in advanced techniques to give them a better chance at success in the industry.

Today we are in 86 countries with more than 100,000 alumnae every year, and we are the number-one provider worldwide of professional skin care training and products. We employ more than 1,500 people, mostly women, and I see every day the hard decisions they face in making a living, advancing professionally and caring for their families. Our society has yet to address the universal need for caretaking – for children, the elderly and people with special needs – that so often automatically falls to women.

In 2010 I read the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, which galvanized me to use my platform to help women become economically empowered, and thus have more options and choices. Through the Dermalogica Foundation we created a leadership training and advocacy organization called FITE – Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship. It offers small loans, education and business resources to women worldwide.

Championed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, FITE set out to fund 25,000 woman-owned small businesses in two years. We passed that goal in less than 18 months and have so far helped close to 50,000 women to gain financial independence. Now we sponsor the UN Foundation’s work on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and I am special advisor to its Global Entrepreneurs Council.

But to become fully independent, women must first control their own reproduction. To that end, government and employers should support comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care and education. They should also fund much more vocational training in high schools, perhaps with tax credits for businesses that support it and scholarships and loans for out-of-school training.

I was lucky to take part in a panel discussion on reproductive health a few years ago with feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem. She recalled her own anxiety in the years before contraceptives became legal in the United States. “Whoever controls reproduction controls,” she said. Steinem also gave me the only advice I try to follow every day: “Do more.”