Episode 186: Dana Jackson, Founder and CEO of Beneath Your Mask

Committed to a high-pressure, 24/7 job, Dana Jackson experienced a deep level of burnout that led to a life-threatening illness. Hear how her recovery and her search for beauty products that would support her on her road back to health released the latent entrepreneur within her, while teaching her important life lessons about balance, perspective and when to ask for help.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty®, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey everybody, it's Jodi Katz, your host of Where Brains Meet Beauty® podcast. This week's episode features Dana Jackson. She's the founder and CEO of Beneath Your Mask and if you missed last week's episode, it featured the co-founder of Geltor, Alex Lorestani. Thanks for tuning in.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to the show. I am so excited to be here with Dana Jackson, she's the founder and CEO of Beneath Your Mask. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty®.
Dana JacksonHi, I'm Dana. Like Jodi said, I'm the founder of Beneath Your Mask. Jodi, I'm so excited to finally be here with you and just share more about the brand and my journey and talk all things brains and beauty.
Jodi KatzWell, you and I met many years ago at one of the Indie Beauty Expo events and I remember meeting you and being like, "Oh my God." I'm a super fan of Dana and I know for sure that other people felt the same way because in all the post event emails, it was your face and your name all over all these IBE emails so I know I'm not alone in the Dana fan club. So before we jump into your career journey, let's go back in time to maybe when you were 11 or 12 years old and if someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, what would your answer be?
Dana JacksonI would probably have said something super general like a businesswoman or just in business. I remember my mom always worked in a high rise building in downtown Chicago, and that was so appealing to me and just that hustle and bustle. So I thought that my path would be corporate America, for sure. I wanted to work for a huge company.
Jodi KatzWell, let's fast forward then, because you had a really fascinating career before you started your own skincare business. You were a business manager for entertainers.
Dana JacksonYes.
Jodi KatzWhat is that career all about? Tell us what that's like.
Dana JacksonSo it couldn't be further from corporate America and so interestingly enough, my career trajectory was not in corporate America at all. It was at all small businesses and I did entertainment business management, which is basically the financial liaison between every single person that works with the artists. So we'll handle tour management, dealing with their managers, their attorneys, their families, their moms, their kids, making sure insurance is in place, making sure homes everything is purchased properly, making sure all bills and credit cards are paid, making sure that budgets are proper and that the artists can net income when they go on a tour. We're getting the buses, the hotel rooms, all of those are line items because you're dealing with creatives, which I've now become, so I completely understand that side of the world now. So everything is really about their vision is rarely about the bottom line and so we're there to ensure that they don't go broke.
Jodi KatzSo that type of role requires a real intimacy and trust between the business manager and the entertainer, because it's almost being a spouse, right, like a real person.
Dana JacksonIt does. My boss used to say, 70% of this job is the relationship and it's social and it's managing and navigating that relationship with not only the artists, but with everyone in their life, with your team, with the people that they love, the people that are closest to them. People always ask, "Do you date your clients? I'm sure you do." And I was like, "Look, I know things about them only a mother can love them through. So the answer is no." Yeah. It's a bird's eye view into the good, the bad and ugly.
Jodi KatzSo is this like musicians, actors, athletes?
Dana JacksonMusicians and actors. So the company that I was with had a division that worked on athletes, but I only worked with musicians and actors and those two typically interchange. So the person that is going on tour in the fall, may be filming a movie in the summer.
Jodi KatzRight. Are you dealing with not just the talent and not just their people, but you're dealing with their family members too I would think?
Dana JacksonAbsolutely. Basically anybody that's coming to them for money or needs money distributed or needs something paid for or needs a loan. So that could end up being friends that could end up being a side chick. It could be a lot of things.
Jodi KatzOh my God. The type of, I guess, fiction inspired by real life that you could create out of career with that.
Dana JacksonOh my gosh.
Jodi KatzIt must be amazing.
Dana JacksonIt's so funny because I'm a Scorpio, which means I am going to take your secrets to the grave with me, but sometimes I don't want to know them, it's the other thing. It's like, "I just wish I didn't know." But yeah, it is. It was a super exciting career at one point in my life for sure, very interesting.
Jodi KatzWhy did you leave it?
Dana JacksonWell, it was a couple of things. When I ended up and we'll probably talk more about this, but I had got burned out a bit. I worked 24 hours a day, I had to be available 24 hours a day. I really couldn't have a personal life. So when you're in your twenties, early thirties, you don't mind, you're chasing the career and I was definitely traced chasing it. It was the career of my dreams. I wanted it so bad. I envisioned myself having my own business management firm. I was learning so much from my boss, but I got burnt out and I did not have balance and I didn't want to be at their beck and call. Sometimes I felt like I wasn't making enough of a difference in a sense that I was in a hamster wheel, "I save you $5 over here and then you find somewhere else to spend it."

