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Steve Hilburn

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Plant Power

Plexy Labs, a startup, is finding success in the acne treatment sector.

Jeremy Kerstetter, Assistant Editor12.01.14

Thanks, mom. Tracing its humble origin to an idea, a kitchen, and some nursing classes, Plexy Labs owes its existence to the ingenuity of its founder, Jordan Austin. While working toward a nursing degree at Cochise College in Arizona, Austin was struck with a desire to find an answer to the dilemma of uncontrollable acne growth, drawing motivation and inspiration from his mother.

“Acne is genetic,” Austin stated, “my mother had it and now I have it.”

While he had become resigned to this fact, he was not resigned to accepting the idea that there was nothing he could do about it. Alongside his mother, Austin began to employ the knowledge that he had acquired through his college courses, chiefly pharmacology and biological science, to develop an answer to his family’s ongoing struggle with acne.

After a year of experimentation and testing, their results became evident and the decision was unanimous among his family to share the fruits of their labor with the world—a product called Nothing To Hide, a topical, cream-based acne solution consisting of 3% high-grade liquid beta-sitosterol, an organic, plant-based sterol that can be found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Founded in February 2012, followed by the launch of Nothing To Hide in October 2013, Plexy Labs has created a formula unlike any other in the $600 million OTC acne treatment category, which is dominated by Johnson & Johnson via its Neutrogena and Clean and Clear brands.

Unlike any other products currently in the acne category, Plexy Labs contends that its product is the only one to use beta-sitosterol. When evaluating those other acne treatments, Austin concluded that they did not adequately address the real problem driving acne growth—an overproduction of sebaceous gland oils. What was needed was a product to bring the oil production down to normal levels without excessive drying or eradication of facial bacteria, both the good and bad kinds. Supplied through Healthy Solutions, LLC, a vitamin, liquid vitamin, and skin care manufacturer in Scottsdale, AZ, beta-sitosterol was the key to the solution Austin devised.

“[Beta-Sitosterol] acts to naturally slow down the oil production by blocking the 5-alpha-reductase enzyme, the main culprit in the production of acne and other skin issues,” he said.

The effectiveness of beta-sitosterol in the topical application of acne treatment has not been studied. However, beta-sitosterol has been proven to block the 5-alpha-reductase when taken internally as a supplement. This knowledge, paired with the observations and experimentation that Austin undertook with family and friends revealed that “it also blocks the buildup of the 5-alpha-reductase enzyme within the skin through topical application and absorption, without causing a system suppression of the enzyme,” he explained.

According to Austin, there really is no way to compare Nothing To Hide’s formula with other products that rely on benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, sulfur and other traditional acne treatment ingredients. All of these active ingredients only treat acne by increasing cell turnover or by killing the potentially harmful bacteria that can cause inflammation in the pores.

“By decreasing the 5-alpha-reductase we simply decrease the stimulatory effect that androgenic hormones can have on our sebaceous glands,” he explained.

In addition to the beta-sitosterol, Nothing To Hide boasts an all-natural and organic ingredient list including niacinamide, zinc oxide and allantoin. The formulation works by calming the sebaceous glands to reduce redness and blemishes, while soothing the face like a lotion.

As the product developed a base of interested buyers, Austin began expanding sales to include such venues as expos in Tuscan, then into New Life Health Centers, and continued on to incorporate sales through the Plexy Labs website and Amazon, where it currently sells in 3oz tubes for $15.

“We wanted to make sure our product would be cost-friendly and that anyone who wanted to see the amazing benefits of our product could indeed do so,” remarked Austin.

In the most recently concluded quarter, Plexy Labs’ sales rose 10%, with repeat customers accounting for an important part of the business.

Initially created and packaged by the family in their kitchen, production has moved to a lab in Phoenix, though shipping is still handled by Austin and his family, who are looking forward to celebrating the product’s two-year anniversary in February. Within the next year, company executives expect to expand into new product developments such as facial washes and enzyme masks that will feature 5% beta-sitosterol concentrations.