Terri Vinson is a cosmetic chemist and founder of Synergie Skin: the ethical, clinical-grade, Australian skincare brand that’s rapidly reaching cult status.
Terri is also the author of Skinformation, in which she not only lifts the lid on the skincare ingredients that work, but also turns the science of skin into a surprising page-turner.
In this interview, Terri opens up about inner confidence, being a late bloomer, and the truth about collagen supplements.
How would you describe your job?
I’m a cosmetic chemist and the Managing Director of Synergie Skin. I oversee the evolution of each product I create, from the initial concept to the final packaged product.
Having all operations under one roof allows me to have influence over every element of my business. All products are innovated and formulated by me, then tested and developed in our onsite laboratory. They are then manufactured in bulk, packaged, labelled, and dispatched from our Melbourne warehouse.
Whilst I’m across the overall strategy and operations of each department, formulating the products really brings me joy. I love working alongside my lab team who help to bring my ideas to life.
What inspired you to work in this area?
I’ve been passionate about science since high school. I had a fantastic biology teacher who inspired me and really gave me confidence in my formative years. She would even create cassette tapes to help me remember my notes!
My adoptive dad was also a huge influence on me and was a feminist before his time. He encouraged me to pursue science even when this was not a popular choice for young girls. After completing my science degree, I did further study to become a senior science teacher, feeling compelled to educate and create curiosity in my students. Ever the teacher, I later transitioned to a role as educator and formulator for a cosmeceutical company.
Whilst my dedication to science was a primary source of motivation, I also loved skincare and the impact it has on inner confidence. I’m a self-confessed nerd and have always been a beauty tragic, and I aspired to one day harness both of these areas. I was a late bloomer as an entrepreneur and didn’t start my business until I turned 40. My work as a cosmetic chemist enabled me to harness both passions in one business.
In my late 30s, I was noticing the first signs of ageing and I saw a huge gap in the market with a lack of highly active, evidence-based and ethical products that were free from potentially harmful ingredients. So, like most entrepreneurs, if you can’t find what you need, you create it yourself! Synergie Skin allowed me to marry my passions for science and beauty.
What does your typical day look like?
I like to start the day with a walk or a 5km run, listening to a podcast on business or science. Then it’s all about fuelling my body with a high-protein, low-carb breakfast and supplements.
My team laugh at me because I take over a dozen supplements and store them in a labelled tackle box…but they all play a supporting role in my health!
I do my best work in the mornings, so I like to work from home for a few hours with little distractions. I might be reading up on scientific data for a new ingredient, writing articles for beauty publications or keeping up with media commitments (such as interviews like this one).
Then it’s time to head into the office and connect with my team (I call them the Synergie family or SynFam for short). Often my lab manager will have R&D samples sitting on my desk ready for me to try and tweak until I perfect the formula. Other days I’ll have strategy meetings with my sales and marketing managers or Zoom calls with my international distributors.
My favourite days in the office are Thursdays because we have our team meetings. They usually end in fits of laughter and someone (me) making a bad Mum joke. No day is ever the same and that’s why it never feels like work to me.
The evening is my time to unwind, spending time with my partner or kids. I’m terrible at meditating, but I find other ways to switch off, like watching a good series or working on a painting.
What does health mean to you?
To me, health is all-encompassing and must be considered on multiple levels. It’s the synergy of physical, mental and social wellness. There is no quick fix; it requires effort, commitment, and maintenance. I dedicate time every day to my health through exercise, nutrition, and mindfulness. I believe you can’t truly savour life’s experiences unless your body and mind are working at their optimal condition.
What do you think are the biggest misperceptions about health today?
One of the biggest misconceptions about health is that there is a one-size-fits-all approach. There isn’t one magic supplement or a fat-removing machine that will bring total health and wellness. Steer clear of the too-good-to-be true ‘shortcuts’ and invest in your long-term health using evidence-based science and by doing things that make your heart and mind sing.
