Do you know where your skincare is made?

Posted by Stephanie Duttenhaver on

A Visit to Our Bespoke Savannah Lab

Written by Beth Logan

I don’t know about you, but I find myself dazed and confused by the plethora of claims made by various skincare lines! Make the mistake of clicking through on a Facebook or Instagram pop-up to learn more about a particular product, and I’m subsequently bombarded by more and more ads and more and more claims.


I read the “science.” I read the reviews. I look at the “before’ and “after’s”.  I Google the ingredients. I research similar products and get overwhelmed by countless beauty bloggers’ lists of the best serums, the best moisturizers, the best whatever. “Who is paying to be on these lists?” I skeptically ask myself, “And how do I know these reviews and these claims are legitimate?”  I try to make sense of the ingredient list (what exactly is Phenoxyethanol or Sodium Phytate anyway?! Do I really want Alcohol and Potassium Sorbate on my skin? Should it be like food where I don’t eat it if I can’t pronounce it?)

 Savannah Lab


 I am clueless.


If this confusion feels familiar, if you have visions of white lab-coated technicians in obscure European countries or China creating chemical-laced concoctions, let me put your mind at ease about the Sapelo Skin Care line…


 Rejuvenating Cream


On a recent sunny June morning I join co-founder Stephanie as she makes her semiweekly visit to the Sapelo lab and manufacturing facility. We arrive at an unassuming building, tucked behind other unassuming buildings off a busy intersection. Could this really be where the magic happens?


Once inside, my first impression is how pristinely clean everything is… how highly organized and labeled every step of the development and manufacturing process seems to be. I tour the laboratories and quality control areas learning how every product undergoes rigorous yeast, mold and antimicrobial testing; is heated in an oven to check its viscosity and to see if it separates; and is monitored to guarantee the exact percentages of each ingredient in every batch. I am shown the storage room (so impeccably tidy and sanitary!) where large and small buckets and pump containers of ingredients are stored in alphabetical order, and I see the gleaming manufacturing room with its 20-, 65- and 300-gallon mixing kettles and production line where bottles and jars are filled, weighed, capped, and coded with their lot number and expiration date before being manually checked and placed into boxes for shipment.

 Sapelo Skin Care Co-Founders, Cindy and Stephanie


Getting back to my confusion about products’ ingredients and their efficacy…I meet with Sapelo’s chief cosmetic chemist, the quiet, deliberately spoken scientist with whom Sapelo co-founders Cindy and Stephanie have partnered since the inception of their skincare line. Michael gives me some eye-opening information about cosmetic ingredient lists (or ingredient decks as he calls them). He explains how two different products’ ingredient lists can look remarkably similar…Most brands start with a high level of water as the first ingredient, and are then loaded with fillers, silicones preservatives and emulsifiers. The rest of the components are usually the advertised “effective” ingredients which, in most cases, make up less than 1% of the whole!


In simpler terms, the fancy cream I saw advertised on Instagram which lists that expensive Rockstar ingredient towards the very top of its deck may only contain less than .001%. The skeptic in me is vindicated!

 Sapelo's lab


Michael goes on to explain how skincare lines may have 30 ingredients “and look like a power-house product, but none of them are over 1% and many are well below.” By comparison, when he formulates Sapelo, Michael works on the best return of raw material by going over the recommended amount to ensure great results. He can use up to 7% for some of Sapelo’s bio-active ingredients.  “To make this a premiere product, I’ll go to the limit of where I think the active will do the best good at the price point. I am over-insuring that the active will do exactly what they said in the clinical study ‘and then some’”.


Michael defines a bio-active ingredient as a compound that penetrates the body so it can be utilized to its best or highest good. Obviously, after the percentage of key bio-active ingredients is pushed as high as it can go, his second consideration is how these ingredients will be delivered. “If you cannot get the bio-active into the skin, it’s not going to help you,” he says. “If it is clogged up with silicones, heavy petroleum products, and other components that do not allow it to absorb, you can look shiny and conditioned on the surface, but the ‘actives’ are not penetrating and going where they need to go…they are sitting in that emulsion on the surface, or they are evaporating, or they are rubbing off. You may have the look-good and the feel-good - but you’re not getting the real good!”

 Where the magic happens


Returning to the key importance of bio-actives, he tells me he used to work for huge beauty companies where ingredients were delivered in railroad cars and were mixed in 10,000-gallon kettles. He would climb a ladder holding a two-gallon pail of active ingredients to add to the two-and-a-half story-high kettle. “A sprinkle of actives was all they used!” he says, “Whereas Sapelo delivers active ingredients of 6 to 7%.  The big skincare companies cannot afford to do that. It’s just not in their business model.”


Because Sapelo is a homegrown prestige brand, the lab is committed to quality by manufacturing in small batches, so the products are always fresh when purchased by the consumer. The affinity between Michael and his team and Sapelo’s founders is clear. “We have become family,” says Stephanie as we finish our tour, “It’s critical to Cindy and me that we make regular visits to confer with the team and to have quality control.  We want to be very hands-on, and as a result, we’ve grown to know and love each and every employee.”

 Sapelo's Two Step System


I finish my visit convinced that Sapelo is truly a bespoke lab. Stepping out into the sunshine of Savannah, Stephanie echoes Michael’s words: “When people use Sapelo, they will get unbelievable results.” She knows she is creating products that make a difference in people’s lives.


And as we know, it is all about the results, not the claims.


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