When I met Dana Jackson at this year's Indie Beauty Expo in New York, she was stunning. The glowing entrepreneur who was repping a relatively new, luxe skin-care brand called Beneath Your Mask (which went on to win several awards at the event) seemed to be in her prime.
But just a couple of years before, you likely wouldn't have been able to recognize her. Jackson's eyes and face were so swollen that she could barely see, her hair was falling out, and she was carrying 100 extra pounds of water weight. She was battling a severe case of lupus and was told at one point that she had four weeks to live.
"All I could think was, 'Why me?'"
"All I could think was, 'Why me?'" she says. "I was super depressed and angry and couldn't believe it."
By using a combination of Eastern and Western medicine—and her own homemade lotions (which you can now enjoy in her line)—she nursed herself back to health and learned some serious health (and life) lessons in the process.
Here's how she went from critically ill patient to beauty entrepreneur—and why she's now thankful for her diagnosis.
When things got serious
Jackson was 30 years old, working at her dream job (as an entertainment business manager), and living in a beautiful apartment in Atlanta, when she was diagnosed with lupus.
"I've had cystic acne on and off since high school, but all of a sudden I started [noticing] swelling in my face and joints," she says. "So I went to the doctor and tested positive for autoimmune antibodies from lupus." The chronic autoimmune disease (which Selena Gomez has been open about struggling with) occurs when your immune system attacks your own tissues.
Despite the physical (and emotional) impact of her condition—which involved excess water weight, rashes all over her body, and swelling—she was hesitant to take the steroids and other medications being prescribed to her by doctors. "I was trying to self-medicate," she admits. "I was researching the disease on my own, and reading about the side effects of the medication seemed worse than what the lupus was doing, in my eyes."
One day when she took her hair down—and a huge amount of it fell out—she realized how grave her condition was.
She'd take the medication for a few days then stop. "I felt like the Tasmanian devil," she says. "My stomach felt stuffed, but I was hungry, my skin hurt to the touch because it was so stretched out, and I was always tired and in pain." Then, one day when she took her hair down—and a huge amount of it fell out—she realized how grave her condition was.
The journey toward healing
Eventually, a friend got through to Jackson and convinced her to go to Los Angeles to meet with a doctor who practiced both Eastern and Western medicine. "She told me I was so far gone that I needed medication or I'd die," Jackson says. On top of that, she also ordered hundreds of dollars worth of Chinese herbs.
"I started doing EKG [electrocardiotherapy] and chemotherapy after they told me that, in my current state I had about four weeks to live," Jackson recalls. "This was the process that started my acceptance of the disease. My thinking became 'Why not me?'"
When she reached the point where she could take care of herself, that's when she started concocting her own creams to remedy her skin rashes and stretch marks. "I was eating a vegan diet and started to learn about all the stuff I was putting on my body," says Jackson.
After researching ingredients, she created a shea butter-grapeseed oil blend that helped tremendously. "This was in 2012 and I formulated something specifically to repair my skin," says Jackson. "I wanted something that could be used all over that'd work for really sensitive skin like mine."
When she reached the point where she could take care of herself, that's when she started concocting her own creams.
Aptly dubbed Heal, it went on to become the star product of Beneath Your Mask's line.
Creating Beneath Your Mask
Originally Jackson wasn't looking to launch a brand, but she slowly realized that making skin-care products brought her more joy than the entertainment business. This is a common theme in natural beauty: A woman sets out to fix her own skin woes and years down the line, winds up sharing the secret sauce with others.
"I felt like creating products was a way for me to share my journey and help people," says Jackson. "It's interesting because I never really saw myself as creative prior to [creating] Beneath Your Mask. But now I have fun playing with ingredients—it's more fulfilling for me."
"Lupus is something I'm thankful for," says Jackson. "Now, when things manifest in my body, I try to figure out what lesson I'm supposed to be getting from this." Of course, whipping up a body soufflé also helps—and, thankfully, you can use the same one Jackson created on your own skin.
The good news is that clean beauty is spreading its wings—these are the surprising places you can now get natural beauty products. And this major drugstore is making non-toxic beauty more accessible than ever.
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