So I remember just being on this conference, call one time with a client, a client's team, because their team is such a big part of how your job is going to go and flow and if they have a great team, it's better for you. But if they have an entry level team or a team that has tons of other stuff going on, when I say team I'm talking about mainly like the manager and stuff like that, production managers.

I would find myself just questioning my purpose and like had I outgrown this? Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing in life? Do I really care if your stylist gets paid? Not that much. I'm over it. So I got to that place in my life and then shortly after I ended up getting sick and so even though I stayed in the career a few years after that actually, there was a point when my boss, my company got bought out by live nation and my boss had offered me the opportunity to take over our clients and I could finally have my own business management firm. And I was like, "No, this is my opportunity to tell my story, share my journey and share the products that have really been helping my skin and hair." So that's what I decided to do. I felt like that career absolutely prepared me to have my own business. I was running their businesses anyway. So I just always knew it was preparation for something, but it wasn't the end game for me.
Jodi KatzSo you told me that God got your attention.
Dana JacksonMm-hmm (affirmative).
Jodi KatzThis was through really dire health concerns. Can you take us back in time and tell us what was happening?
Dana JacksonSure. So going back to that business management space of just being so stressed out, so overworked and basically available around the clock, I was experiencing a lot of stress. Then also I was getting migraines and cystic acne, and I had always struggled with acne growing up. So I was just like, "I'm going to go to the dermatologist." Prior to me going to the dermatologist, I was praying for direction. So that conference call I just mentioned where I'm like, "Do I care if your stylist gets paid?" I was literally praying for direction like what is my purpose in life?

Fast forward, I go to the dermatologist for the cystic acne. They prescribed me a medication called Bactrim. When I took the Bactrim, when I would wake up, my eyes would be swollen, shut my joints would be locked up. They said, "Well, stop taking it. It should go away." Well, three weeks later and several steroid shots later, those symptoms never went away and they said, "This sounds like this could be lupus." At the time the only thing I knew about lupus was there was a girl on America's next top model that had it and she was always tired. So of course I started doing research, but then also going and getting all these tests done and there was a thing called drug-induced lupus and I felt like, "Okay, this must be what I have. I didn't have these symptoms prior to taking this medication and that supposedly goes away." So when I went to back to the rheumatologist to get my test results, they said, "Oh, this isn't a drug induced." And I was like, "No, it is."

So we went back and forth about it and so she finally agreed with me and I ended up going and getting second and third opinions. I was living in Atlanta at the time, I went to Houston, I went back to my hometown of Chicago to go to doctors and everybody said the same thing. It's not drug induced, it's in your kidneys. You're going to need dialysis and a transplant if you don't take this medication. So I ended up really shutting down. I went through severe depression. I absolutely went through like the five stages of grief and a colleague of mine that worked with one of my clients.

She was reaching out to me about money and she's like, "What's going on with you? I'm trying to get in touch with you." So I told her what was happening and she said, "I really want you to talk to someone, a friend of mine that is an Eastern medicine doctor, she's a Western medicine doctor where she practices Eastern medicine out in Abu Dhabi." I said, okay, "I'll talk to her." I had nothing to lose. I was super independent, but I had been praying and crying, my hair had all fallen out. I had rashes head to toe, I had gained a hundred pounds in water weight. So I was finally at the place of like, "I just would rather die or somebody needs to help me." So I talked to her and she really got me to the place of acceptance with what was happening to me. And she said, " want to help you, but I need you to come to Los Angeles because I feel like you aren't happy in Atlanta and I'm going to send my husband there from Abu Dhabi and we're going to help you."

So when I say that God got my attention, I feel like he had been trying to get my attention. Looking back on all the signs in so many ways. I'm one of those people that if I have a goal, I know that I can accomplish it. I know I can reach it, but at what cost. So God, in my opinion was saying, "I'm forcing you to sit down because you won't do it on your own. I'm forcing you to have the relationship with me that you're supposed to have. I'm forcing you to forgive people," because again, I'm a Scorpio I hold on forever and ever. So what my gurus, I call them my gurus now, what they really worked with me on was not just taking the Chinese herbs and juicing and the vegan diet. I also did chemotherapy and high dose steroids that I absolutely sworn that I would never do.

