Twenty-five years ago, Advanced Skin Technology Managing Director Heather Harrison’s life changed forever and not just because she’d recently given birth. That was, of course, part of it since she left her role as Education Manager with Estée Lauder, a role that she’d been in for seven years, to be there for her new bundle. But in a serendipitous turn of events, on April Fool’s Day in 1996 no less, with a four-month-old on her hip and another little one on the other, Heather decided to join her friend’s new business venture, Advanced Skin Technology (AST). And it’s a decision that’s shaped the rest of her career, and her life, for the better.
"When I started with Advanced Skin Technology, my girlfriend owned the business. We had worked together for seven years prior at the Estée Lauder Group. I left to have my children, and Trish left to start AST," she recalls. "As a young mum with two little kids, I agreed to work about three hours a week."
She laughs, sharing that only lasted "for about two minutes" before the business took off. The company merged with Device Technologies – a large independent distributor of medical technology – in 2011 and Heather continued on as Managing Director.
"AST has seen a huge growth trajectory," she shares. "We started with one small brand of glycolic skin care and today, we’re Australia’s leading distributor of technologically advanced cosmeceutical products and treatments, sourcing world-class brands from all corners of the globe and supplying them to the Australian and New Zealand medical and skincare industry."
After the glycolic skincare range took off, AST brought on another cosmetics range that was also met with great success, providing a strong foundation for continued growth. That’s when the company looked into local manufacturing.
"We really wanted something that was Australian," Heather says. "We also wanted something that was small, easy to use and travel-friendly. But most of all, we wanted something that would give results."
"Skin care changes people’s lives for the better. It builds their self-esteem. This is why I continue to love this industry."
That something became Aspect, AST’s premier, high-performance range of cosmeceuticals that have been expertly engineered with the latest, cutting-edge ingredient technology to revitalise and hydrate, revealing radiant-looking skin. Each Aspect product effectively delivers optimal concentrations of pure, active ingredients that have been naturally derived and are even organic when possible. Even more, they’re completely free from known irritants.
"We saw people get amazing skin as a result of our Aspect skincare range, which has since grown to include Aspect Dr, Aspect Minerals and Aspect Sun," Heather explains. "After introducing Aspect to the market, we started bringing in many other distributor brands too like DermaQuest, Cosmedix, Société, PCA Skin and Skinbetter Science to name a few.
"We wanted to be a one-stop shop where people could get multiple brands and the products they needed to meet the demands of the different demographics that their clinics served."
AST partners with more than 2,000 clinics in Australia and New Zealand. And beyond providing them with an impressive portfolio of brands and needling devices – the DermaFrac and SkinPen – the innovative company arms them with something arguably more effective than its skincare heroes: education.
"We wanted to be able to help," Heather says. "So, we provide therapists with a great education. And we continually help build them up, grow them and support them in all aspects of their business, whether that’s education, marketing, recruitment or anything else. Whatever they need, we work to help them achieve it. We’re with them for the long haul."
And AST understands that each clinic’s needs are going to be different. "What’s right for one clinic won’t necessarily be right for another," she explains. "That’s why we offer an amazing choice of products that meets the demands of different demographics while also meeting each clinic’s distinct business vision."
This customised approach to education has been a vital part of AST’s incredible success. "Education is a big part of our growth," Heather says. "Whether it’s skin education, product education or business development, it’s all been an important contributor to our expansion.
"And as we build on and add new brands, it’s a learning curve for us as well. It’s seeing how these new products fit, and how we can incorporate them without cannibalising something we already have."
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, AST wants to offer its clinic partners and customers choice. But on the other, it doesn’t want to do so at the expense of the products it already sells. "This is an incredible challenge for us," Heather admits. "We want to offer the Australian and New Zealand public choice. And we want to educate them, offering reasons why they would choose one product over another. They need choice. But we also need to ensure we’re considering our entire range at the same time."
Heather is no stranger to challenge, especially after being in the industry for more than three decades. Thirty years ago, the industry was in its infancy. Thanks to advancements in ingredient sourcing technology, injectables, products and procedures, it has evolved at lightning speed. And Heather, who’s now regarded as one of Australia’s most innovative, dynamic and highly respected industry experts, has transformed right along with it.
