Living Proof, the MIT-pedigreed beauty brand backed by the actress (and hair icon) unveils a new skin adhesive—think "Spanx" for your face.
FORTUNE — There’s something confusing about Rosemary Moran. Well, more accurately, there’s something confusing about the 63-year-old’s eyes. Viewed separately, each side of Moran’s face tells a very different story. The skin under her left eye appropriately sags, hammocking into a bag befitting of any elderly woman. But the right side? It’s taut–with the healthy puff of a woman 20-years younger.
Moran shows off her curiously uneven look at Living Proof, the beauty company started in 2005 by Polaris Partners that’s raised over $50 million in funding and boasts actress Jennifer Aniston as a spokesperson and investor. Despite its focus on aesthetics, Living Proof’s headquarters are tucked amid biotech giants like Amgen AMGN and Biogen BIIB in Cambridge, Mass. The location’s strategic: It’s blocks away from MIT scientist Robert Langer’s laboratory, where Living Proof products’ technology gets its start.
Neotensil, the clear adhesive that compresses the skin under Moran’s right eye, is the most recent Living Proof development to come from Langer’s team. It was built off of Strateris, a trademarked product developed by Dr. Betty Yu, an expert in trans-dermal drug delivery, and dermatologists Rox Anderson and Barbara Gilchrest. A wearable polymer film that mimics young skin’s strength and elasticity, Strateris sits atop loose skin and reshapes it—think of it as the facial equivalent of Spanx’s tummy-shrinking undergarments. Its effects last for 16 hours, peaking three hours after application.
The complex science behind Strateris isn’t new to Living Proof. Its haircare line – which Aniston is the face of – is also covered in Langer’s fingerprints. “A lot of what we do at MIT is fundamental work that can be applied across the board,” Langer explains. One of the ingredients used in Living Proof’s shampoo, the volumizing Polyalkylaminoester-1 (PBAE), was developed from a library of tens of thousands of polymers that Langer and his colleagues organized to study gene therapy. “By making new polymers, you can solve all kinds of things, whether it’s cancer or gene therapy or haircare.”
Langer forayed into the beauty world because of Polaris founding partner Jon Flint. Despite being dad to two daughters, Flint was never interested in hair and skincare—until he heard about Bumble and Bumble’s 2000 sale to Estée Lauder EL for a reported $100 million. He called a Polaris associate and asked him to gather up industry reports and buy “literally dozens” of hair and skin products. Putting the products side-by-side, Flint realized all the bottles’ ingredients—though formulated differently—were pretty much identical. “This is B.S.,” he said to himself—and immediately called Langer. The duo organized a group of five scientists who had no beauty experience and asked them to come up with hair and skin products that created “results seen across the room.” Langer says the challenge was easy. “The competition was so bad. There was so little innovation compared to what I’d see in the pharmaceutical industry. In a way, it’s like low-hanging fruit.” But a lab full of scientists doesn’t automatically create a household product.
Living Proof brought on Aniston in October 2012. Though it was selling a decent number of products through QVC ($10 million in its first year, says Flint) and storefronts like Sephora and Ulta, it needed some extra starpower to generate buzz. Former PepsiCo Chief Marketing Officer Jill Beraud became the company’s CEO in late 2011 and helped Flint recruit the A-lister. With her longtime hairstylist Chris McMillan, Aniston tested the Living Proof shampoo for three months. The company’s R&D team then took her into their lab, showing her the science behind the shampoos, a tour reminiscent of a high school chemistry class. “And that was the one subject that I was good at,” Aniston laughs.
But there was a catch. Living Proof wanted more than a spokesperson; they wanted someone who was emotionally and financially vested in the company’s success. “I remember thinking, ‘Is this real life?’” says Aniston. She became a co-owner of the company a little over a year ago and launched the Perfect Hair Day campaign with McMillan. Since Aniston joined, Baraud says business has doubled. (Women’s Wear Daily reported that revenue’s around $100 million.)
Aniston isn’t worried about the risk of having a financial stake in the company. “I’m not nervous because I believe in it so much. I’m just waiting for it to happen.” So much so that she assists with product decisions: She recently talked the team out of changing the shampoo’s fragrance and also helped design their soon-to-open storefront in Cambridge. “[To be more than] the face of a product, you’re the much more invested in it and want it to be great. You want it to work. You want it to mean what it says.”
Despite her love of Living Proof’s shampoo, don’t expect Aniston to peddle Neotensil. As the face of skincare brand Aveeno JNJ , the actress isn’t allowed to officially promote another skincare product. But Baraud says Aniston’s able to continue working with both brands because Neotensil’s not competitive with Aveeno products. Neotensil only sells through Valeant’s VRX network of physicians—Living Proof struck a $75 million distribution deal with the pharmaceutical company in January that splits profits 60/40—and costs $500 for 7 weeks of use.
Langer says Neotensil is just the beginning for Strategis. “I’m no expert on what’s going to happen next, but I can say what could happen next.” The platform may be used to solve cellulite, help skin problems like psoriasis and xerosis, or house a long-lasting perfume. “There’s a whole range of medical and non-medical implications where you can put different agents in this kind of Spanx-like cream,” says Langer.
As for Aniston’s hopes for the company? “I just want women to know that there’s something out there that actually works and is worth their money. And that [Living Proof] just keeps growing.”