How this legacy skin care brand is keeping its edge 40 years later

By Amanda Pauley | Published: 24-Oct-2022

Ole Henriksen, founder of the eponymous skin care brand, has created best-selling beauty products for nearly 40 years. He reveals the secrets to his success

As more start-ups continue to launch on social media, quickly turning those ‘double taps’ into concrete sales, there is no denying that the beauty market is a much harder place to compete in.

Being an established brand is no longer a sure-fire guarantee of sales, and ‘cult’ names that rely on this could be at risk of losing their status if they don’t innovate. 

One person who knows this all too well is Ole Henriksen, who founded the eponymous clinical Scandinavian skin care brand in 1983, before selling to LVMH in 2011. 

Over the course of 39 years, the Danish cosmetician has continued to successfully adapt his brand, from creating formulations that have sold out on Sephora to working with an A-lister on a sexual wellness campaign. 

As the brand approaches its 40th anniversary, he tells Cosmetics Business how Ole Henriksen (the brand) is staying current, covering reformulations, partnerships and trends.  

How are you ensuring Ole Henriksen stays relevant in the skin care market?

I am the older guy on the beauty block now – the brand has been around for 39 years – but I am eager not to quit.

I am here for the long haul, like Queen Elizabeth II was.

Next year, there will be a lot of product development, but without being gimmicky, as it is our 40th anniversary.

It will be about the integrity of the ingredients as innovation has always set us apart.

Peptides are a key driver for strong skin and collagen, and that will remain. As a brand, we never go in lightly. We will never put just a little drip in.

There will also be a new marketing approach in 2023 which takes a deeper nosedive into the company’s Scandinavian heritage, which is what originally inspired me. 

The DNA of the company is something that gives us credibility and I want to bring that back to the fore for our anniversary.

Throwback picture of Ole Henriksen and actress Christine Shaw at his spa

Throwback picture of Ole Henriksen and actress Christine Shaw at his spa

How is your company adapting to the cost of living crisis?

There are certain things we cannot control in this situation – oil, energy and gas prices, for example – but we will stay true to our values as far as the quality of formulations.

We won't cut costs there because when you mess with that it usually ends in catastrophe.

This recession seems much more intense than others, but I am not nervous because we have the ‘loyalty factor’ with our customer base. 

I come from a blue collar working class family that had very little money, so I know what it is like to feel restricted. 

This is why I have always believed that you should get value for money.

The brand has always been about, and will remain with, the ‘less is more’ approach.

People will cut back now, there is no doubt, but with Ole Henriksen you can survive with just the basics.

A customer does not have to buy everything in the collection, they just need to be consistent using what they do buy.

Our range has always been in the mid-level pricing too, and I think that makes us much more appealing during this time.

What has been the biggest change in the skin care market this year?

There is always something new and exciting happening in skin care, but the market is a little bit too crowded at this point, especially with so many celebrity brands now. 

Make-up is one thing that may be easier for a celebrity to speak to and about, but skin care is about science and formulating – it is an expertise.

Consumers are very informed now, so they want to see the experience behind a brand.

I studied cosmetic chemistry at college in London and have worked with all skin conditions in my spa [which he launched in 1975] over the years, so I know what I am talking about. 

Celebrity collaborations can work though. This year, I asked my client, Sex and The City actress Kim Cattrall, to be the ambassador of our first-ever body care collection

Kim Cattrall is brand ambassador for the brand's 'Touch' body care collection

Kim Cattrall is brand ambassador for the brand's 'Touch' body care collection

Kim was the perfect face for the ‘Touch’ franchise because she is that warm, kind, sexual and loving person, who has aged beautifully and has got amazing curves. It made sense. 

[The brand also partnered with sexual wellness brand Smile Makers on the launch. It combined Olehenriksen’s BeamCream Smoothing Body Moisturizer and Smile Makers The French Lover vibrator in ‘The Big OH Duo’ set]. 

Cosmeceutical skin care has also blown up recently. A lot of dermatologists and doctors have moved into this arena, and they have every right to do so. 

What is interesting about those brands, however, is that there are very few that have sustained.

When should a brand reformulate a hero product? Is it worth the risk?

Reformulation should only happen when there is a real need for it.

If a product has had its heyday, we will often discontinue it.

Our Sheer Transformation Perfecting Moisturizer was popular forever and then it faded, so there was no reason to keep it.

Earlier this year, we reformulated our hero product Banana Bright Eye Crème and it was a risk.

It was a number-one selling eye cream around the globe, so why tamper with it? It could go horribly wrong.

We upgraded it because we wanted to take the natural aroma out of the product, as there could be sensitivity in the eye region, and wanted to remove the beeswax so it was vegan. 

We had also come across this gold complex vitamin C which looked amazing, and the clinical trials showed that it could be absorbed even more effectively to increase strength.

The upgraded product has been received with open arms and sales projections have exceeded what we initially projected, but this will not be the case for everything.

Two of Ole Henriksen's best-selling products

Two of Ole Henriksen's best-selling products

Which ingredient do you think will remain the most relevant in the market?

Healthy skin is all about texture and luminosity, and that is where the power of vitamin C comes in.

I think I was a pioneer 38 years ago, bringing vitamin C into skin care, and it seems wild saying that now. 

The thing with vitamin C is that it can still be so easily misunderstood by customers sometimes.

Some say, ‘I'm sensitive to it’, but actually, vitamin C is an anti-inflammatory. 

It strengthens your capillaries, takes redness out of the skin and, internally, high levels can build a strong liver and kidney. 

Of course, it is important to get the right levels of vitamin C, and that is where consumer education needs to be better. 

Throwback picture of Ole Henriksen working in his spa

Throwback picture of Ole Henriksen working in his spa

Celebrity endorsements helped to grow your brand organically. Who were your first fans?

The ‘Ole Glow’ term I’m known for – [an inner and outer glow from your skin and aura] – was bestowed on me by actress Laura Dern when she was just 23.

At the time, she was nominated for her first Academy Award and was busy filming for Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park movie. She came to me for a glow and the rest was history. 

I also remember Rocky actor Sylvester Stallone being very generous to me when I was working in my spa, which I opened in 1975.

Back then, it was not typical to tip the owner of a spa, but the first time he visited he tipped me $100. That level of generosity. Amazing. He is still a fan now. 

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