OUI The People Founder Karen Young Is Redefining Luxury Body Care

By Bianca Gracie | May 15, 2023

Karen_Young0838_1.jpgKaren Young, CEO and founder of OUI The People

For too long, the ideals of luxury skincare and bodycare were molded for a particular audience. But now brands are shattering the exclusivity of the past and introducing a refreshing model that everyone—no matter their skin type, body type, gender or ethnicity—can indulge in.

Karen Young, the founder and CEO of OUI The People, excels in this mission. There’s thoughtfulness behind each ingredient of her products as well as its promotion, which embodies the brand’s “Reconstitution of Beauty” mantra.

“Our brand manifesto is we care for bodies, it's what we do. We believe they should take up space, they should tell stories, they should have agencies and they should be any shape that they see fit. We believe that we settled into the bodies we belong in, and our goal is to set a higher standard for body care for all people. When we say a higher standard of body care, obviously thoughtful, inclusive and effective formulations,” Young explains to EDITION. “We use active ingredients in our product. We are ingredient powered, we are safe for all skin types, even super-sensitive skin. It’s melanin safe as well. So clean beauty has its no-list, we have a melanin-safe no-list. When we think about that, what we're really thinking about is how we start that path towards your healthiest skin without compromising your melanin, which essentially is our protector. It like literally helps protect us in the world and the sun. It lets us know when something is wrong. We don't want to compromise that in any way.”

She continues: “The largest organ in our body—our skin—is a sponge. When it's dehydrated, when it's mineral deficient, when it's depleted, it actually creates the center for a lot of other things to stem from that. First, we treat the dehydrated part, or we make sure we always sort of come back to that with what we build. Then we treat all of the other things around it too, so sensitive skin, ingrowns, razor burn, weakened skin barrier, hyperpigmentation and strawberry skin discoloration, textured inflammation, keratosis pilaris and rough bumpy skin. We’re never about perfection, we just really want to make people feel incredible in the skin that they're already in and help them move towards your absolute most glowing healthy skin.”

Below, Young dives into the benefits of her products, her Caribbean influence and the importance of self-care.

Let’s get into your background. I’d like to know more about yourself as well as the beginnings of OUI The People.

I’m a Flatbush Brooklyn girl, born in Brooklyn. But, I grew up in Guyana, South America, where my family is from. Like most founders of color, I'm really filling for that space where I wasn't necessarily seen. I think so many people talk about the experience of color cosmetics and skincare, and so on. For me, a lot of it really had to do with the body, and being overlooked from that perspective and wanting to carve something out that really addressed my skincare concerns in a thoughtful and efficacious way. Yes, I love the average, beautifully scented body oil, but it wasn't doing a lot for me. I just really wanted to build something that I thought was overlooked in BODY. One of the beautiful things about the brand and the way that we see the world is it's another emotional space. We are really attentive to how we speak to it, how we speak to the products and how we speak to the people. We sort of say internally, more power to all the people, when we think about building for all bodies in the form of this inclusive perspective.

This is our full product assortment, but I'm going to jump into each one starting with our hero. If there's one product that must be used for our line, it's the Featherweight Hydrating Body Gloss.

I just finished my bottle yesterday, actually. I ran through that so fast. It's lightweight, but I love the balance between it not being so heavy but still so moisturizing.

Yeah, it's just beyond incredible and I'm so glad you got an extra one delivered. The thing about the hydrating body gloss is that it’s actually a true hydrator. I think it often gets called an oil because I think that's what people understand, but it's really a serum. It delivers to the skin in a way that a serum would. When we think about our skin getting dry and dehydrated, it is very much like a sponge. When you look at a dry sponge, you can see all the holes and all the cracks and everything. Our skin does exactly the same thing. The serum actually goes in between the holes and it goes in between the cracks and it fills those out as well. That's why it sinks in so quickly and that's why it doesn't necessarily sit on the top of the skin. You get that one-two punch where you look amazing and your skin is actually glowing, but it actually is sinking in and doing the work for you. This is a gloss that sits along the lines of an actual treatment for dehydrated skin. It just happens to be packaged beautifully. I like to call it the super smart girl with the glasses, people assume she’s really smart and then she’s really f--king hot too. [laughs]

2022_07_OUI_Look_13_FW_Solo_058_Edit_02.jpgFEATHERWEIGHT Hydrating Body Gloss

The key ingredients are a squalene bio-identical to our skin zone oil and rose hip seed oil, an ingredient that's normally reserved for the face. We all know how incredible it is in terms of brightening and evening skin. We brought it below to the body. It actually really does help heal and regenerate the skin and organic avocado supports the skin's natural healing process. Those, alongside many other ingredients, really helped support this and serve as the reason it's our hero product.

