Co-Founder And Cosmetic Chemist Joyce De Lemos Takes Us Inside Dieux’s Product Development Process

While Charlotte Palermino and Marta Mae are the more forward-facing of the trio of founders at Dieux, cosmetic chemist Joyce de Lemos is the one cooking up the products that give the cool-girl skincare brand its credibility.

De Lemos got her beauty industry start at L’Oréal, where she worked in the active cosmetics division on products for SkinCeuticals, La Roche-Posay, Kiehl’s Since 1851 and Vichy. She moved on from L’Oréal to manufacturer Cosmax and personalization-focused brand Function of Beauty before venturing out on her own as a formulator and teaming up with Palermino and Mae to create Dieux.

Today, Dieux, which has registered 300% year-over-year sales growth, has four products: its bestselling $25 reusable Forever Eye Mask, $69 Deliverance Serum, $45 Instant Angel moisturizer and $44 Auricle Eye Gel. De Lemos tells us cleansers will be added to the lineup soon, and she also has her sights set on body care.

Ahead, we chat with de Lemos about her love of science, Dieux’s formulation process, products you’ll find in her skincare routine that aren’t from her brand, and why she’s not a fan of clean beauty.

What sparked your interest in science?

Both of my parents are immigrants, and they went to work for hours and hours. So, when I got home from school, I watched a lot of television. Mainly, I watched science television and PBS. I watched shows like “Bill Nye The Science Guy,” “Beakman’s World” and “3-2-1 Contact.” They always did experiments, and I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.

We didn’t have a lot of money, so we couldn’t buy cool chemistry sets that all the kids had. I would go into the bathroom—I specifically remember my aunt’s bathroom—and take all of her Avon and Mary Kay products, dump them into her sink and try to make stuff explode. I often got in trouble for that. I did all of the Bill Nye experiments. I liked the idea of discovering how things worked. I knew that was always something that I wanted to do.

When I went into high school, that’s when I took my first chemistry class, and I was really good at it. I had these dreams of being a genetic engineer because I thought that was something really cool. Then, when I actually got to college and I took a genetics class, I was really terrible at it. Also, it was not interesting at all. I ended up taking biochemistry with the idea that I would still live within the science industry, not really sure of what I wanted to do with it.

When I got out of college. I started working for a pharmaceutical company known as Gilead. They’re most famous for revolutionizing AIDS and HIV therapy and also recently creating Remdesivir, which is the intravenous therapy for COVID. I worked there for five years. Coming out of college, it was like, this is cool because we get a lot of benefits and I get paid a lot, but, after five years, I thought it’s very mundane and kind of soulless.

I Googled fun things to do with a biochemistry degree, and two careers caught my eye. One was food science, and the other was cosmetic science. I didn’t even know that cosmetic science was actually a career. I found a master’s program in cosmetic science in Teaneck, New Jersey at Fairleigh Dickinson.

You started working on Dieux in 2018, and it launched two years later, right?

I met Charlotte at the end of 2018. We were both leaving job roles we weren’t satisfied with. We had really bad experiences, and we wanted to create a company that was really different, a company that was more intentional than what we had seen that was science-backed, transparent and honest. I wanted to create a company that was a fun place to work.

The evolution of Dieux skincare has been one of the best experiences ever. In the beginning, it wasn’t called Dieux, it was called something else, and Charlotte had this idea for more of a CBD-focused company. I prompted her with the question, “Why do you want to do CBD?”

She was like, “It has a lot of benefits.” I said, “Does it?” She’s coming from a different perspective in terms of marketing and following certain trends. I was like, “Let’s look into the literature and actually see what the benefits are.” CBD, at the time, was kind of snake oil, and it was touted to alleviate sore joints, decrease anxiety and help you sleep better.

It was really awesome to go through the literature with her and figure out that, it’s not just CBD, it’s actually a combination of cannabinoids that could be therapeutic. Also, it’s not 500 milligrams of this ingredient in a body lotion because that makes no sense anyways, but it’s being really thoughtful about putting percentages of these cannabinoids in the formula and then testing them to make sure that they work. That discovery was a great learning experience for us. That was the evolution of our first product, which is Deliverance.

What we want to do is take the process that we used in developing Deliverance and apply it to all of the products we create moving forward. We haven’t done this, but if we wanted to do, let’s say, a vitamin C serum, we want to ask ourselves: Why are we doing this? Is there an ingredient that’s superior to anything that’s already out there? Is this product going to be superior? How is it going to be superior? Is it going to be more stable? Is the packaging better than all the other packaging that’s out there? Are we getting a better carbon footprint in manufacturing this versus our competitor?

