Melisse Shaban has had a long, successful career in beauty and haircare, most recently culminating in the creation and launch of Virtue Labs. It’s a haircare company driven by technology, and it delivers. I sat down to talk to Melisse about how our hair changes, what to do about thinning hair, Flourish the new products for thinning , and the menopause of it all.
Name, Age, where do you live?
Raleigh, North Carolina
You’ve spent your whole career working in haircare. What about haircare compelled you to not only stay in hair, but start there?
Not all of it has been in haircare – I have a good bit of experience in skincare as well. My career started at Revlon, but my first big break came when Horst Rechelbacher appointed me General Manager of Aveda when I was 30 years old. That was my first deep dive into the world of haircare and salons. I went on later to run Frederic Fekkai haircare and salons, but there have been other things along the way. What compels me about the industry is how women relate to these products and finding ways to address their unmet needs
After an incredibly successful career you launched in 2017 Virtue, of which you’re not only the founder but also the CEO. What was your a-ha moment?
Really it all started with this breakthrough technology, which was never intended for use in haircare at all. Dr. Luke Burnett, the chief scientist behind the development of this technology, is a retired Colonel from the U.S. Army. After two tours in Iraq, he made it his mission to find ways to speed healing and improve quality of life for wounded soldiers, and it was all based on his development of this newly patented form of a human keratin protein. Most “keratin” you’ve heard of in the industry is a substance derived from animal sources (like sheep wool or feathers) and harshly treated and broken down into little more than amino acids. It’s no longer a whole, functional protein. Dr. Burnett’s breakthrough was a fully functional, human-identical protein that the body could recognize as its own and use to help with wound-healing.
A young woman PhD candidate working in his lab had family members in the salon industry, and asked if she could perform some experiments on the side using leftover material – she had heard of “keratin” in haircare and wanted to test whether this new protein could also have benefits for hair. A few experiments later, they liked what they saw, but haircare was not their mission or their expertise. That’s when I was invited in to take a look. Seeing the extraordinary results that this technology has on damaged hair made me want to share it with the world. And about five years after that, Virtue was born.
You are an entrepreneur extraordinaire. What advice would you give to women trying to figure out their next act?
Ask yourself some hard questions: Is this something you are passionate about? If it’s a business idea, does it meet an unmet need, or provide a better product or solution than what’s currently out there? And then really understand that, just like birthing a child, it takes total commitment and a lot of hard work and sleepless nights. But if you surround yourself with the right people, it can also be a lot of fun and really rewarding along the way.
What are some common things that happen to our hair as we age?
Our hair undergoes a number of different changes as we age. The hair growth cycle slows, the diameter of the hair fiber decreases, so it starts to look thinner. We see more curvature in the hair, but because it’s not uniform, it leads to an increase in friction and frizz. Lipid changes related to decreased sebum production affect hair softness, shine, and smoothness. And of course it starts to lose pigment causing it to go gray.
What kind of practices/routines do you recommend for women over 50?
Something I try to do: Look in the mirror every day and see the best of yourself, the good things. And look for ways to find more joy in life.
Is ‘menopause hair’ a thing, too?
During perimenopause and menopause is when we most often see the onset of Androgenic Alopecia – hereditary, hormone-related hair loss. It’s also when female metabolism begins to slow and the body focuses more on keeping vital organs functioning well and less on feeding the high metabolic needs of our skin and hair. That’s why you’ll often notice increased hair loss, and overall thinner, more fragile hair.
Why should women change their approach to hair care as they get older?
First and foremost, the health of our hair goes hand in hand with the health of our bodies. Sleep, nutrition, and stress management all play a role in the way our hair and skin age. That said, we believe there are two relatively easy, but critically important things people can do regularly for their hair to help counter the effects of aging:
Scalp care – it’s the starting point for every new hair we grow and the source of nourishment for every hair we already have. Caring for the scalp with microbiome-friendly shampoos and a gentle exfoliator at least twice a week will help keep follicles clear and prevent the product buildup that disrupts the scalp flora.
Damage Repair – Hot water, heat tools, color dyes, product chemicals, UV rays and other environmental aggressors are constantly degrading our hair’s protective cuticle, causing cracks where protein can leach out. Regularly repairing that damage, with clean, protein-rich products like Virtue is the key to maintaining hair health.
You recently launched Flourish which is to address thinning hair? Tell us why and what we need to know about Flourish.
Female hair loss is really a silent epidemic. 40% of women will experience it by the time they’re 40 and the number increases to 50% by the age of 50. The most common causes are both hereditary and hormonal. As we age, the hair growth phase, which typically lasts 3-5 years, is shortened. Hair is shed more quickly, and the amount of time before the start of a new growth phase lengthens. This compounds over time, and women begin to see their hair thinning. Also, the hair follicle itself also begins to shrink, producing shorter, thinner hair fibers. These fibers are finer and more fragile, and often don’t make it to full maturity.
For decades, the hair loss category has focused exclusively on technology to regrow hair. They’ve found some success with drugs like Minoxidil, but that doesn’t really address the whole problem. With Virtue Flourish® we take a more holistic approach by focusing on both scalp fertility and fiber survival — two critical elements that have been long overlooked. Flourish products with our exclusive Alpha Keratin 60ku Clinical® complex clear the follicles, nourish the microbiome, and strengthen the moisture barrier. But importantly, as new fragile hair emerges, it is nurtured and cared for, so it grows stronger and thicker. In fact, our exclusive protein has been clinically shown to increase the thickness of individual hair strands by up to 22%. That means a much better chance at survival as your hair grows more.
The hero of the line is our Flourish Density Booster which is 100% drug-free, and made for the 50% of women who don’t want (or need) to use a pharmaceutical like Minoxidil. Flourish is also FREE OF all the bad stuff – parabens, sulfates, phthalates, dyes – plus it’s vegan and cruelty-free. And it’s FULL of simulating, thickening, volume boosting technology made specifically for women with thinning hair. Check out the before and after’s, they’re incredible!!
Culturally, aging is viewed as this sad thing. In reality, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t feel bad or sad. I feel better than ever. What’s the key to changing the conversation about aging?
I think it’s about putting value on experience. Newness for the sake of the new, or youth just for the sake of it is irrelevant to me. It’s about context, and you can’t have real context without experience. Let’s honor that.
What’s the best thing you’ve read lately?
These days I’m really more of a binge-watcher and podcast-listener. I love my friend Phoebe Judge’s true crime podcast called “Criminal.” And I recently enjoyed “The Serpent” on Netflix.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
What’s the last thing you bought online?
This may sound funny, but it was a big rotary steam press that will quickly iron my sheets and napkins. It’s awesome. I love pressed sheets.
What would you put on your menopause registry?
Good tequila, large ice cube, splash of soda with a squeeze of lime.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
If I had a superpower, I’d like to be able to stop time and truly live in and appreciate every moment.
If you had a warning label what would it say?
Beware of big egos. I would apply that universally.
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