Marya Khalil grew up in Miami Beach with a Cuban mother, Cuban grandparents and a Lebanese father. Khalil started suffering from acne as a teenager and being that her dad was a doctor, he discovered there was great opportunity in a market lacking skincare products for women with darker skin. He then founded VI Peel and VI Derm and grew it to become a successful skin care company. When Marya’s father passed away, she stepped up as CEO and President of the company making her dad’s goals her own: “He wanted women across the globe to feel as beautiful on the outside as they are on the inside… My goals are absolutely his goals.”
Marya Khalil: My house smelled like something delicious at all times- be it bistec empanizado or kibbeh. My Grandmother looked like Elizabeth Taylor and most of the time my grandfather was riding around Miami on his jet ski! There was always a herd of little girls at my house and loud music blaring. My parents never took anything for granted. My mom had to flee Cuba in 1963 and my father left Lebanon during civil unrest. They taught us to appreciate the moments, make the most of what we have, and to be grateful for the opportunities that America had given us. But above all, education was extremely important because while material things could be taken away, an education could not. And now, one of my sisters is a lawyer and the other is studying to become a doctor, and I’m running the company.
LT: How did your Cuban and Lebanese roots mix? What was more influential?
MK: Asking which culture was more influential is like asking me what I love more, my mother’s vaca frita or hand rolled grape leaves from Lebanon. It’s impossible to choose! On the outside, they might seem like two entirely different cultures but Cuban and Lebanese is fire and fire. As a result I’m passionate, strong, and a really good eater. If anything, I am inspired by both cultures, especially the ability of the people to carry on, have a sense of humor, thrive, and create, despite the difficult cards that history has dealt them. Both cultures have an incredible entrepreneurial spirit.
LT: How did your father get his start? When did you become your father’s patient?
MK: My father was an emergency room doctor. He saved lives. He thought he had the answer for everything, and then his 14-year-old daughter got acne. Acne is a very emotional condition, and I became painfully shy and wouldn’t leave the house without makeup on. He hated seeing me suffer and so I became his patient. As a dad, he did what any dad would do — he brought me every product he could find. As a doctor he was perplexed that he couldn’t cure my acne. What he eventually realized was that acne medications and skin peels weren’t designed for my skin tone. That’s when he knew there was an opportunity in the market, because no one was creating safe products for women with darker skin tones like me. So, after comprehensive research and development, he created what we now call the amazing “VI Peel” and the effective “VI Derm” Skincare Line.
LT: Before getting your peel, what was your experience with skin care?
MK: I tried a lot of over the counter products, mostly with active ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, many well-known brands that market to teens. They helped but not enough. The goal is always to stop the acne before scars form. I was 14, and getting a teenager to do anything consistently is pretty much impossible.
LT: Does your mother/other family members struggle with blemishes?
MK: My father had the most perfect complexion. My mother still struggles with acne. It’s genetic and there’s no real “cure” only ways to control and minimize it. Our acne is hormonal, and therefore is completely ruled by our body.
LT: What was it like to take over as President and CEO?
MK: I had been working with the company since 2010, but when I took over as CEO and President in 2013 it was very intimidating. My father had suddenly passed away and it was not by choice that I took the position. I remember it took me months to change my business cards and email signature because I was in denial. It’s not that I didn’t believe in myself, it’s just that my dad left a huge void that I knew would be hard to fill. Now, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else as my top priority has always been to keep my father’s legacy blooming. That’s why I love what I do because I believe in it and because I know all the work I do every day is making my dad happy up there.
LT: What is your average day as CEO?
MK: It’s crazy! I start writing and reading emails the moment my eyes are open, I have a bad habit of sleeping with my cell phone cuddled next to me. I normally wake up at 5 AM to workout. We have a modest operation so many of us wear a few hats. I answer emails as I am receiving them. On average I receive about 250 emails a day. At the moment I handle most of the international distributors so there are usually some that need some kind of help. I would love to see our distribution grow in the South American Market this year! Whenever there is a customer service issue it usually comes to me for a final opinion. After lunch we have our marketing department meetings which are always exciting. We catch up on what we are working on separately, we plan our events and trade shows, we create marketing materials, and make changes to the website. By afternoon I’ll probably be meeting with our VP regarding our national sales team. I usually don’t head out until 7 or 8 so I don’t have to sit in traffic for over an hour. I’m sharpening my Spanish so I listen to CNN en Español on the radio on most of my car rides!
