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How Former Power Ranger Star, Jennifer Yen, Built a Beauty Empire

People

Way back in the mid-1990s, long before people were taking online quizzes to determine which Friends or Sex and the City character they related to most, an entire generation was eager to declare themselves one of the five Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. In case anyone's unfamiliar, the iconic TV series — which is now in its 25th season — features five badass teenagers who transform into alien-fighting superheroes that must work together in order to walk out of the ring victorious.


It goes without saying that no superhero-based TV show would be complete without its despised villains. Enter Vypra, a demon who donned slick serpentine armor and wasn't afraid to employ evil magic against her colorful enemies. In the early 2000s, Vypra was played by Chinese-American actress Jennifer Yen, who has swiftly gone from powerful villainess in the fictional world to a kick-butt female entrepreneur.

Interestingly, it was Yen's time spent on set that inspired her to start a skincare brand you're likely familiar with, Purlisse, which has since blossomed into a major player in the beauty space. We spoke to Yen about her Power Ranger years, what triggered the founding of her company, and how she's grown it over the years into a flourishing business.

“Being a Power Ranger villainess was an amazing experience. I loved channeling myself through acting, and it quickly became an outlet for emotions"

That Power Ranger Life

Yen was a spokesperson and model for many years before she took up acting. When she heard about auditions for the Power Rangers Vypra role, she seized the opportunity and headed to the casting call where, among other things, she was asked to give her best “side kick." It was that killer kick that landed her the role, which was also her first major acting gig.

"Many of these ingredients have back stories involving Yen's grandmother. For example, she would use leftover homemade soy milk to cleanse her face"

Being a Power Ranger villainess was an amazing experience. I loved channeling myself through acting, and it quickly became an outlet for emotions. Also, it was a lot of fun working with so many creative and passionate individuals. There will always be a little bit of Vypra in me — in a good way." -Yen

The thing with acting, especially if you're playing a role that requires a dramatic physical transformation, is that all that makeup application and removal can start to wreak havoc on your skin.“Being on set meant being in full uniform, and that included makeup," she says. “Wearing heavy makeup for hours and days on end really took a toll on my skin. I started noticing more and more irritation, itchiness, and redness on my skin. This irritation was being sparked by the daily makeup use, as well as my lack of an efficient skincare routine to address my sensitivity."

The Birth of a French-Asian Skincare Line

After an ongoing battle with her skin, Yen made the decision to start her own skincare line in 2008 with a focus on products that were nourishing, gentle, and effective. And that is precisely how Purlisse, which means “pure and smooth" in French, came into existence. In addition to being born out of personal need and a recognized gap in the market, the line was also inspired by Yen's grandmother's Asian beauty recipes.

Today, products are formulated with the help of French, Korean, and American chemists with Yen's oversight. The line utilizes carefully curated ingredients including calming and antioxidant-rich blue lotus flower extract, skin-bolstering seaweed and white tea, nourishing lupine peptides that strengthen the barrier and impart a healthy glow, and soy beans, which are packed with micronutrients and lock in moisture.

Many of these ingredients have back stories involving Yen's grandmother. For example, she would use leftover homemade soy milk to cleanse her face and home-brewed white tea was used as a soothing antiseptic on childhood cuts and scrapes. Blue lotus, which is a hero ingredient throughout the line and one not commonly found in other skincare products, was a DIY beauty recipe favorite of her grandmother's as well.

Growing a Brand in a Saturated Market

Over the last decade, Purlisse has remained a niche brand that's dedicated to its original tenets of providing gentle, effective, high-quality products to discerning consumers. It's relatively small in size with roughly 30 SKUS, which includes both travel and full-size products. Products are sold primarily online through the brand's website, as well as at Dermstore.com, Nordstrom, and Amazon. Another way Purlisse has reached new customers is via subscription boxes, such as IPSY, Birchbox, and Fabfitfun.

The brand also has a robust celebrity following with Jamie Chung, Michelle Phan, Desi Perkins, and Whitney Port expressing their love for Purlisse products. Makeup artists also swear by the line. For example, Cardi B's makeup artist uses the Green Tea + Ginger Sheet Mask, Blue Lotus Seed Mud Mask + Exfoliant, and BB Tinted Moist Cream on the singer, and Denise Hooper, lead makeup artist for Scandal, often reaches for the Blue Lotus 4-in-1 Eye Adore Serum on set.

"Many of these ingredients have back stories involving Yen's grandmother. For example, she would use leftover homemade soy milk to cleanse her face"

Yen says that she's truly enjoyed watching Purlisse grow over the years and spends a large portion of her time overseeing the brand. Taking the leap certainly required some faith and a relentless drive for success, but all that hard work has been worth it.

“While starting new businesses can be risky, the risk is much more bearable when you're supporting a product that you truly love and believe in," says Yen. “Women are so unbelievable, capable, and inspiring when it comes to starting businesses. I advise other women to delve into ideas and concepts that they're truly passionate about, and to give it their best shot. If it's something you're passionate about, then it's worth the risks."

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Self

Lessons Learned and the Power of Turning 50

Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.

I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.

I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.

Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.

My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.

I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.

When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.

So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.

Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.

And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.

This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.

I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.

I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.