Our second product is kind of like our one-two punch. This is a product that we were one of the first originators, Cheat Sheet Overnight Resurfacing Body Serum. It’s a tri-acid complex of glycolic lactic and salicylic that helps to very gently but effectively turn over tired and dry skin cells. You can use it as a spot treatment, you can use it all over. It is amazing for ingrown hairs and the bikini line. If you want to start treating that in advance for summertime, it really does help to brighten and target any inflammation that's occurring in the skin follicles as well. As usual, when we think about delivering something so potent as a chemical exfoliant, we always want to make sure that it's supported with skin health properties and ingredients. It has proline, a super amino acid that encourages collagen formation, as well as Atlantic sea kelp which regenerates and replenishes the skin barrier and helps to calm irritation. That is like a one-two punch for summer right there. Those two are my absolute go-to products.

Full disclosure, this was our offering for folks who might not necessarily be able to tolerate a chemical exfoliant because it may be gentle, but it is very powerful. We wanted to offer something that could off the dry skin cells away. Something that could be used in the shower, it is a full-body microdermabrasion, the type that you would get at a spa. It contains bamboo powder rather than your typical sugar or salt, which can provide micro-tears to the skin if you have super sensitive skin. Bamboo powder actually is like if someone was able to like grind-up silk, it's super soft and incredibly regenerative and it does contain some lactic acid so it really helps to smooth uneven texture and brighten hyperpigmentation over time as well. It's not your super-powerful chemical exfoliator, but it is a gentle option to help resurface the skin. It's in a cream version because, although I love a sugar and salt scrub, most of the time I would slide my way out of the shower and be ready to call 911 at like anytime. [laughs]

We just wanted to create something that didn’t make you think about cleaning your shower after, we wanted to provide an amazing experience. So yeah, it comes as a cream as a result. It’s another product where a little goes a very long way. The bamboo powder spreads so beautifully on the skin. This was our most recent launch at the end of last year, All-in-All Plant-Based Retinol Body Balm.

This is my favorite product.

I’m happy to hear that. What I love about this is it reveals, over time, your must supple, radiant and absolutely resilient skin. If you have skin that doesn’t respond to anything else, this is the product for you. Sea fennel extract is a vital retinol that we use in place of your standard retinol. It helps to promote collagen production. Northern truffle mushroom is an adaptogenic mushroom that regulates TRPV1 (Transient receptor potential vanilloid 1). That's basically your skin's alarm system. When you see any sort of flare-ups, itching or anything like that, that’s your skin sending out a signal that there's too much going on. The truffle mushroom actually comes in and helps to soothe the irritation by targeting that actual receptor. Shea Nilotica is the ultimate shea butter, it literally melts into your skin and gets deep into the skin cells. That’s why, over time, you really start to see your skin become more supple, radiant and bouncy with use.

We've had so many people write in to tell us how this has affected eczema flare-ups on their skin, which is super exciting. We're also discovering that a lot of people are using it for crepey skin around the neck and decolletage and seeing a huge difference. We're really excited to see all of that.

2022_10_OUI_Balm_Look_02_011_Edit.jpgALL IN ALL Melting Body Balm

The razor is the product that we hit the market with. This was just me literally sitting behind my desk at Estee Lauder super frustrated that there was absolutely nothing on the market for me that addressed the ingrown hairs and the vicious cycle of shaving, ingowns, razor burn, hyperpigmentation, and then you have to figure out how to solve it all within days before you have to shave again. The big thing, if I can leave you with anything from the razor, is that your typical three-to-five-blade razor removes hair below the surface of the skin. This single-blade razor removes it from the surface of the skin. Still a very smooth shave, but you are not damaging the skin and hair follicles in the process. That means that your skin isn't hustling to try and rejuvenate as a result and repair the damage. So, you're not getting into this process of damage, try to repair, damage, try to repair. What happens is your hair actually starts to grow back evenly and softer over time because it starts to retrain the skin and hair follicles to behave in a different manner.

It does take a little more time. It's not the razor you want to just shave real quick and run out the door. It's a heavier razor very specifically so that it can do the job of removing the hair without a lot of pressure as well. We've won a ton of awards on that one because it deserves it. It pairs beautifully with the Sugarcoat Shave Gel-to-Milk, which is a gel that transforms into milk when it hits the water, super inspired by the gel-to-milk face washes that allowed you to remove makeup and just have beautifully hydrated skin after. We just thought it was a really great opportunity to use it as a means to protect the skin while you're shaving, then when you come out, your skin is actually set up and beautifully hydrated after as well. It really sets you up for success during and after shaving. We put skincare quality ingredients in here as well like we do with everything else. Marula oil and dandelion root extract, which actually helps with itching afterward and is one of the more powerful forms of vitamin C to boost natural your skin's natural production of hyaluronic acid.

