Sonsoles Gonzalez knows good hair. In fact, she’s made a living off of it. For 25 years, she worked in haircare at powerhouse companies like L’Oreal and Proctor and Gamble. Then something wild happened: her hair, like the rest of our bodies, changed. And she couldn’t find any products that satisfied her need for aging hair solutions, while staying clean. So she created Better, Not Younger – clean haircare that grows with your changing hair, instead of against it. Read more about Sonsoles below!
Name, Age, where do you live?
My name is Sonsoles Gonzalez, I’m 56 and I live in Miami, Florida
Give us an overview of your career.
Prior to starting Better Not Younger, my entire corporate career was spent in progressively senior roles leading some of the world’s biggest beauty brands.
I started my marketing career at Procter & Gamble in Venezuela at the very young age of 22
Most of my career at P&G was spent within their beauty sector working across different geographies:
- head of Beauty Care (Latin America)
- head of North American Haircare (US), a $2B business at the time.
- President of the Global Pantene brand where I lead a large team spread around the world (Pantene was at the time the biggest hair care brand in the world) for several years.
After P&G, I moved to Madrid, Spain, for the opportunity to head up L’Oreal’s Consumer Division which included oversight their L’Oreal Paris flagship brand as well as Maybelline and Garnier.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
I decide to retire at the end of 2016 because, quite frankly, after 28+ years working for other people in big corporations, I felt I had lost my motivation. Pretty soon after I left, I realized I was nowhere near ready to trade my career for home gardening. Somewhere within this brief “retirement” phase, the idea to start my own business, my own beauty brand started to take shape. Without really knowing what I was getting into, I launched myself into the entrepreneurial world and here I am as the proud founder of the first and only haircare brand specifically designed for women 40+.
You’ve spent your whole career (25+ years!!) working in haircare. What about haircare compelled you to not only stay in hair, but start there?
One of the most unforgettable insights I ever learned early on in my career, was how strongly hair affects a woman’s self-confidence. Hair is everything, at any age. On a personal level, I’ve always been attracted to roles where I could have an active role in empowering women – in helping women see their value and feel better about themselves – and haircare was one of those areas where I knew I could have an impact.
Over time, hair became my area of expertise – from formulas to marketing, I knew that starting in hair care would put me somewhat ahead in my learning curve. As far as why I decided to stay in haircare, whenever you read stories of how successful entrepreneurs, they always seem to have the same advice: start with what you know, what you’re passionate about, and what you’re good at. I knew I was good at it.
After 25 years at corporate brands like Procter & Gamble and L’Oreal, you launched Better Not Younger. What was your a-ha moment?
I had always dreamt about the possibility of creating my own brand. I’ve always been passionate about brand building and product innovation. But, I went on with my busy life and it never seems like the right moment. That said, there were two pivotal “a-ha” moments that led me to take the plunge.
The first is when I went through my own hair issues in my 40s, where all of a sudden I saw my ponytail shrinking and my hair texture changing, and there was nothing on the market that was talking about this. And I talked to my friends who were all experiencing their own aging-related changes to their hair. And nobody knew of a brand or product that could help. Having been inside the beauty industry, I knew that the majority of research and marketing dollars were geared towards products for women 18-44. So, I kind of realized then I was dealing with a completely underserved market.
The second moment happened soon after I left L’Oreal. I was interviewing for a role in a relatively small hair care company and as talked to interviewers, and later toured their facilities, I thought to myself “I can do this. I know how to do this. Why would I want to work for someone else again if I could do something much more exciting and rewarding? A couple of months later, I started actively working on what would become Better Not Younger.
What are some common things that happen to our hair as we age?
Most women start noticing changes to their hair in their 40s. Follicles shrink and our scalp produces less sebum, so hair grows in thinner, drier and more brittle. Our scalp also gets drier and more prone to inflammation, and hair growth slows down or stops growing altogether. All of these changes are a normal part of the aging process, and are largely a result of unavoidable hormonal changes and nutritional deficiencies. Your 40s are also typically when grey hair starts to appear as a result of decreased melanin production.
You have such gorgeous hair! What kind of practices/routines do you have to take care of it, besides Better Not Younger?
Thank you! Growing up I always had long, thick hair, shiny hair. It was part of my identity, but I sort of took it for granted. As I mentioned before, my hair really started changing in my 40’s. I remember looking at my daughter’s hair and thinking “wow, my hair used to be like that”. I’m much more careful with my hair now. So, besides using Better Not Younger, I have a few “newer” habits:
– I wash my hair less often because over shampooing can cause natural oil imbalances on your scalp and strip your hair. And since I blow dry my hair after I shampoo, washing less often means less blow drying, less heat, which means less damage.
– As much as I like a hot shower, I avoid hot water on my hair. It dries your scalp (think about it, would you apply very hot water on your face). And I always rinse with cold water to seal the cuticle.
-“You are what you eat”. This might sound like a cliché, but it’s true. As we age, our body’s ability to absorb some nutrients also changes. And poor nutrition has a direct impact on hair. So, I try to eat healthy and take the necessary supplements to support stronger, healthier hair growth.
Hair is one of the most personal things, but there’s such a hugely diverse range. Curly, straight, fine, thick, coarse, oily – how do I know what’s best for my hair?
