The Interview: Marko Lens, Founder of Zelens skincare
In 2005, renowned skin ageing expert Dr Marko Lens launched the Zelens skincare brand – a trailblazing marriage of botanical power and skin science.
Now, following almost two years of research and development, Dr Lens and the Zelens team are preparing to unveil a total transformation of the Zelens brand, featuring a raft of formula upgrades, entirely new products and a fresh identity.
Dr Lens talks us through the brand’s origins, transformation and what the UK beauty sector can expect from Zelens in the future.
Tell us a little about your career path and how you were led to create Zelens?
My passion for botanicals started when I was a child. As a boy I was like a little alchemist and I have wonderfully-vivid memories of collecting plants with my grandmother and watching her use them to create her own skincare recipes using olive oil and different things.
However, it was whilst living in Oxford and doing my PhD in the field of melanoma that I started to look more deeply into the role that antioxidants play in protecting the skin from cancer.
It was this experience that prompted me to really explore the use of topically-applied antioxidants in slowing down premature skin ageing and the findings of this research provided me with the initial inspiration to create the Zelens line.
What unique properties set the Zelens brand apart?
We are a hybrid brand, known for a combination of high-tech and botanical ingredients. We are also a brand that doesn’t believe in a single hero product. No one ingredient can do the job – it’s all about multiple players and active ingredients working together in synergy in order to achieve efficacy - that’s what distinguishes us from many other brands.
We are also really keen on sharing our research with our customers. We do very extensive research but there are no false promises and no miracle claims because I don’t believe in miracles.
I believe in products that can slow down premature skin aging but I don’t believe in products claiming to stop it.
For us integrity is key and that’s what our clients love us for.
The Zelens brand may look different now and there are a number of new products and formulation updates but our philosophy and integrity remain the same.
What guided your decision to re-brand now?
The Zelens brand has been around for over 15 years now and skincare doesn’t stand still. Every day in this industry new research is being carried out, new findings are being published and new innovations are being launched, so the time just felt right to update the formulas in-line with some of these new developments.
We actually started the process around two years ago now but the interesting thing about range developments is that when you actually get into the lab and start dipping into the formulas, you just end up running away with new ideas!
It’s a bit like when you go to the hairdresser and you’ve been blonde for years and the stylist says, ‘why you don’t try going a little bit darker?’
Before you know it, you’ve decided to go a little bit shorter too and suddenly there’s a whole new person looking back at you!
With this re-brand we are presenting customers with some completely new products and updates to almost every single formula, with different ingredients or more advanced technology.
And it was in the midst of that exercise that I also said to myself, ‘do you know what, why don’t we also update the packaging,' because, in the same way as in the hairdresser example, we’d been green for 15 years and it just felt like the right time to give Zelens a whole new look. So now we also have a completely new brand identity.
Tell us about the new look…
The previous green is out and in its place is a new more classic contemporary design which really allows the formulas to take centre stage.
The frosted glass remains and while some names will be familiar, new ones have also been introduced to represent reformulations as well as new products.
All cartons also carry the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and each bottle, jar and carton now also features detailed recycling symbols to help customers recycle correctly as much as possible.
Please take us through some of the key formulation changes…
While every single product features a number of unique changes - one general update across the whole range has been the removal of perfume. All products are now completely fragrance free. That was actually quite a hard decision, as personally I like perfume and fragrance but the feedback from clients was that they would prefer products to be fragrance free. So now, the only fragrance that can be discerned comes from active ingredients.
The other thing that happened across the whole line was that we changed preservative systems so that we now have a completely eco-cert approved preservative system.
Apart from those two changes, each and every single product has its own totally different and unique story.
Take our Melatonin Serum for example: I had found out that Vitamin B12 increases the activity of Melatonin, so as a result we added Vitamin B12 to the existing product. Vitamin B12 is a red colour so suddenly the old off-white formula became a beautiful shade of pink!
What’s been the most rewarding part of the re-formulation process?
The whole process has been an utterly fantastic journey and one that has been driven by a vast amount of passion and hard work.
I’ve been so lucky to have such a great team working with me who were so patient while I made all those tweaks and I think the final result is really beautiful.
I’m particularly proud of our powerful new formulas and the fact that as part of the re-launch and introduction of some brand-new products we have been able to create what I like to call the ‘Powers Vitamin Alphabet’ - as we now have A, B, C, D and E.
Also new is ‘Tea Shot Urban Defence Serum’ – an anti-pollution serum containing white, green, black and red teas, plus matcha and kombucha.
In my opinion it’s an amazing product through and through, from its texture to its bright green colour and of course its efficacy.
What’s been the most challenging part of the process?
Probably the biggest challenge was that we were doing all of our clinical testing against a backdrop of Covid-19 which of course slowed the process down. The various lockdowns meant that processes had to be paused when people couldn’t do the testing.
Other than those points it’s all been fine and actually a huge amount of fun. For me, being in the lab is just wonderful and the emotion that I felt when I picked up one of the first bottles from the production line was really over-powering.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic shaped skincare trends?
The virus has changed peoples’ priorities and needs. Before the pandemic people were talking about anti-ageing and anti-wrinkle but now the focus has really shifted to protection and repair.
People are realising the importance of protection and actively looking for products that can protect and repair their skin. Luckily for us that’s a change that sits perfectly with the Zelens brand.
The Zelens brand has always favoured easy to decipher wording around product efficacy, how important is that to consumers these days?
Product names are extremely important and for me they shouldn’t really be about entertainment. If I was launching a morning cream, I wouldn’t call it something like ‘Morning Glory’ for example. I’m a medical doctor and this is a serious brand.
Our principal is and always has been to give the product an interesting name but ultimately the description has to explain what the product does. Take our Urban Defence Serum for example, it’s very clear that it is designed to help wearers defend their skin against urban pollution and blue light. We have tried to keep the names and descriptions very clear and respectful of all the standards.
Transparency is so important to consumers these days. As such, we have also refreshed our online Zelens Garden feature as part of the re-brand.
The Zelens Garden is an interactive library which showcases more than 100 of the powerful botanical ingredients used in our formulas. It’s a fantastic way of allowing customers to explore what they are, how they are used, why and which products contain them.