"Everything has evolved, and I’ve been a part of the evolution," she says. "Back in the 1990s, the aesthetic industry was just starting. Collagen injectables were just starting to take off. Big changes were happening, and we had to educate therapists and doctors about the benefits of introducing effective cosmeceuticals in conjunction with medical procedures to enhance patient results.
"Getting them to think of aesthetic medicine as part of their practice proved a big challenge. But once they gained this knowledge, it was a huge elevation for the industry."
Since then, the industry has demonstrated consistent resilience despite economic uncertainties such as the recession at the turn of the century and the 2008 global financial crisis. And now with COVID-19 shaking up the world of beauty, it has been forecast that this is one area that will remain attractive in the long run, despite the hits it’s taken, simply because many still find value and even comfort in the simple pleasures of self-care and an ethereal glow-up before Zoom meetings.
Heather chalks it all up to the surprising benefits that extend beyond an even, clear complexion. "We all know that if our skin is not amazing, then our confidence takes a hit," she points out.
"When people have fabulous skin, they feel fabulous too. We hear stories all the time from clients about their transformations and how it helped them gain success on all levels. The changes are amazing to me."
5 Steps to Fabulous Skin
When it comes to amazing skin, Advanced Skin Technology Managing Director Heather Harrison is an expert. She has been in the industry for more than three decades and skin education is her passion. When she talks, people listen. Here, Heather offers the five skincare products that everyone needs to achieve their most beautiful results.
1. Quality cleanser:
One that removes make-up and is gentle around the eye area.
2. Vitamin A/retinol:
For use at night to help diminish the look of fine lines.
3. Vitamin C:
Used in the morning and revered for its brightening power.
4. Vitamin B:
Mix this with Vitamin C to reduce pigmentation.
While a nourishing moisturiser is ‘nice to have’, sunscreen is vital.
It’s these changes that first sparked Heather’s passion for the beauty sector "I have watched aesthetics grow from a secret that wasn’t often discussed to an expected part of everyone’s lives," she recalls. "Skin care changes people’s lives for the better. It builds their self-esteem. This is why I continue to love this industry. Making a difference is what drives me."
And that passion is contagious. While Heather knows that, as a leader, it’s important to keep across all finances and data, she also believes it’s just as important, if not more so, to keep a pulse on her people. "In challenging times and in all times, I believe in leading with purpose and focus," she says. "You have to listen to your people and really hear what they are saying. This is accomplished by spending time with them, so you’re also able to hear what they’re not saying."
"The best ideas are often inspired by opening our ears."
AST maintains that "culture is the lifeblood of any organisation" and, as such, it takes great pride in its own culture, which stems from Heather’s unwavering values. Based on support, hard work, strong ethical values and passion, AST’s culture is all about teamwork, working with each other and for each other, as well as its suppliers and clinic partners.
"People matter," she insists. "That’s why it’s important for us to foster a caring, generous culture where people feel comfortable being honest and open. In turn, this encourages ownership of role and innovative thought because there is less fear and more focus. To embed this, it needs to be lived every day and modelled by the leadership team."
According to Heather, it is this culture of innovation and authenticity that allows AST to seize any and all opportunities that come its way. "Innovation in a business occurs in relation to how we develop our people, how we listen to them and how we act on ideas, product introduction and insight for potential," she reveals.
"It’s also looking at how we communicate our story with others. In today’s world, that’s become important to do on many different channels, both online and offline. Even more, it’s keeping an eye on the detail, working and revising what missed the mark, and pivoting when you have to."
As Heather looks to the future of AST, she’s focused on three things: people development, product development and organisational excellence. She believes that herein lies the opportunity for growth. And the driver for that growth is innovation.
"It’s vital in all areas of our business," she stresses. "For us in skin care, it means constantly looking for improvements and new ingredients that will deliver the best results for our clients. It also means not getting caught up in fad products but instead, remaining focused on longevity and performance. Crucial to all of this is listening to our customers. The best ideas are often inspired by opening our ears."
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