LT: What is your #1 piece of beauty advice?
MK: Think of skincare like you think of dental care. It is essential to brush and floss your teeth daily, but that’s not enough. If you don’t make sure to have a professional cleaning done at least twice a year, you may later develop major oral health issues. Same with skincare, while it’s essential to exfoliate on a superficial level every day, you need to have a professional chemical peel 3-4 times a year to ensure your skin conditions do not worsen to a point where they become costly and/or painful to treat.
LT: What is your must-have beauty product?
MK: Other than our skincare line, would have to be Oxygenetix foundation. It’s a foundation that contains Ceravitae Complex, a patent-pending formula proven to increase oxygen uptake, stimulate skin cell productions. It is a dream. I use it year round, in the daytime and evening. It’s also a great breathable foundation to use during and after the VI Peel because it helps promote the healing process and shortens downtime. I use our VI Derm Vitamin C gel as a primer underneath.
LT: Best advice you ever received for business and beauty?
MK: To get lots of advice from lots of people! It’s so important to surround yourself with great advisors and a great talent network, that way if you don’t know the answer, and even if they don’t know the answer, they will know where to find it! I’m never afraid to ask A LOT of questions- even if they’re “common sense”. I like to do my research and make very informed decisions. Being a CEO can be lonely, so not only do I have an exceptional business mentor, I’m also a part of a group called Vistage. Vistage International is a Peer-to-peer membership organization for CEOs, business owners and executives of small- to mid-size businesses. For beauty,it would be my dad’s VI diet that was created to help improve acne prone skin. The diet can even help anyone who is looking to lose weight or have a healthier lifestyle. The idea behind the VI regime is to dilute your sugars and carbohydrates with a meal, rather than avoiding them all together. The VI regime simply teaches you the right time to eat carbs to avoid excess sugar entering the blood stream. This leads to lower peeks of sugar in the blood. Sugar on an empty stomach quickly absorbs into the bloodstream, causing a steep rise of insulin. Insulin is the signal for the body to store fat and also through a cascade of reactions can cause 5-DHT (5 Dihydrotestosterone), which can aggravate acne and may cause accelerated hair loss. This diet has not only helped with my skin, but it’s really helped me stay fit most of my life with little effort!
LT: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? And where do you see VI?
MK: I’m getting married later this year in Miami so of course I see myself married probably with a couple kids, but definitely still dedicating my life to VI. By then we will have expanded our peel and skincare line, and probably have added a few unique beauty products to our portfolio, not necessarily all skincare.
LT: What are the benefits of the VI peel?
MK: The VI Peel is a painless medium depth chemical peel that can be used on all skin types and tones. There is little downtime and the astounding results can be seen in less than 7 days, so it’s really practical even for those with busy schedules. It treats almost any concern you may have with the look of your skin: Dullness, enlarged pores, unevenness, fine lines, aging, hyperpigmentation, and acne just to name a few. The other great thing is it can be used on the body too. Women often neglect their neck, chest, and hands so those areas give their age away.
LT: Who should get when, how frequent, and why?
MK: Chemical peels are one of the oldest aesthetic procedures of all time. Cleopatra used to bathe in lactic acid- so we know they are pretty safe. I’ve been getting them since I was 14 so everyone should get a VI Peel at least 3-4 times a year. The VI Peel is not only a corrective treatment, it is also highly preventative. For those with more mature skin the VI Peel will help speed up the skin cell regeneration process, build collagen, combat the signs of aging, and improve texture and tone. For the younger clients it will help them control their acne and acne scarring, minimize pores, even out skin tone and maintain beautiful skin. It will keep the signs of aging at bay so that later they won’t need to do more invasive treatments.
LT: What is next for VI?
MK: Next we have a brand new serum coming out in March, I don’t want to give too much away, but it will change your skin routine! It’s a really nice product that’s great for all skin types- even oily acne-prone skin like mine. We are also working on a total website revamp. We have a lot of wonderful press and some great VI events happening across the country. VI will be adding more sales talent to our team as well as expanding globally!