That’s true. And not only is it personal, but whatever worked for you in your 20’s won’t necessarily work for you anymore. As you hit your 40s, 50s and 60s you need to relearn how to take the best care of your hair. That’s why at Better Not Younger we place so much importance on education and customer support. We have a phone line where you can call for advice, how-to use videos on our website, a customer service team who responds to all email or Facebook enquiries, and an online hair quiz to help women pick the right products. You’d be surprised what a difference these things can make!
Do your products work for curly or textured hair? And if not, will you be getting into that space?
Our products were not designed with a particular hair type or ethnicity in mind, but rather to broadly address the most common symptoms of aging hair (thinning, dryness, breakage, greys). Some of our best sellers like the Superpower Hair & Scalp Fortifying serum work for all hair types, while our Hair Redemption butter masque works beautifully to bring more hydration, definition and shine to dry, curly or coily hair. But we are still a very young brand with plenty of opportunity to bring in new products which is the exciting bit.
I know I’ve gotten better about green beauty and skincare, but I hadn’t really thought about green haircare, too. Your products are all 100% vegan, paraben-free, and sulfate-free. What do parabens and sulfates do to healthy hair?
Clean beauty means developing formulas without harmful ingredients. There’s really no point if you avoiding these on your skin if you then use them on other parts of your body. That’s why the industry has been expanding clean beauty standards across several categories.
Parabens are a preservative that have been shown to disrupt the normal hormonal cycle of the body. In women, they might reduce the production of estrogen, an important hormone in women. Sulfates are a popular lathering ingredient in many shampoos, but they tend to strip natural oils. As hair ages, it is important that you avoid ingredients that strip hair since aging hair already tends to be quite dry, and instead focus on ingredients that help the hair retain some of its natural oils. This is why we’ve chosen to avoid these particular ingredients in all of our formulas.
I remember my ‘pregnancy hair’ but is ‘menopause hair’ a thing, too?
Absolutely. Pregnancy is like a hormonal roller coaster for our bodies, and so is menopause. Most women find that their hair loses volume and length around menopause. This is because menopause causes your estrogen levels to decrease and estrogen is a hair-friendly hormone that’s responsible for keeping hair in its anagen (growth) phase for longer. A lot of women also find that their hair breaks more easily after menopause.
The major difference between hair changes due to pregnancy and hair changes due to menopause is that no one talks as openly about menopause! Menopause has always been a topic that’s been taboo and a bit shame-filled because it’s a sign that you’re no longer “young”. But now, in a time where you have 50 million 50-year old super consumers who are going through “the change” you’d better bet they’re going to be talking about it, and investing in brands that are talking to them honestly and respectfully and giving them quality products that do what they say they’re going to do.
Why should women change their approach to hair care as they get older?
As I mentioned earlier, hair changes with age. It becomes thinner and much more vulnerable. Ironically, at the time when our hair is becoming most vulnerable, we make it worse by frequent coloring and over-use of styling products. That’s why we have to be careful to choose the right products, but also to consider how we can have our best hair holistically: it’s not just about taking care of the hair you have, it’s also about staying on top of your often-neglected scalp (which incubates new, growing hairs) and of course, nutrition to fuel stronger hair growth. This 3-prong approach is the best way to not just have great hair today, but even better hair tomorrow.
Ten years from now, where do you see Better Not Younger?
Better Not Younger is a platform and a philosophy that can extend beyond hair care into many other categories where women’s needs at this age still have yet to be addressed. Better Not Younger has always been about more than the hair care products. The entire team is passionate around changing the narrative around women & aging in society to get to a more inclusive definition of beauty. This company was founded on the principle that Beauty Should Not Be Defined By Age, a mission that will guide us through the next 10 years and beyond.
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?
Like you, I do not feel bad about aging. In fact, I’ve never felt so good.
Society has always celebrated youth and treated aging, particularly for women, as a signal of your decline, a decline in your value to society. So how do we change this? With pioneering efforts like yours and mine. Because women today think so differently about aging. No one I know spends time wishing they could be 25 again. They’re too busy reinventing their careers and focusing on how they’re going to change the world. They look nothing like the tired stereotypes that marketers continue to pump out (“genial grandma”, “cruise loving retiree”, “gardening enthusiast” etc.). I speak to so many women who tell me they feel better, more resilient, more fearless and bolder than ever. That’s the face of “aging” today.
Brands and media that begin to embrace a more inclusive view of beauty will be the ones to stand out.
What’s the best thing you’ve read lately?
A team of rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I loved learning about Lincoln’s amazing determination to preserve the Union and how he brough his own rivals to help him fulfill his mission.
Do you have any family traditions?
We have a great one around the holidays. Because our family is now spread out across many cities (many have emigrated from Venezuela because of all the political and economic difficulties), we can no longer give physical gifts to each other. So, every holiday, we each draw a name form a “hat”, and on Christmas Eve, we send a virtual gift to the person we chose – a video with a special message, a song, a homemade movie – something special that required some effort to put together.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
What’s the last thing you bought online?
This morning I bought a replacement whisk on Amazon for my Kitchen Aid blender (I love to cook by the way). And while writing this interview, I bought a flowy summer dress online from Nordstrom’s. Certainly an impulse buy!
What would you put on your menopause registry?
An all-girls trip to Italy’s wine country.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
I would want the ability to manipulate time. I’m famously impatient when it comes to waiting for business results, so I’d love to be able to speed things up in that area. But I also want to be able to go back in time … to spend time with my kids when they were babies and my parents. Time goes by too fast!
If you had a warning label what would it say?
No B.S. past this point.
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