Then there’s the super fun product we just had to make because everybody has been crazy stressed in the last few years. We just wanted to give people something that they could have a good time with and sort of envelop the body with. It’s the Big Mood Bath Soak. That said, we are never not serious about our product development in any way, and I literally just had someone say to me last week that this is the only product they use that actually helped the pain that they experienced from lupus, which was just amazing to hear. It has magnesium, potassium and calcium, and it’s really about releasing some of the tension from your body. It’s also paired with Italian bergamot essential oil to really boost the mood as well, hence, “big mood”.

I’d love to hone in on your upbringing in Guyana. My parents are immigrants from Jamaica. The reason why I really enjoy the body balm is that there’s something nostalgic about the smell. The very warm, clove-type of smell reminds me of my grandma and my mom’s baking. I would love to know how your Caribbean upbringing influenced your products.

I remember being sent out into the sun after being slathered in coconut oil. I think most people hear that and they think it sounds dangerous, but they knew the benefits of coconut oil to actually help protect your skin. I'm so glad that you hit on that because that is exactly it—it does contain clove. I try to tap into the roots to pull and sort of modernize the experience quite a bit. Clove is actually an anti-inflammatory experience. As we thought about the scent, we thought to tie a beneficial scent experience by putting essential oils into it. Going back to natural, essential oils, when we think about scenting our products, there's no artificial fragrance or anything like that. Tying it together with the anti-inflammatory benefits, that’s how we always think about positioning the products. We have something coming out this year with sea moss.

I remember growing up drinking Irish Sea Moss.

I have a giant jar of sea moss that my friend made. It's in my fridge and I don't know if it should be, but whatever, I'm just gonna go with it. We all know about the Rum Punch and all the benefits. I think a lot of people wouldn't necessarily value it from the outside, but I wanted to figure out different ways to incorporate it into the brand. I think a lot of times people will take things, I'm pretty sure sea moss is going to be trending pretty soon if it's not already. I think there are ways, when we have this particular background, to take what we know and move it into the brand in very seamless and authentic ways.

When I use your products, I feel luxurious. I love that your mission is to break down the barriers of what that word could mean. What’s your take on the importance of having that self-care routine for yourself and making time for yourself?

I remember very specifically growing up and [watching] my grandma. She didn't have a wealth of products, but I remember that silver mirrored tray that like sat on her dresser. Yeah, all the time, she had the matching set, and there were the pons and the gold queen. On Sundays, when we went to church, that one lipstick would come out. It wasn't too bold of a color, but it was just enough. She was doing her thing for Sunday church. I think that those are ways that roots informed me about luxury. I saw my mother express it through her clothing, and I saw her express it through the products that she used on her skin. For me, it was about making sure that body care didn't feel like you needed to be ashamed of anything, just because you had keratosis pilaris, dry skin or hyperpigmentation. You actually can pick up something that made you feel absolutely beautiful, and there's no shame whatsoever. Literally no shame in our game. There's no shame whatsoever in living in the body of the skin that you're in. I think we can address things without saying we need to fix them, without saying there's anything wrong with you, but enveloping you in this truly luxurious experience.

On your site, you have what you call the “Reconstitution of Beauty”. It’s not just about the products we use, but also the way we speak when it comes to these beauty products.

Beauty is marketing, honestly. I grew up with my mother really shrouding me a lot from American beauty standards. I think part of that was they weren't speaking to me and they had this very unrealistic ideal that I would never get to. There was no way I was ever going to be light-skinned, blonde, whatever. Then when I went down the streets like Flatbush Avenue, if I went into the corner beauty supply store, they were a company full of lightning products. These messages were just coming at you all over the place. My mother very much wanted to keep things simple, not to introduce too much of it at that time. When I thought about OUI The People, it was an incredible opportunity to reshape the way we use marketing language and to help people understand that there's absolutely nothing wrong with you. We don't use ‘flawless,’ we don't use ‘anti-age’ and we don't use ‘perfecting’ in our terminology at all. We just want to think about reshaping the entire culture of beauty so that people can see themselves and they do feel invited into the brand and the experience and want to be a part of it. I'm pretty excited because I think we've been doing that pretty well. We've heard from folks that we do that pretty well.

Photography by: Courtesy of OUI The People