I had to do that as well. I had to do both because I was so far gone, but they worked with me on the mental and spiritual work. Even changing the programming that I watched, like almost reprogramming a person from everything that they ever believed before. It was easy for me to just walk away from people. It was easy for me to just say, "I'm done with the situation." It was easy for me to focus on my career and on my family and my friends and so that is what lupus gave to me, was the true meaning of life and the true meaning of beauty and all of those things versus what I perceived it to be before, which was just all based around chasing success and lifestyles and stuff like that.
Jodi KatzSo Dana, when you were really sick and like you said, you had physical manifestations, you had an emotional grief and depression. It sounds like in some ways you were in a giving up attitude as well.
Dana JacksonYeah.
Jodi KatzWhat were your family members saying to you during this time? Because I know you weren't living at home, right?
Dana JacksonRight.
Jodi KatzYou were many miles away. This must have been really terrifying for them to watch you go through this.
Dana JacksonIt was. My mother came to Atlanta before I ended up leaving to go to LA and she stayed there with me for a few weeks and we water fasted. We ended a lot of praying because I was also determined not to have to do all those medications. So I was trying to heal everything naturally. And so she just, being my mom and not being able to put her hands and eyes on me was very difficult for her. When I left Atlanta, I left my apartment, I never saw it again. I ended up having everything moved after being in LA for a couple months, back to Chicago and put in storage. But then when I came to Los Angeles, my family really wanted me to come back to Chicago and it was difficult for them to understand that they couldn't help me like I needed to be helped.

They could give me support and they can love me, but the type of help that I needed was in Los Angeles and so even though I was really sick, they weren't going to be able to physically be with me through this. So when I came to Los Angeles, the doctor, which my guru had prepared me for it, because I was totally adamant I'm not going to the hospital. She's like, "Any doctor in their right mind is going to put you in the hospital." And so when he did the EKG in his office, he was starting to do blood and then he got EKG results. He's like, "No, she has to go to emergency right now."

So they put me in ICU over at Cedars and my mother flew out immediately and she spent the week with me that I was in the hospital. I was in the hospital about 10 days. She stayed for about a week and just like slept by my side. We had the time that we didn't have when I had this exciting career, because not only did I live in Atlanta, the office was in Philadelphia. My boyfriend at the time was in Houston. My clients were in LA. So I was never making it back to Chicago and that's why I say it's just how God centers you and helps you figure out where your focus should be and so now you make the time for the things that you didn't make the time for before and what should be your priority. So it was difficult for my mom and my sister to not be able to be with me the full time. But I think just knowing that I was in good hands ultimately became enough and seeing how my health turned around it was worth it, but it was different.
Jodi KatzSo Dana, this sounds like this time period, it was life or death? You're talking about chemotherapy, these really intense aggressive treatments. This was not about, "I just don't feel like taking a pill or a drug." This was like, "If you don't take it, you're going to die."
Dana JacksonRight. Exactly. They were telling me, if you don't take this, you're going to need dialysis and a transplant, but that was back in April. So I kept going back and forth. I'd take the steroids for a couple of days and I hated the way to make me feel and I would stopped. So now I'm now making the situation worse because I'm going on and off this medication trying to be a doctor myself and so by the time I got to Los Angeles, which was July, it had gotten progressively worse. It was just accelerating so fast and getting out of control so fast. So much of it was my mindset. I'm such a rational person that something needs to happen for something to happen and nothing happens. So how is this happening and how is it happening so fast and how has everything's spinning out of control?

You can see the rashes and everything, but you don't see kidney issues. So I'm still thinking, "Let me just make sure I put this bentonite clay on this rash. I'm going to naturally heal this and take some herbs." And it's like, no, by the time I got to the hospital, they thought I probably had about four weeks left and they were treating me like that. My guru said, he took them out of my room and said, she's going to live. So no, you need to treat her like she's going to live. So it really turned the team that was working with me around in terms of like their approach to I me.
Jodi KatzSo it's interesting to me, because it sounds like a pattern of saying no to people around your care. And then when friend calls you and says, I want you to meet my doctor friend, you were ready to say yes. Why do you think you're ready to say yes then?
Dana JacksonBecause I just had no other alternative. I was at such rock bottom, I had stopped communicating with the outside world. I lived in Atlanta had a hotel on the first seven floors and so I would just order like grilled cheese and French fries every day. I wouldn't talk to anybody, my mom had to call the concierge to have them knock on my door to see if I was alive. I was so depressed and I wanted to die, so it's just a matter of hitting rock bottom and being really willing to accept help, which it took me to hit rock bottom because I was so independent, I did everything for myself. I didn't like to depend on people. I was not comfortable asking people to help. Asking people for help, that's another thing they worked on me with.

