As an Aussie born in the 1970s, Nina Gajic (above) grew up believing her skin needed to be “squeaky clean”.
It was a mantra that led to her over-washing several times a day – in turn leading to a years-long battle with constantly irritated and sensitive skin.
It eventually got so bad even water that wasn’t completely pure could cause her to break out in hives.
After trying everything dermatologists prescribed, Nina had her light-bulb moment: she needed to strengthen her skin barrier.
But it would be another 10 years of study and research before she could finally feel confident and comfortable in her own skin – and launch her own skincare range: Skin Virtue.
Now a mother, Nina hopes her four-year-old daughter Natalija will grow up with a better understanding of how to care for her skin – and, importantly, its own natural protective barrier against environmental damage.
“Busy women don’t prioritise their health or their skin care as they are busy looking after kids, working and socialising,” Nina says. “Young women just buy makeup to try to cover up skin problems.
“Aussie women really need to focus on their health and the health of their skin and create a night-time routine before bed.”
Nina hopes to take Skin Virtue global and help empower women everywhere to properly protect – and be comfortable in – the skin they were born with, no matter how “problematic” it might be.
“When I was a teenager having breakouts, I would cancel plans to go out and just stay home – I was miserable,” she says. “Bad skin can be so debilitating and isolating for teenagers.
Sydney-based Nina, 44, explains she had a long and hard struggle with teenage breakouts and skin irritation but, in trying to make it better, she only made it worse.
“I damaged my skin. I stripped it of all its natural protections and ended up with hyper-sensitivity,” she says. “When I was a teenager, I was led to believe that clean skin was clear skin – in fact, people used the term ‘squeaky clean’ – so I would over-wash my skin. I was led to believe that natural oils were bad and were causing my breakouts.
“A dermatologist even advised me to use a surgical handwash to clean my face to remove bacteria. Can you imagine? That’s like washing your face in hospital-grade hand sanitiser.
“It was very bad, I was over-washing my face and stripping my skin of its natural barrier that should have been protecting it.”
She says a dermatologist-prescribed treatment – even at its lowest dose – caused her harsh side effects such as burning and stinging, leading to dry skin that peeled and cracked. “It was wreaking havoc on my skin, I just couldn’t tolerate it,” she says.
A steroid treatment seemed to be the answer she was looking for – it cleared and calmed her skin. But she didn’t realise it was taking its own toll.
“I had no idea at the time it was just masking the problems while destroying my skin,” she says. “After a few years my skin was really thin, allergic and sensitive. I had badly damaged my skin’s natural barrier so that it was no longer able to protect me from allergens.
“Everything was causing me hives and I was taking antihistamines daily. The inflammatory markers in my blood were elevated and I became severely allergic to airborne particles.
“I was seeing immunologists in Australia and Europe and I went through being desensitised twice – which took up four years of my life.”
It was not until a dermatologist remarked that her skin was like that of a baby which had not yet developed its protective barrier that it all finally made sense.
What followed was more than 10 years of research, testing and re-testing – during which time the former marketing and management professional returned to university to study an undergraduate degree and become a cosmetic chemist – before Skin Virtue was born.
“It took us a long time to come up with our unique formula, we kept changing things up and making our products better,” she says of the skincare range she developed and launched with her husband, Gary, and a team of leading dermatologists and scientists at their lab in Udine, in northeast Italy.
The couple recently launched the first Skin Virtue retail range in Australia, with more products due to launch soon. While they set out to develop products for people with sensitive skin, the range is suitable for all teenagers, women and men.
The 19 available products all contain antioxidants, with specific products targeted to different skin types, conditions and ages by helping the skin repair and reinforce its own natural protections so moisture within is preserved while harmful bacteria is kept away.
Nina says skin types are genetically determined – you are born with the skin you are in – but many women do not understand how to identify skin types, which can make it confusing when choosing products.
Nina’s mission is to help Aussie women take better care of their skin – and their health.
She recently underwent surgery and treatment for an aggressive and invasive breast cancer, and part of the profits from Skin Virtue’s latest range will be donated to the Breast Cancer Foundation.
DIFFERENT SKIN TYPES: WHICH ONE ARE YOU?
Skin Virtue is divided into three ranges of products targeting different skin types: the Super Clear Collection is for skin prone to oiliness, or so-called combination skin; Pure Nourish is for “normal” skin and Future Advanced is for all skin types but targeting ageing skin concerns.
Oily skin types have overactive sebaceous glands leading to shiny skin, enlarged pores and breakouts. Combination skin refers to oily skin with dry patches, usually caused by harsh treatments trying to combat the oiliness only to end up with damaged patches.
Normal – or “balanced” – skin appears to have no visible concerns but, be warned, it can quickly end up dryer and more wrinkly than other skin types if not properly nourished as we age.
Dry skin types have under-active glands and a lack of moisture to protect and hydrate the skin.
All these skins types also eventually become ageing skin, showing signs of dehydration, volume loss, sagging and wrinkles, and uneven tones and pigmentation.
About: Skin Virtue is an Australian range of skincare products designed for people with sensitive skin but suitable for all skin types. It is designed to create healthy skin through a synergy of science and nature, using a three-phase system focusing on a healthy skin barrier, skin cell longevity, and targeted treatment. The range is cruelty-free – no ingredients or products are tested on animals – and has a high concentration of clean ingredients. Skin Virtue products are available from skinvirtue.com.au and selected beauty salons.