I am a consumer. I am just like you. I struggled for years with skin issues and after countless visits to dermatologists and tons of money thrown into skincare products, I was left with minimal positive results. I realized I was just like millions of other women who had nowhere to turn. There were a lot of salespeople telling me; "This will REALLY work," and selling me a lot of products that, in the end, did nothing to help my severe acne and eczema.
It was then that I realized my results were in the ingredients of the products I was using vs. what was being marketed to me. While working on commercial and music video sets as a professional makeup artist, as well as for a top luxury brand, I enrolled in a post-graduate program at UCLA & received a certificate in Cosmetic Chemistry. From there, I learned the truth about what is truly best for the skin, and more importantly, what works and stays working. From this knowledge came SkinOwl, a skincare company that allowed women to feel as good as they looked.
It was from following this path I found that when I made the choice to care for myself on a small level, it opened the door to more impactful and authentic transformations.....and sacrifices. While most everyone I knew were in stable occupations and spending their hard earned money on vacations and certain "life upgrades," I was buying amber glass bottles and living the frugal life of the "self employed." I wasn't around for many of the birthday parties and couldn't attend my friend's weddings, due to the amount of work on my plate and money needing to be spent on the business. I quickly had to learn how to manage my money, my company's money and the many people who would eventually come to work with me. It was a different life than most everyone I knew, which at times felt lonely and out of touch with everyone else's reality. It was most certainly the less traveled path, the harder road, but worth it.
After five years of being an entrepreneur, despite the setbacks, the overdrawn accounts, and the countless lessons learned the hard way, I can honestly say I wouldn't have it any other way. Where there have been sacrifices, there have been gains - I've learned more about myself from growing a business than I would have if I had stayed an employee in my last job. I've met some of the most inspiring people, many of whom I never would have met if I wasn't in need of help and guidance along the way. I've learned the importance of saying no, creating boundaries and saving a little room for forgiving myself if I don't run my business "perfectly."
This is the greatest gift, one that has made me a more well rounded person and has given me a true appreciation for taking a risk and leaving a mark on your time on Earth.
From owning a business, I've realized that my personal life can often collide with my professional life. These are my "Top Five Tips" for igniting selfcare in a world that can easily feel chaotic:
1) Wake up the same time everyday - This creates consistency. From consistency, I am able to go to bed at a certain time and ensure that I'm ready to rock once my alarm goes off.
3) Say No - I've always thought NO was me being negative. Or me not being a team player. But that's only when "No" becomes about the people I'm saying no vs. how it effects me. Saying "No" has allowed me to take stock in my schedule and my bandwidth and see what is genuinely leftover for the people I love and want to share my life with. Without the power of "No," my world will be crowded, chaotic and exhausting.
4) Meditate - I used to hear this all of the time. "Meditate, Annie, it will change your life." I never listened until this year. And everyone was right. There is something about giving yourself 10-30 minutes of silence, mostly with how much information we receive daily. My brain shuts down. It's healthy to give my brain a real rest outside of sleep. It has changed my life.
5) Bring snacks everywhere - Gone are the days that I go 5 hours without eating. This made me tired, cranky, and not as sharp. Now I bring a little bag of snacks with me everywhere, i.e. nuts, dried fruit, dried snap peas, granola, etc. And I hard boil eggs, which makes it easy to grab something full of protein whenever I'm on the go.
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.,"
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."