Dieux ran a clinical study on the formulation for its serum Deliverance to determine the dose of cannabinoids that works to soothe the skin.

What were challenges you encountered in the early days of development?

The major challenge was just doing the work that had never been done before. Typically, when you create a formulation, you work with a lot of raw material suppliers. They pitch you, “This is the best vitamin C derivative, you should use it in this formula, we’ve done all this research on it. We know that, if you use it at 0.2%, this is the effect that you’ll get.”

With the cannabinoids that we wanted to study, none of that had been done. I was talking earlier about people putting cannabinoids in lotion at 500 milligrams, right? That doesn’t even make any sense because it’s not like you’re dosing out one tablespoon of lotion on your body. When you’re talking about ingredients and formulas, you’re always going to want to talk about percentages. That’s one example of how that transition into skincare was opaque at the time and was something we needed to figure out.

We needed to figure out, what’s the best delivery system for our cannabinoids? What were the percentages? Where are we even going to source these cannabinoids from? We took this ingredient that was only known for being ingested, brought it over into skincare and jumped through all of the hoops to make sure that we did all of the quality control measures to make sure that it was up to standard.

What other testing does Dieux do?

We do clinical testing for every formulation. For Deliverance, we did an initial study to determine the percentages that were going to be efficacious in terms of helping to soothe the skin and symptoms of irritation. I don’t want to say alleviate irritation because that would be a pharmaceutical, but address skin concerns like that.

Then, we also did a study to demonstrate how efficacious it was when applied on the skin one time a day. We’re actually probably going to repeat that study and do it twice a day just to see if we can get even better data and just more information. We’re always about collecting tons and tons of information. For Instant Angel, we did a study on moisturization and fine lines and wrinkles, which turned out really, really great. For the eye gel, we also did one for fine lines and wrinkles to understand how the formula works.

How long does it take to develop a product from concept to release? 

I would say anywhere from a year to a year and a half. That’s fast. For example, when I created Triple Lipid for SkinCeuticals, that took almost four years, and it took one year to approve one ingredient. That’s because a company like L’Oréal is huge, and it’s slow. It’s great that there are all these controls in place, but then you’re not as nimble as we are.

What’s great about working for this company and having an in-house chemist is that I can act as the control system, which allows us to move more quickly. It’s so much easier to make pivots when we need to. When we’re going through challenges, we’re not really the company that dwells on it and is like, OK, well, we have to delay this, and it’s going to be a big problem. We’re like, OK, well, how can we fix this? What’s an appropriate pivot for this so that we can meet our goals?

When you’re developing a new product, what are your considerations? 

We’re always asking ourselves, what problem are we trying to solve? What makes this product different in a way? Is there an ingredient that we want to amplify here? Is there a certain technology that we feel like the world should be aware of? Is there a type of packaging that we want to amplify?

For the eye masks for example, that was something that we wanted to do to initiate the conversation on creating things that you use for a very long time versus being single use. We wanted to drive the industry toward that direction. We did the same thing with the aluminum refill packaging for the eye gel.

What we want to do is set an example with the products that we’re creating. Of course, we want to put the best products out there, but we also want to encourage other brands to start thinking in the same way that we do, being more intentional about putting stuff out there, not necessarily launching just for the sake of launching stuff and following trends. So, that’s what our product development process is.

If we want to go into the nitty gritty, there’s long conversations between me, Charlotte, Marta and the rest of the team. At the top of the year, there’s probably 40 different products that we all want to create. Then, we’re like, wait a minute, what do we really need? That’s when I go through the checklist that I’m talking about.

What’s it like working with the two other founders? You all have your specialities, but are you involved in social media? 

I’m not as involved in social media, and it’s not because we’re being siloed or anything like that, it’s just not really my wheelhouse. I know that Charlotte wishes that I did a little bit more because she believes that I can do it, but it’s not really my thing.

What’s really amazing about us is that we all own our own sphere in the company. Marta helms creative, and she is amazing at what she does. I have complete 110% trust in what she does because it’s been so successful in the past and her work ethic is crazy. The same with Charlotte in terms of running the company as CEO and handling all of our marketing strategy.

I think they feel the same about me doing product development. They trust that I can formulate everything. That’s what really makes us work. It’s been the best partnership I could have ever asked for, honestly.

