photography by Elizabeth Lavin

Dallas-based Actifirm Turns Botanicals
Into Big Business

The local skincare company is changing the face of skincare—one active ingredient at a time.

If you’re going to launch a new skincare company in a marketplace where product loyalty is stronger than most marriages, you’d better be sure you have the moxie to stick it out and the goods to back up your shelf space.

You’d better have what it takes to hydrate longer, moisturize deeper, and exfoliate gentler. And if you just so happen to do all of the above using ingredients consumers can feel good about, then you could be on to something big.

Such is the case for multimillion-dollar skincare company Actifirm, a relatively young pup in the intensely competitive world of personal care products, a global industry that sees more than $250 billion annually in retail sales, according to the Personal Care Products Council. Founded in 1999, North Texas-based Actifirm offers science-based skincare products that use natural active botanicals. In addition to Actifirm’s web site, the products are found in doctors’ offices, med-spas, and resorts across the country, as well as in Dubai, Japan, China, and England. In 2007, annual sales topped $12 million.

What makes Actifirm different is everything. The higher price point with the no-nonsense packaging. All-natural ingredients originally designed to delay the need for plastic surgery as well as nurture the skin post-procedure. And the fact that this little-company-that-could imports many of its raw materials from the most remote farmlands on the planet yet processes, formulates, packages, and ships the entire product line from facilities in the plain-Jane cities of Lewisville and Sherman. Actifirm doesn’t reside in some gorgeous office tower. Instead, it’s based inside a nondescript building in a residential neighborhood where all facets of the company hum together to create each of the 50-plus products.

===“Use anything that might help you find a lump or bump,” says Bishop. Just take a few seconds for yourself.”!==

Pretty With a Purpose

Elysiann Bishop is the face of the brand. Willowy and blond, with hazel eyes wide underneath perfectly curled lashes, she’s smiley and approachable, totally girl-next-door with a boost of sophistication. When Bishop talks about her skincare products, whether the topic is a mask or new cream, she leans into you, her voice sometimes a soft whisper, her gaze stuck to yours until she’s sure she’s explained everything. She’s intense and passionate, thorough in her descriptions, and you’re pretty sure she’s the one teaching the chemists what to mix for the next formula. She’s a self-proclaimed “flower child,” having traveled to faraway places such as Australia and Costa Rica, attending conferences and meeting with chemists and farmers to learn about indigenous sources for products. She can discourse at length about bark, mushrooms, even eyebright.

Talking with Bishop gives you a feeling of inclusion, that using her products means you’re a part of something important. This is because Bishop sees Actifirm as more than a skincare company and believes that a woman who spends time taking care of her skin can possibly help wrangle potential health issues. Case in point: the creation of Actifirm Décolleté Firm, a pink-colored moisturizer and firming product for that oft-neglected area in a woman’s skincare regimen. Bishop says she created this product in honor of a friend who died from breast cancer. Bishop’s thinking is that if a woman uses a product like this to pamper her body, to take time to feel her skin, she might be more in tune with anything out of the norm.

“Use anything that might help you find a lump or bump,” Bishop says. “Just take a few seconds for yourself.”

Taking time for the skin is essential to Actifirm’s philosophy. Every product ingredient—mushrooms, tea leaves, cranberries, cucumbers, pomegranates, bearberry, Echinacea, etc.—is all-natural, picked and processed with precision. Products go through boot-camp-style quality control, with each formula checked multiple times for consistency, viscosity, smell, PH, purity, and efficacy.

“If there are 50 ingredients in a product, we can track all 50,” says Jackie Pack, vice president of customer support for Actifirm.  “We can track it when it arrived, [when it] was used. It’s complete quality assurance.”

Several Actifirm products are made with organic ingredients (meaning they are farmed organically), and the percentage of organic content is noted on the label. For 2009, there will be new products that are officially certified as organic, which means that everything—from the selecting of ingredients to the way the products are stored, manufactured, and processed—must adhere to strict United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic standards. These products will earn the designation once blessed by a USDA-accredited certified organic agent. “We go out of our way to use natural ingredients,” Bishop says.

Total Package

One of the most recognizable things about Actifirm’s products is how they are packaged.  Many of the brand’s products are dispensed through an airless pump, which shuts out potential contaminants. Others are designed in plastic containers shaped like syringes. The plastic on all packaging is transparent so customers can inspect color and fill lines. The result is a clean, sleek skincare line that relies less on the aesthetics on the outside and more on the potency of the actives inside.

As a testament to the Actifirm reputation, the company was selected in May 2008 for a one-hour appearance on QVC, the ubiquitous home shopping network that reaches 166 million households worldwide. The decision to sell products outside of the medical field was a difficult one for Bishop, but ultimately she realized it was a smart way for her to “talk to” her clients.

A spot on QVC is a coveted affair, and a product is accepted for broadcast only after strict requirements are met, including a slew of paperwork documenting authenticity, materials safety, and even the exact composition of each product container. Several Actifirm products have been QVC-approved, and six sold out during that first hour-long show in May, proof of Bishop’s sales skills as well as consumers’ hunger for natural skincare products.

Today, Actifirm’s product line continues to grow, with retail partnerships possibly in place in 2009; new products, including those that will be USDA-certified organic, are planned for an early 2009 release. The company is positioned to keep product development moving forward, with hundreds of formulas being tested and considered. For Bishop, the mission of Actifirm keeps the focus on what matters most to her, which is delivering products that are as natural and powerful as can be.

“It’s a lot of fun being an owner in this industry,” Bishop says. “I want to do this until I’m 80.”


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