Carlino, Cristina

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Carlino, Cristina


Founder of Biomedic Clinical Care/Philosophy cosmetics

B orn c. 1961, in Phoenix, AZ; daughter of Mario (an optometrist) and Patricia (an artist) Carlino. Education: Completed cosmetology school, c. 1982.

Addresses: Office—Philosophy, Inc., 3809 E. Watkins St., Phoenix, AZ 85034.


F acialist after 1982, and creator of a private makeup line; licensed skincare provider for a LosAngeles plastic surgeon after 1985; founded Bio-medic Clinical Care, a skin-care line, 1990; founded Philosophy, Inc., a skin-care and cosmetics company, 1996; sold BioMedic to L’Oreal, 2001; sold stake in Philosophy, Inc. to The Carlyle Group, 2007.


C ristina Carlino founded the innovative company Philosophy, Inc. in 1996, and built it into one of the leading department store and home-shopping network brands before selling a stake in it to the private-equity investment firm The Carlyle Group in 2007. The Arizona native still holds a significant personal share of her business, and continues to sell Philosophy’s all-natural, plant-based wares on QVC, the cable channel devoted to home shopping.

Born in the early 1960s, Carlino grew up in the Phoenix area as the daughter of an optometrist father and an artist mother. Sandwiched between an older sister and younger brother, Carlino suffered from severe acne and weight problems in her teens, and distress over her looks was compounded by her parents’ divorce when she was 14. After that, she ballooned to 210 pounds, and recalled her final years of high school as “painful,” she told People writers Julie K. L. Dam and Karen Brailsford. “I sank into a very deep and dark depression.”

Carlino found the solution to her skin-care problems after finishing cosmetology school: In 1982, her mother and a friend loaned her $6,700 to start her own business as a facialist, and she also con-cocted her own line of makeup. In 1985, she moved to the Los Angeles area and took a job with a plastic surgeon as his office’s licensed skin-care professional. In the late 1980s, she devised the “15Minute MicroPeel,” which repaired signs of premature aging and sun damage. Dubbed the lunch-hour peel by industry insiders, the procedure used a razor to take off the top layer of skin on the face, then dosed it with alpha hydroxy acids before finishing with an application of dry ice.

The MicroPeel resulted in noticeably improved skin texture, and caught on with appearance-conscious trendsetters. In 1990, Carlino founded BioMedic Clinical Care with a loan from her sister, and created a entire range of skin-care products in addition to the MicroPeel. Her business was thriving, and she was living back near her family in Arizona, but she was dejected during the Christmas holidays of 1994, especially when her boyfriend at the time had decided to spend the break elsewhere. On Christmas Day, she went for a hike up Piestewa Peak in the Phoenix Mountains. It was then she realized, she told Dam and Brailsford in the People interview, that “my problems had nothing to do with my looks. There didn’t need to be one more diet, one more hairstyle. There needed to be a contribution from me.”

Carlino teamed up with David J. Watson, her brother-in-law who had invested in BioMedic, to launch Philosophy in early 1996. Its skin-care line and makeup products had all-natural ingredients made from plant extracts, but what set Carlino’s new venture apart from the competition was the modern look of its packaging and the clever names for its wares. A face cream was called “Hope in a Jar,” a line once used derisively by the founder of the Revlon empire, while an undereye cream was named “Eye Believe.” The slogans under each were also unique, and written by Carlino herself. Eye Believe, for example, urged users to “stop looking for lines and you won’t see so many,” while Hope in a Jar’s tag line cautioned that while “science can give us better skin only humanity can give us better days.” As Carlino explained in an interview with Mary Vandeveire for the Phoenix-area Business Journal, her goal in coming up with the puns and stand-out lower-faced black typeface for the packaging was twofold. “You’re competing against people $1 billion bigger than you, but it’s also an opportunity,” she said. “When you don’t have a huge marketing department, you have to dig deeper. An advertising company could not have come up with [Philosophy’s packaging.] It was too corny.”

Like BioMedic, Carlino’s Philosophy products gained a cult following and the company grew quickly. After just a year in business, the 250unit Philosophy range was being sold at Nordstrom, Bar-neys New York, and Saks Fifth Avenue. At one point, she and Watson decided to hire a real advertising agency instead of doing everything themselves—but changed their minds when vintage family photographs they had selected were replaced with images of models. “The best decision was the day the advertising came back in-house,” Carlino confessed to the Business Journal’s Vandeveire, citing the dual lessons she learned as “don’t second-guess yourself . Never release some of the creative control.”

The moment of insight that Carlino had experienced when hiking that day in the Phoenix Mountains took shape in another unique angle for Philosophy’s business plan: Carlino donated a percentage of profits to charitable organizations. Those numbers grew significantly in 1999 when she and Philosophy made their debut on QVC, the home-shopping channel. A year later, Philosophy opened its first freestanding store in Tempe, Arizona, supplementing scores of in-store boutiques in the cosmetic aisles of major department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom.

In May of 2001, Carlino sold BioMedic to cosmetic conglomerate L’Oreal, which sells it under the same name but within its La Roche-Posay family of products. Carlino also began to retool Philosophy, Inc. by ending some store contracts and shedding some of the underperforming items. “In the beginning, we had too much product and too many doors,” she said in a 2002 interview with Julie Naughton for WWD. “My goal isn’t to be the biggest, but to do what’s right for us.”

Over the next few years Philosophy, Inc. became a profitable presence on QVC and rose to be the sales leader among all the channel’s beauty brands. In January of 2007, Carlino sold part of Philosophy, Inc. to The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm based in Washington, D.C., for a reported $450 million price tag. With the deal she exchanged her chief executive officer title for a new one, executive chair, but her new role allowed her to concentrate on product development, not financial operations. “I feel like I’ve been given a blank chalkboard and there’s nothing I’m better with,” she told Molly Prior, a journalist for WWD. Later that year she spent some of her windfall on a $12 million apartment in the 995 Fifth Avenue Building in Manhattan, the former Stanhope Hotel located across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Allure, March 1, 2005, p. 112.

Business Journal (Phoenix, AZ), September 12, 1997, p. 45.

New York Times, January 18, 1998; April 20, 2008.

New York Times Magazine, December 19, 2004.

People, October 18, 1999, p. 155.

WWD, August 23, 2002, p. 7; January 31, 2007, p. 2.

—Carol Brennan

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Carlino, Cristina

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