Darlene Story: “LiPigments Chronicles”

“For the love of self; health, beauty and family… I study the science of art.”

Darlene P. Story, President & Founder of LiPigments

I am the founder and president of Lasting Impression and LiPigments. Lasting Impression is family owned and operated and values its staff members and customers as family. After 25 years, I am a testament to that. So, this is my story, OUR story.

Darlene P. Story

We are a manufacturing company located in the industrial section of Englewood New Jersey, employing over 30 staff members. As a company we are dedicated to the development and promotion of state-of-the-art technology in Permanent Cosmetics, Makeup and Skin Care Products with an emphasis on quality and safety.

After majoring in Business and Marketing at William Paterson University in New Jersey, I became the Director of Sales & Marketing selling traditional and permanent cosmetic product lines to medical professionals. It is through the medical field that I was first introduced to the permanent cosmetic industry. It was not yet an arena for artists but rather a procedure performed by a physician, in a genre similar to cosmetic surgery. This was 1985 and at the time my expertise has included work with ophthalmologists, plastic surgeons and hospitals.  I also contributed to the development of one of the first medical equipment lines that prevented cross-contamination during permanent cosmetic procedures. I quickly learned that medical professionals were rarely artists and often had little appreciation for aesthetics. I recall during one seminar of 60+ physicians, a doctor pulled me aside to tell me I reminded him of his sergeant because I became so irate over the general lack of cosmetic knowledge.

The fact was most doctors didn’t understand colors, color theory, undertones, design, etc. and the available education seminars were not improving matters. I developed a line of pigments and corresponding usage literature designed to make their lives easier. At the time pigment color selection in the industry was not comprehensive, for example pigment colors appropriate for blondes were largely absent. Blondes are particularly complicated because pigment and skin undertones are more relevant to the resulting color than other skin/hair tones. Permanent cosmetic education at the time rarely addressed undertones. Cosmetic artists were used to working with white canvases or traditional topical makeup while doctors were focused on the technical specifics of the procedure. Being young and naïve, I saw this unknown territory as an interesting challenge to tackle.

I began research into pigment bases, skin tones, color fastness, etc. and sought the assistance of experts in these areas to explain this information to me in a simple, unscientific manner. No one in the field truly understood pigment, the various colors and bases, how they reacted with the skin, the differences between organic and inorganic, and even how the health of the client could impact how the pigment would act in the skin. And to make matters worse, no one took the initiative to care except, of course, the unknowing client.

I finally decided that I could produce a better product, provide more education and better ensure the safety and success of the permanent cosmetic procedure if I made the pigment on my own. As the primary support for my 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, I turned my back on the security of a lucrative position and took a leap of faith into the unknown.  My naivety seemed to present itself as confidence when I went to the bank with a business proposition and won the opportunity to live out my childhood dream of having my own business.

By 1992 the market was already changing.  The technicians, who were once primarily physicians were now more likely to be cosmetologists, estheticians, nurses, and makeup artists. In 1995 I was introduced to Vivienne Wilson who is my longest standing staff member. She had her first interview in my house during the time my products were still being made by an outside lab. At that time, there were even less industry regulations and standards than there are now. Some manufacturers were making their products in their garage, kitchens and other less reliably sanitary environments. She was shocked to arrive at a job interview in someone’s living room but quickly recovered and eagerly sought to join me in building something revolutionary! This would be an enterprise geared to enable physicians as well as cosmetologists, estheticians, nurses, and makeup artists to offer their clients solutions for everything from medical conditions such as alopecia to simple beauty enhancements; solutions that would give them a new lease on life.

Years of development, multiplication of staff members and growth into a new facility all led to the creation of our first in-house manufactured line, – the Concealing Systems. This line was a medical grade camouflage makeup that offered a healthier makeup alternative for post laser patients as well as those with scars, burns and vitiligo.  For this product, we developed our own silicone technology that incorporated hypoallergenic ingredients combined with alternative properties such as natural sunscreens and anti-oxidants. This line was safe for immediate post-surgery applications and even promoted healing. The formula was also highly concentrated so it covered unappealing skin conditions and even tattoos completely. The formulation was also water-based but water-resistant and long-lasting.  It had applications as far reaching as theatrical,  professional dance and sports oriented.  As you can imagine there was an incredible amount of effort and ingenuity that went into making such a product. We had help from different scientific minds, and many of them are still working to improve our field today. The research was so thorough that many elements from these formulations are used in some of our current product lines such as our Airbrush makeup line.

The formulation became a huge success among leading dermatologists and plastic surgeons.  During the clinical trials the product proved to astound both physician and patient with its ability to protect sensitive skin during the healing process but also provide full coverage. I was happy to see people feel confident enough to return to work and go about their daily routines. This line was a wonderful adjunct line to our permanent cosmetic pigment line and would be our gateway into the traditional makeup arena.

In 1998 we had finally renovated and relocated to our first state-of-the-art building with the capacity to produce all of our products on site as well as develop new formulations. Now we no longer had to outsource to other labs to make our unique formulations. This put us in the position to do research that other labs “didn’t have the time or the inclination” to do.

