These Crazy Beauty Discoveries Will Blow Your Mind

Photo: Courtesy of BrushPearl.
Sake. Salmon enzymes. Dirt. If you've ever come across any of these unlikely beauty ingredients, we imagine your response probably went from giving said product the side-eye to asking yourself (or a lucky sales rep): "How do they come up with this stuff?" Good question.

Every brand has a backstory. Some were born from random-ingredient discoveries, while others began because someone was just in the right place at the right time. Some brag that their beginnings add to the allure of their unique products, while others opt to keep their cards close to their chests. The companies ahead were willing to open up to us about their surprising starts. Behold, some of the craziest beauty discoveries out there.

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SK-II's Sake Bomb
Skin care and — sake? With a story that combines two of our favorite things, it's no wonder SK-II has a permanent place on our vanities. During a visit to a sake brewery in Kobe, Japan, a scientist noticed that the elderly workers' hands were particularly smooth in comparison to their facial features. (Spoiler alert: Click through this slideshow and you'll find that the best beauty discoveries begin with the hands.)

The scientist tapped a team of researchers to uncover evidence that would support his observation. Sure enough, the team credited the condition of the workers' hands to a potent extract that released during the yeast-fermentation process, which the brand would later name Pitera. As the "secret key" ingredient of all SK-II products, Pitera offers hydration and promotes cell turnover for soft, youthful, dewy skin.

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, $165, available at SK-II.
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Belif's Dirty Little Secret
Researchers at Belif were already on it when they began looking into peat as a potential key ingredient for a future anti-aging line. According to the brand's marketing manager Sarah Yu, peat is a natural accumulation of mineral-rich extracts, floral components, microorganisms, and pure glacial waters at arctic-chill temperatures. Belif originally had the idea to look into peat as the brand was familiar with the ingredient's historical legacy. "Ancient Egyptians and Romans used peat to treat common skin conditions because of its mineral-rich components, and modern-day Finns often use it to create mud masks," says Yu. But what happened next created an even bigger urgency for the team to bring the miracle-working ingredient to the market.

"While we were testing peat found in the Lehtosuo region of Finland, we found the story of the Bog Man Mummy, which had been uncovered in the peatlands in the 1950s," says Yu. "The form of the mummy's eyes, nose, and mouth [was] intact, and the body's exterior had been well preserved while the organs and bones had decomposed." Scientists have credited this to the protective properties of the peatlands. You've got to see this for yourself.

So, what's the secret behind this magic, well, dirt? Its main components are humic and sulfic acids, which are known to help improve cell turnover, increase skin elasticity, and tighten pores. Its high antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties were able to preserve the Bog Man's skin for all those years. This certainly takes banishing dead skin to a new, mind-blowing level.

Belif's Peat line is currently only available in South Korea, but will hit Sephora shelves in the U.S. this fall. After getting our hands on a few samples, you can take our word for it — it will be worth the wait.
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BrushPearl's Paranoia Payoff
Germophobia can be a debilitating condition, but in Katie Barnard's case, it led her to the development of BrushPearl — a system for keeping makeup brushes squeaky-clean. "I'm a germophobe, so having clean makeup brushes has always been important to me," says Barnard. "But I dreaded the task of cleaning them. Traditional methods seemed counterintuitive because they all involved scrubbing these delicate tools, which can ruin them, and the mess that came from having to leave the brushes to dry all over my bathroom counter drove me crazy."

During a routine visit to her dentist, the self-proclaimed neat freak inquired about how the tools that her dentist was going to use were cleaned. His answer triggered an "aha" moment for Barnard. "I knew that the dentist used these tools on other patients, so I asked how he sterilized them. He explained that an ultrasonic cleaner was used, and I instantly thought: Ultrasonic cleaning should work for makeup brushes, too!"

Barnard defines an ultrasonic cleaner as a device that transmits high-energy, high-frequency sound waves in a fluid-filled container. Such cleansing systems are commonly used not only for dental equipment but also for jewelry and even guns. She went on to consult ultrasonic manufacturers who worked with dental tools to create the three-cycle innovation, which works by producing millions of tiny, powerful bubbles that implode a pressure wave that reaches deep into every nook and cranny of each brush, dislodging makeup from the bristles.

Barnard also concocted the BrushPearl Cleanser, a paraben-, sulfate-, and petrochemical-free wash to gently cleanse makeup brushes with the machine. That reminds us — we're well overdue for a brush cleaning. (And a dentist appointment.)

BrushPearl, $99, available at
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Restorsea's Fishy Situation
Fresh out of Harvard Business School, Patti Pao landed her first job in the R&D (research and development) department at Avon, where she and her team discovered a game-changing ingredient that you're probably familiar with by now. It's a little something called glycolic acid. Ring any bells? Twenty years (and 400 product developments later), Pao stumbled upon another groundbreaking ingredient that she would eventually call her own.

