Canoga Park, California
Ramachandra says she has had psoriasis -- a condition leading to dry, itchy skin -- since she was six years old. So, when she was diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity at middle age, she decided it was time to use the experience she had gained through years of working in medicine development to create a skincare product that wouldn’t further exacerbate her issues.
"None of the moisturizers, serums, or SPFs that I was using were suiting my skin, so I had breakouts and redness," Ramachandra says. "As a PharmD, I had learned how to compound medicines and complete analytical chemistry. I wanted to make something for myself and see if it would work to restore my skin."
Her homemade concoction was a success, and people began asking her what she was using on her glowing complexion -- and where they could buy it for themselves.
"I was still working in the pharmaceutical industry at that point," Ramachandra continues. "I worked for another year and a half before I left to fully focus on EpiLynx and its growth."
During those 18 months, Ramachandra did a lot of research. She looked at the products already on the market, learned everything she could about chemically and medically clean ingredients, and asked her potential clients more about their skincare needs.
"I found that when you look at the creams out there, and look at the labels, you see like 100 ingredients, or at least 50 ingredients," she explains. "I always say if a product has more than 25 ingredients, you should not touch it because it's probably full of fillers. [Skincare companies] use fillers to make their products glide well, feel good, and smell good. But those ingredients don't give you any additional benefit for your skin."
Ramachandra says it took her three or four tries to get the textural consistency she wanted in a skincare product. "Sourcing ingredients was an interesting task as well," she adds, "because I wanted to source everything from GMP- and GLP-regulated facilities. We finally launched the brand in 2019, right before COVID in December."
EpiLynx now produces multiple skincare lines containing a variety of products ranging from cleansers and toners to serums, creams, and SPF lotions. Every skincare product is manufactured in Ramachandra’s 3,000-square-foot facility in the Los Angeles area.
"It's important to us that we make the product ourselves," she continues, "because we have a lot of customers who have celiac or severe non-celiac gluten sensitivity along with customers with various allergies to shellfish, dairy, and more. It's important to make sure that our facility is free from all of those allergens so that the people who use the product can feel safe."
Ramachandra says that manufacturing in-house enables her to continuously optimize her formulas to make them even better and cleaner. "We're also able to produce three or four new products every quarter depending on what our customers ask us for," she adds.
The manufacturing equipment EpiLynx uses is pretty simple, Ramachandra notes, but continues to evolve. "We started with basically a commercial mixer," she explains. "Now, we have three different types of emulsifiers. Every six months, I look at different machinery to try."
Ramachandra currently produces small batches of each product, allowing her to sell them while they are fresh. "I do foresee, as we grow, that we'll need a bigger facility and larger machines," she says. "Then we'll have to decide if we should partner with someone or continue to do it all in-house."
Challenges: "I think you probably hear from everyone that the supply chain has been completely disturbed," says Ramachandra. "We were buying [ingredients] from smaller manufacturing websites, and some of them didn't make it. Others are completely out of stock on most things. So, we have to go to the source. But the main manufacturing is sometimes in Belgium or France. I'm waiting on two ingredients right now."
Ramachandra notes that prices for everything from ingredients to packaging has also increased. But she isn't passing those costs along to her customers. "We're not focused on high margins," she continues. "Even though our creams are extremely high quality, we want them to be affordable. We have customers who stopped using brands with price points from $200 to $900 per jar and came to us instead. Our creams and serums start at $19. It is a range that is affordable for many people."
Opportunities: Ramachandra says that an educated customer base is a big opportunity for EpiLynx. "They don't want to just pay for a brand name anymore," she continues. "They want to buy something that they know is either ethically made or is good for their skin."
The company's customers range from teenagers with acne complaints to 85-year-olds dealing with issues associated with aging. They've flocked to the EpiLynx website and Amazon store to buy Ramachandra's affordable, gluten-free, allergen-free products in ever-increasing numbers.
Many EpiLynx customers originally learned of the brand through an app called Think Dirty. "They have like six million customers," Ramachandra says. "You submit your products and ingredients to them, and they have a panel of dermatologists and chemists who analyze each ingredient and give you a score. A score of zero to three is good. Half of our store is on the app, meaning that they agree that we are clean, which is great. We have customers all over the world that came to us through that single app. Some of them are cancer survivors. Some of them have severe autoimmune conditions. And some just want clean products."
While the company's sales doubled in 2021, Ramachandra is expecting even more growth this year. "We'll most likely grow times six," she adds. "We're super excited with our growth."
Needs: "We're not a baby anymore; we're a toddler," Ramachandra says of her company's needs. "We have growing pains. We've been bootstrapped so far, but machinery is becoming more expensive. We may be looking for strategic partners to embrace us and help us get into the next stage."