It was incredibly rewarding for us to witness the transformations in the lives of our clients who had a wide array of medical and cosmetic concerns. Some simply wanted to enhance their facial features with the semi-permanent beauty of permanent makeup, others needed to have nipple areola’s recreated after a devastating mastectomy surgery, while others suffered a lifetime of esteem issues due to facial birthmarks which could easily be concealed even while swimming with the Concealing Systems. The amazing feedback from grateful clients made all of the trials and struggles of growing a business worth it.

One week post, Areola Sand, Honey, Pink

My children grew up, literally at my feet as little ones and later into the industry, my son going into music, art and marketing; my daughter going into the sciences, especially research into chemical formulations. I remember when my daughter did a private microscopy study on colors while in college involving pigment, including surface area and in-depth analysis of skin penetration depending on particle size and tissue type. I was blown away.  I know every parent is proud of their children but I was more impressed that this had truly become a family business and we were all able to use our various talents to build this business. And so, the family business began. My daughter is our head chemist and my son helps with our marketing when not busy with the music and art industry. Although most of our employees are not blood related, we are all bonded by similar ideals and are truly a family.

We realized that our personal and business ideals were the perfect foundation for our industry; Art, Beauty, Consistency, Quality, Purity, Safety, Science, and most importantly…making you feel like the “YOU” you want to be. Many people complain today that the artists need to learn more about the science while people used to complain that the doctors had no eye for color.  Now I feel like the world is slowly discovering that this is a unique industry with a variety of elements that need to be learned. Permanent Cosmetics is its own entity, combining the best of art and science.

Years of experience further confirmed that the base or “vehicle” of the permanent makeup formulation is of extreme importance. Aqua was our first water-based formulation.  All of our formulations are highly concentrated but there was a need for even more concentrated formulas that would remain intact throughout a long procedure.  This was impossible to do with a water-based formulation. Velvet was our first glycerin based formulation.  Glycerin is not an oil but a humectant. It is water-soluble so it has the ability to penetrate the skin and mix well with water but it draws water from the air, as definitive of a humectant, so it stays moist longer. Many people prefer the Velvet for longer procedures.

Mytia Story, Vice President, Chemist

In recent years, my daughter has united our Research & Development Department with our Quality Control Department.  In this way, we are better able to combine the worlds of Arts and Science. Under her tutelage our Research & Development Department has made extreme advancements in pigment microscopy. We are learning that the shape of pigment particles is just as important as the size of the particle. We are also learning about the extreme differences in these traits depending on the type of colorant. Understanding this we are able to optimize colorfastness and minimize migration so that colors fade “naturally” instead of changing color or shape as they age. For example, 30 years ago, people feared the use of carbon black because it was prone to migration. Now we have narrowed down the specific size and shape of carbon molecules necessary to prevent migration for various tissue types.

Our increasing understanding of pigment microscopy helped us improve on our dispersion technology. Many people do not realize that every pigment composition is trying to achieve a seemingly impossible task: mixing insoluble colorants uniformly into a liquid vehicle. We are always improving on our dispersion technology so that the particles can spread evenly throughout the system.

Now I am seeing more governments and individuals concerned for the safety of the client.  I want to encourage the industry to continue in their forward direction towards safety. We need to continue to improve our safety analyses of raw materials and finished products. Every time I look at our water purification system, I realize how many safety issues can arise from a simple ingredient like water. We have to ensure we filter out all contaminates from bacteria and toxins to heavy metals and ions. Even many bottled waters have heavy metal and other impurities! We must always consider our client: someone already suffering, possibly recovering from a mastectomy or suffering the devastation of hair loss, etc, they needn’t be additionally concerned with the safety of permanent cosmetics. It is up to the professionals in the industry to alleviate these unnecessary concerns. We need to continue to improve our knowledge of color theory, ingredients, and our knowledge of harmful contaminants and impurities. More importantly we need to dispel misinformation and poor workmanship that is tarnishing the reputation of the industry.

Often negative “experiences” leave a longer lasting impression than good but in my experience with this industry there are endless good tales to tell. For me nothing has been as compelling as the stories I’ve heard from our clients and technicians. My first experience with this feedback was a patient who had vitiligo and had suffered the majority of her life feeling like an outcast.  Our product changed that. The joy at feeling some sort of normalcy was amazing to witness. It’s not just about business, or art, or science for that matter…this is one industry where it is truly about the individual. There is a humanness that cannot be separated from the business of this industry. I was lucky enough to see the evolution of that belief over my years in the industry.

Overall I am happy with the direction that our company is moving and I am impressed with the growth of the industry. Permanent cosmetics is something that many can do but very few can do well. Many of my fellow veterans of the industry can attest to the fact that there has been a significant amount for poor procedures done resulting in damage to the client and ultimately the industry. Where one is working with a medium that has a lasting impact on a client; money should never be the motivating factor to enter the field. However, I believe there are many people who truly care and fortunately there is growth in the desire to address education as well as the quality of pigment ingredients. There is still a long way to go but the tremendous success of our company which from day one has focused on the pursuit of quality product and education encourages me that any technician, manufacturer or supplier who pursues those common ideals will too, be successful. I cannot wait to see what the next 30 years have to hold.

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