It’s so easy to be swept up by marketing claims and buzzwords. For example, collagen as a supplement and as an ingredient in skincare is huge right now. In my opinion, collagen in skincare is a total waste of money! Collagen is a massive protein molecule that is too large to penetrate the skin. It’s like trying to post a fit-ball in a letterbox!
It is the tiny groups of amino acids in skincare products (aka peptides) that can penetrate and make a difference. Neither collagen supplements nor topical collagen skincare will make a difference to your skin. In terms of nutrition, you’re better off eating a high-quality, organic piece of fish rather than expensive collagen supplements!
How do you look after your skin?
I’ll happily admit that I am a maximalist with my skincare routine. After all, I’m after MAXIMUM results and consider my skincare as an integral part of my daily routine.
– SLS-free cleanser UltraCleanse
– Dermiotic, probiotic and prebiotic balancer
– Vitamin C crystals L-ascorbic acid powder activated with water
– Anti-ageing serum, SuperSerum+
– Eye serum, ImprovEyes
– Elastense neck and decolletage firming cream
– Anti-ageing moisturiser ReClaim
– Mineral Whip foundation as my UVA/UVB/Blue light protection
– Eye cream, ImprovEyes Night
– Elastense neck and decolletage firming cream
– Anti-ageing moisturiser ReClaim
Mediscrub to physically exfoliate (made from the same crystals that are used in microdermabrasion machines).
MasquErase overnight rejuvenation mask or TriDration B express hydration mask.
I also use a home LED machine for skin rejuvenation every second day. This might sound like a lot, but I consider my skin routine as important as brushing my teeth. Once you create the habit, it becomes second nature.
I’d love to say skincare is the only way to make a difference to your skin, but it’s not. I’m holistic in my approach, ensuring my diet consists of lots of fresh vegetables, high-quality proteins, food high in omega 3s, 6s and 9s, staying hydrated, and of course getting enough sleep.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the odd G&T or a glass of oaky chardonnay, but I limit my consumption and keep it in the ‘sometimes’ category.
If you could give just one piece of advice concerning skin, what would it be and why?
No matter who I’m talking to, my number-one tip for long-term skin health is always the same…use broad-spectrum solar protection daily! Solar protection is your insurance policy against ageing and long-term skin damage. In fact, don’t even bother with any other skincare product if you don’t have a great physical sunscreen with a least 20% zinc oxide.
Whom do you look up to, and why?
I have to mention a fellow female scientist, Rosalind Franklin, whose contribution to biochemistry is still influencing my commitment to biology and formulating today.
Franklin is best known for capturing the first images of DNA using X-rays, an achievement that changed the course of biology forever. It led to discovering the DNA double helix.
Because of her accomplishments, today we can measure and understand how many of the ingredients I use, such as retinol and peptides, can influence the DNA of our skin cells!
Brené Brown is a huge inspiration to me. In particular, I love her lessons on vulnerability and perfectionism. ‘There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.’ Some of my most significant learnings as an entrepreneur have come from my mistakes and failures. I have also learned to be brave enough to show vulnerability to those I trust. It has been a truly liberating experience.
Tell us something about you that people wouldn’t expect.
When I was 12, I discovered I was adopted. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I found out my biological father was a paediatrician; my mother a nurse, and my natural grandfather a paediatric heart surgeon who pioneered heart surgery on children in the 1940s. I like to think this is where my love of science comes from!
Aside from good health, family and friends, what do you cherish in your life?
I cherish the little things. Having a coffee before I start my day with my partner and chatting about what the day might bring.
Allowing myself to simply sit, inhale the tranquillity, and not feel guilty about it is something I have been really working on recently, and it’s paying dividends for my mental health. It’s easy to miss these special moments when you’re in the thick of motherhood or starting a business. Now that my kids have become amazing adults, I can take a step back to appreciate simplicity, like a long road trip or giving someone an extra-long hug.
I also value the ethos of the brand I have built and making a difference to my customers. My mission is to help people feel confident from within. It’s incredible how a serum can have such a profound impact on self-esteem. This is why I get up every morning!
Skinformation is available on Amazon.
To find out more about Terri and her skincare, head to Synergie Skin.