“Good ideas are scary, even if they come at the right time,” says Susanne Langmuir. The Canadian beauty entrepreneur is in the reception area of a photo studio in Toronto’s East End, about to head into a shoot to accompany this story. She may seem laid-back today, sitting next to her Celine bag in ripped jeans and a black leather jacket, but she has built her legacy on her fearless ability to trust her gut.
In fact, Langmuir, 51, has spent the past 30 years founding inventive brands. She started in aromatherapy and then moved on to custom fragrance in 2000 with Susanne Lang Fragrance, which got picked up by luxury retailers like Holt Renfrew and Barneys New York and was chosen as one of Oprah’s “Favorite Things.”
But it was Bite Beauty, a lip-focused line made of food-grade ingredients, that really put her on the map in 2011. The lipsticks – in a dizzying array of shades – were crafted in Toronto in her own lab so Langmuir could ensure that the formulas met her exacting standards. Bite was an early entry in the then nascent world of “clean” makeup when it launched at Sephora, and it experienced unprecedented sales growth in North America. It caught the eye of Kendo, the beauty-incubator division of LVMH, which acquired it in 2014. Langmuir left in 2017 and for legal reasons isn’t permitted to discuss why. Her exit from Bite allowed her to focus on her family – she’d found herself sandwiched between sons entering the precarious teen years and aging parents – but it also came around the same time she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints.
“I started becoming very curious about the microbiome,” she says of the trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes in the gut that if imbalanced may make the body more susceptible to disease. “It’s unbelievable what we’re learning about the brain-gut connection and also its relationship to skin,” she says, adding that the science around bacteria’s role in skincare is still fairly new. While exploring developing microbiome-friendly skincare, Langmuir travelled to Japan with her son Thomas to meet with potential ingredient suppliers, and she was struck by the mindful approach to skincare there. “The product sizes are small,” she says. “It’s all very intentional.”
Based on those two observations, she decided to formulate a skincare product without water. This would allow her to avoid using preservatives, which stabilize water-based formulas and prevent bacterial growth. “They also kill a lot of the good bacteria that’s in the mix,” she says, referring to the beneficial microbes that exist on the skin. “I became fascinated with the idea of doing more with less.”
That’s how she came up with The Powder of Youth ($66), launching this month, the first hero product in her latest groundbreaking venture: An-Hydra. The exfoliating powder cleanser is entirely a mix of active ingredients – such as vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, Canadian glacial clay, pomegranate enzymes and lactobacillus ferment (a vegan probiotic) – that users activate with a few drops of water. “This is three months of skincare,” says Langmuir, cradling a small glass bottle that holds 15 grams of product and yields 180 applications. “The idea is that it not only balances the microbiome but also uses acids that don’t take all the good bacteria away.”
aN-hydra The Powder of Youth ($66)
Creating skincare that is pared back formula-wise is only part of the story in her next chapter; Langmuir also wanted a way to scale down extensive, multiple-step routines that result in excessive waste. “The average Canadian produces 166 pounds of trash a year, and a lot of that is bottles,” she says. To address that, the packaging for The Powder of Youth is refillable (“The idea is that you can use it indefinitely”): A new three-month supply of product is available for order via the brand’s site and can even be put on auto-ship to make the process seamless and convenient. It arrives in a slim, USDA-certified 100-percent-bio-based-material packet, and Langmuir is close to finalizing a cap for the cleanser that will be completely biodegradable.
Though she got “the head tilt” from friends and family when first discussing her idea of waterless skincare that could fit in the palm of your hand because they couldn’t wrap their heads around it, she’s following the feeling that’s guided her all these years and, once again, audaciously reimagining solutions for shortcomings. “This is the right timing for it,” she says. “And I’m hoping it will be meaningful.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of ELLE Canada.