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


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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How This CEO Is Using Your Period To Prevent Chronic Diseases

With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.

For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.

Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."

There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."

“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"

-Anna Villarreal

Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.

How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.

So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."

To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."

These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.

A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.

To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."

How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.

Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."