Dieux currently has four products: its bestselling $25 reusable Forever Eye Mask, $69 Deliverance Serum, $45 Instant Angel moisturizer and $44 Auricle Eye Gel.

What do you think about beauty TikTok?

I love TikTok, I’m on it all the time. Misinformation in media is not new, it’s always been around. Is it frustrating? Yes. Is it disappointing to see people touting stuff that isn’t true? Yes, especially when it comes to cosmetics and the conversations with fearmongering and clean beauty, which ingredients to use and which ingredients to stay away from.

It gets you down a little bit sometimes because people believe what they read or what they see on TikTok sometimes, but, like I said, that’s always kind of been the case with media. Our responsibility as a company and as individuals in the company is to just provide as much accurate information as we can and help educate people as much as we can by using TikTok and social media.

What are your thoughts on clean beauty?

Well, I don’t believe in it, and that’s just because there is no regulation. You go to Sephora, and they have a list of ingredients they think are clean or not clean. You go to EWG, which gives you a list of what ingredients are safe and not safe based on subjective reasoning. You go to a company like Credo, who has a very, very strict list of what’s clean and what’s not clean. There’s no standardized or regulated idea of what is clean. Because of that, people have taken this idea of clean and ran with it as a marketing tool.

If you want to say that all these products are clean, that’s fine, but does that make all the other products dirty? That just doesn’t make any sense to me. I think that a lot of times companies, especially smaller companies that want to ride the trend of clean, are selling themselves short, especially in terms of formulation, because a lot of the ingredients that they use as clean substitutes aren’t as efficacious, are not as elegant or are just not as great as the ingredients that aren’t clean.

A great example of this is natural fragrances. There’s no standard for what is considered a natural fragrance, but a lot of people are like, well, I only use essential oils in my product versus a synthetic fragrance. The truth is that, when you have an essential oil in your product, there’s no real standardization there because it comes out of a plant, and then it’s pressed for the oil or vacuum distilled or whatever.

Every single season, all of the components in that plant can be different based on the environment. We’re talking different levels of allergens, different levels of aroma. It’s just not going to be standardized. If you create a synthetic fragrance, you’re able to put 0.0001% of this particular molecule in there and ensure that every single time that you make it has this amount of that ingredient in it.

A lot of the conversations came from the intention of doing good, but the lack of science knowledge and also clarity plus the addition of fear has steered the ship in not a great direction.

The Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act passed late last year. Do you think it’s a step in the right direction? 

I definitely think so. In conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission on what type of claims people make, it’s really, really helpful and a step in the right direction to have some kind of control or standardization because right now it is kind of the wild, wild West, which was what we saw with cannabinoids.

I saw a CBD balm on the market that was like, hey, use this on your joints and it will calm inflammation, but then use it on your temples when you have anxiety or you can eat it. Like, what? It makes no sense.

What brands or products other than your own would we find in your medicine cabinet?

For sunscreen, I currently use Hawaiian Tropic Weightless Hydration for the face, and it’s literally $10.49 on Amazon. The Neutrogena [Ulta Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen] product that I used to use changed the formula. It’s more chalky and whitening than it used to be.

Probably every other night I use The Ordinary’s glycolic toner just on the sides of my nose because I got a lot of pore congestion around the area. About once a week I use Baby Steps by Chemist Confessions, the peel. Then, to calm my skin, I use Phyto Corrective Gel by SkinCeuticals if I want to treat myself to a weekend mask, and I’m also testing our own cleansers.

Other than cleansers, are there categories or products you want to really explore?

The body space is one I really want to explore, making body products that are just as good, just as efficacious as they are on the face, but affordable. I think a lot of companies don’t want to make good formulas for body because it’s got to come in a giant hub or a 10-oz. bottle, and it’s still got to be priced accordingly. I think that Nécessaire and Soft Services are doing a good job in that category right now, so I’m interested in helping them build out that space.

What’s next for Dieux?

We want to round out our offerings by providing a cleanser that makes sense for everyone. We want to get something that’s intentional in terms of refillability and also price. That’s one of our biggest goals.

Also, I think we want to launch an SPF at some point. That’s really one of our top priorities, and we’ve been working on it for a very long time. There are a couple other formulas that are pretty cool, but I can’t really talk about those because they have really interesting ingredients. I guess you can say that we’re working with ingredients that haven’t been used before.