In an effort to get out of a hike she was dreading through the fjords of Bergen, Norway, with a group of adventure-seeking business associates, Pao slyly convinced her partners to take a detour to a salmon hatchery. During a tour of the hatchery, which practiced synchronized hatching — a technique in which 200,000 salmon fry are born at the same time — Pao noticed that the workers' hands appeared significantly more youthful than their faces. (Didn't we tell you hands would make another appearance?) Turns out, the fountain of youth has been a fishy Norwegian birthing tub all along. And as nearly a quarter of a million salmon fry were born, so was Restorsea.

"When it's ready to hatch, the salmon fry releases a unique enzyme that only digests dead skin cells and leaves living skin intact," says Pao, who would eventually patent the enzyme now known as Aquabeautine XL, first discovered and researched by Dr. Bernt Walther, professor of molecular biology at the University of Bergen in Norway. "Other exfoliants, such as AHAs, retinoids, and glycolic acids, chemically burn through layers of dead and living skin, causing inflammation and flakiness," she says. The brand's Vibransea complex, a blend of Aquabeautine XL, brown algae, and vitamin C, can be found across Restorsea's product line to soften and even out all skin tones.

Restorsea Pro Firming Eye Serum, $85, available at Restorsea.
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Avon's Bookish Beginnings
By now, you're likely familiar with Avon and its traveling sales reps — or at the very least its Mega Effects Mascara, which is winning in the lengthening department. But did you know that the billion-dollar company was founded by a book salesman?

"David McConnell started out as a traveling book salesperson and offered beauty products (specifically fragrances) as a perk to his female customers," says a brand rep. When McConnell noticed that these clients were more interested in the free beauty samples than his books, he began recruiting them as sales reps. "He saw women struggling to make ends meet, and recognized in many of them natural salespeople who could easily relate to other women and passionately market the products his new company would first sell — perfumes." He began creating fragrances in a small NYC office, and eventually named the company Avon after the English town Stratford-upon-Avon to reflect his intention for it to grow into an international business.

Today, four Avon lipsticks and two mascaras are sold every second across the globe. Guess you really can speak success into existence.

Avon True Color Perfectly Matte Lip Color, $9, available at Avon.
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Appriya's Swimming-Pool Discovery
The concept of using mineral water for skin-care dates back to the days when Evian bottles were more for spritzing than drinking. And if you've ever used one of the many mineral-water mists that have followed the trend since, there's a good chance you'd bathe in it if you could — and that's exactly what Oui Coulson, founder of indie skin-care brand Appriya, did.

It all started when Coulson's cousin, who lives in her native Thailand, unknowingly built a new house on top of an aquifer that filtered drinkable mineral water throughout her home — including into her pool. "It was pure accident," says Coulson of her cousin's discovery. "She couldn't figure out why her pool water would turn a rust color whenever she treated it with chemicals, so she had it tested and discovered that the water was classified by the World Health Organization [WHO] as light mineral water — the same quality as Fiji Water."

Coulson's cousin noticed major improvements in her skin after taking dips in the pool, and encouraged her guests, including Coulson when she visited, to experience it for themselves. "I took a swim and instantly noticed that my feet were really soft, and by the next morning, mosquito bites on my legs had completely dried up," says Coulson. "As a Thai woman with darker skin, mosquito bites usually cause hyperpigmentation, which leaves me with polka dots on my legs for months. I also noticed that my 17-year-old cousin's terrible acne flare-ups had dried as well."

Two years later, Coulson (who comes from a finance background) enlisted her good friend Dikka Amuchastegui to help bring Appriya, a line of products anchored by the mineral water found in her cousin's backyard, to consumers. "Dikka and I are businesswomen but we're also product junkies, so we approached the brand from a consumer point of view."

The water has a mineral cocktail of silica (for boosting collagen and elastin) and hydrogen peroxide (to promote healing), and allows skin to better absorb active ingredients like colloidal gold; horse-chestnut extract; vitamins A, C, and E; and more.

Appriya Mineral Complex Serum, $129, available at Appriya.
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Hand Chemistry's Little White Lie
Hand Chemistry's story is basically a workaround. When the brand's founder Brandon Truaxe left his job at a major Canadian beauty company, he was slapped with a non-compete clause that inhibited him from creating anti-aging facial skin-care products for three years.

Out of frustration, Truaxe had the idea to work around the clause by formulating hand lotions with the same powerful benefits of a daily face cream. (There go those hands again!) "Hand aging is completely ignored," says Truaxe. "If you use a cream on your face, everyone would assume it has some anti-aging properties. But if you use a hand cream, people assume it's just a moisturizer."

Within eight months, Hand Chemistry's first product launched at Boots in 2013 and has since developed into a range of hand lotions so good, consumers are raving that they double as facial creams — a message that is not approved by Truaxe (at least not until the three-year clause is up, obvs). "The original Hand Chemistry instructions said: 'Apply to hands and body areas as needed. Can you use product on the face? Indeed not.'" Just google Truaxe's former employer and you'll surely catch the wordplay.

Hand Chemistry Intense Youth Complex, $20, available at Chemistry Brand.
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