How It Cosmetics Became A Top-Selling Beauty Brand — Practically Overnight

In the same way The Real World's tagline captivated audiences back in 1992, so did news-anchor-turned-beauty-boss Jamie Kern Lima the first day she stepped foot on stage at QVC in 2010. The theme between the two shows was surprisingly similar, too: No faking it allowed. So to prove the concealer Kern Lima was demoing from It Cosmetics, a relatively new makeup brand she co-founded with her husband a few years prior, covered up redness better than Behr paint, she tried it live, over her own rosacea.
Needless to say, the product sold out in 10 minutes — and It Cosmetics has been on the up-and-up ever since, earning a top-seller spot at both Ulta and Sephora, plus 9,630,000 YouTube video mentions to date. "You can't fake authenticity," Kern Lima tells Refinery29, which is precisely the reason for its enormous fanbase.
Ahead, we're spilling the secrets behind the company's evolution. As you might imagine, it wasn't always polite — but we'll be damned if Kern Lima didn't keep it real.
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2008: Humble Beginnings

It Cosmetics (which stands for Innovative Technology) started out of Kern Lima and her husband's Studio City apartment. The pair worked with a handful of plastic surgeons and dermatologists to curate skin care-focused formulas infused with color — and wrote the business plan on the plane to their South African honeymoon.

"We wanted our products to solve a problem, because no brand was out there doing it yet," she says. "If we start getting distracted, doing 500 eye shadows — which I love, but other brands do that and they do it well — then it won't work. We didn't pay ourselves for three years; every penny went into product development, starting a website, legal stuff, everything. It was really hard."
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2009: The First Products

Kern Lima decided the inaugural products would be face palettes for contouring and highlighting. "This was before contouring was a thing, so it wasn't really successful at the time," she says. "But we stuck to our brand DNA — which was to do the work of a plastic surgeon with makeup. Maybe you love a feature, and you want to bring it out. That's where the contouring kit came in. There are a lot of palettes out there that look identical to it now, but ours was never a big hit. Then again that was eight years ago."

It Cosmetics You Sculpted, $40, available at Ulta Beauty. (Note: This is the revamped version of the contour palette; the original has been discontinued.)
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2010: QVC

Like Cinderella slipping on a glass shoe (or Dorothy losing her ruby red pair), all it takes is one big moment to completely change the storyline. That's what QVC was to Kern Lima — but it wasn't always easy. The network, she tells us, turned her down for two years before serendipitously meeting her at a trade show in NYC and agreeing to let her demo the Bye Bye Under Eye Concealer.

"You only get one shot on air for 10 minutes — if it doesn't sell, you don't come back," Kern Lima says. "I wanted to show that the concealer worked on acne, on hyperpigmentation, on wrinkles, and on rosacea. So I booked models with these real issues, and we put ourselves out there. It was high risk, but it paid off." Now, It Cosmetics is the subject of more than "200 QVC shows a year," she says. Boom.

It Cosmetics Bye Bye Under Eye Concealer, $24, available at Sephora.
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2013: Ulta

Despite the fact that, as of today, It Cosmetics has proven itself as a top-selling brand at Ulta for years, Kern Lima tells us: "Ulta and Sephora still said 'no' to us after we did QVC. I like being open about how many times we got turned down because it's all part of the journey, but you can't let it equate to doubt in your own head. [Signing a deal with Ulta] was big — it opened up our distribution channels so much."
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2013: The Game-Changing Product

It may have taken years (and nearly 200 tries) to get the formula right, but the CC Cream was well worth the wait. Since its launch, the product has skyrocketed to the #1 spot for face makeup on Ulta and Sephora — and boasts more than 10,300 reviews across both sites. "No one had launched a CC Cream yet, only BBs, and even those were really sheer," Kern Lima says.

"We wanted to create something that was one step," she tells R29. "It started out as a moisturizer, and we did a lot of clinical studies on the skin-care ingredients. We infused full-coverage into it and physical sunscreen of SPF 50. I've had a lot of customers tell me this was life-changing for them, and it's because we really took the time to make it perfect."

It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC Cream with SPF 50, $38, available at Sephora.
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2015: Innovations In Skin Care

"The foundation of all of our products is skin care, so it felt like a natural move to launch products that are strictly that," Kern Lima says. "The difference is these are formulation to work for sensitive skin, they won't make your skin worse or break out."
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2016: Making History

When L'Oréal purchased It Cosmetics in February of 2016 for a whopping $1.2 billion (!), Lima resumed her role as CEO in the company. The move landed her in the history books — she became the first female in L'Oréal's 100 plus-year history to head up any of its brands.

"I didn't think we'd ever sell, but we decided to expand globally with Sephora to Australia and South East Asia," she explains. "Regulatory compliance is different in every country, so you have to repackage every product, change the language, SPF, documentation — which is so much work because we have more than 200 products. I wanted to get our message and our products out there, but it was going to be slow. My team was going to collapse. L'Oréal has a huge infrastructure, so I knew they could help us get the products into women's hands globally way faster than we could."
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2017: The Future

Make no mistake: It Cosmetics is not slowing down any time soon. By September of this year, you can expect to see 52 brand-new SKUs, all tailored to a specific problem area. Think: An acne treatment concealer, long-wearing brow powder, redness-reducing correcting cream, budge-proof liquid gel eyeliner, and dozens of more products. If history is any indication here, we'd venture to say the future for It is looking pretty bright.

It Cosmetics Perfect Lighting Radiant Touch Magic Wand, $29, available in September at Ulta Beauty.
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photographed by Jack Pearce and Kenny Wu.
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