That was a very difficult thing for me to just reach out and say, "Hey, I need you. I need help. Please help me." Anything like that I would just literally spend my life trying to find the answer myself. So that was, again, God forcing me to accept it, because if it was something I could manage on my own, I would've absolutely managed on my own and not allowed somebody to come help me, especially a stranger, because I always felt like, "Okay, now what do you want from me? Or what do I owe you?" They didn't want anything from me. I literally never met these people in my life and she sent her husband from Abu Dhabi. I think if you can grasp the magnitude of somebody giving to you in that way, I was not used to that. But I didn't have a choice either and thankfully I was willing to accept it.
Jodi KatzIt's incredible Dana and then it's incredible that out of this experience, you decided, "I'm going to run my own business and share my story through my own venture." How did you go from the depths of despair emotionally and physically to now it's fine to be an entrepreneur.
Dana JacksonSo I was still working in entertainment throughout this time. I worked for a small company and they were super amazing during this journey. So they took one of my clients completely off of me and there was one that I felt like I could pretty much handle with my eyes closed and that's what I still worked, I had more support on that account. But I started working like way less, I started training my clients, so meaning everything is not an emergency and I operated from an everything is an emergency space. So as I began to find that type of balance in my life, focus on my health. Like I said, I went to a vegan diet, I did a ton of Chinese herbs. I did the Western medicine also. I did a lot of juicing and I started really learning about what I was putting in my body, eating things I had never touched before, things that I'd never heard of.

I started becoming really concerned about what I was putting on my body as well. I had all these rash marks. I had dark purple stretch marks from gaining a hundred pounds of waterway over 30 days and as I was continuing to get better, as the water was coming off of me, I wanted to repair all of that damage in a way that was nontoxic and not going to further challenge my immune system, but I wasn't even trying to create a business. I just wanted to create something that worked for my skin and I did, and I would give it to like my clients, my colleagues, my family, and friends, and people would harass me about it. I was like, "Look, I don't have time to be making lotion." During that time, I also moved back to Chicago so that I could now be around my family. My company was like, "Look, wherever you need to live, you can live." So I was like, "I want to be around my family now. I want to be home just in case anything goes wrong and I go backwards in any way, at least I've had this time with my family."

So back in Chicago, I just started researching ingredients and ordering ingredients and I made this product, which is our air whipped skin souffle. This is like 2012 now and people just obsessed over it and I was like, "Look, I don't have the time to be making lotion," and I would even buy other companies products and try to mix them together to get that same moment and I just couldn't duplicate it unless I made it myself.

So I would have it.But then I was just like whenever I run out, I don't feel like ordering stuff. I don't feel like making it. But then I finally was able to fly again. And I took a really long flight actually. I was going to Dubai for my birthday. We had a layover in Paris. I had to wear compression tights because I still risk blood clotting. And when we stopped in Paris, my skin was so tight and dry under those tights. So I was like, "Let me go find something to put on it and I bought this like really expensive, like amazing cream." And two seconds later, my skin was tight and dry again and that was kind of the aha moment that I really had something with this product. Then fast forward the change with my company and them getting bought out by live nation. I was just like, "You know what? This is the opportunity for me." I knew I had entrepreneurship in me prior to even working in entertainment. I worked for an accounting firm, all of our clients for small businesses and so I just knew that was going to be my ultimate goal one day. I just didn't think it would be in beauty. I thought it would be in business management and me having my own firm.
Jodi KatzWell, let's talk about what it takes to run your own company now? You said that you were invested all your own money-
Dana JacksonYeah. - In creating this. So I knew again from that, I got lupus I was already burnt out. Then as I still continue to work in business manager for a few years after that, I handled things differently, I responded to stress differently, so I wasn't as burnout, but I just knew that it wasn't my dream anymore. I just felt like my dream or my purpose in life with lupus had a lot to do with these people coming into my life to help me and I felt like I could help other people through how they helped me because I'm like, "God didn't just put these people in my life to only make me better." So if we can help other people through me, I think that was supposed to like my purpose in life. And so actually rambled and forgot the question.
Jodi KatzWell, you told me that you invested your own money in?
Dana JacksonOh yeah, money. So I had been saving money for some years. So prior to lupus, I would say the pre lupus stain and post lupus day. I used to just like buy shoes and bags and stuff chest and then post lupus Dana, because I had to end up spending so much money on like supplements and health and stuff. I became like a savor. And I also was saving because I wanted to do my own business, which at one point I thought I was going to be a juice bar of all these blends that I had been making to like help myself. So I had been saving money for a few years. I didn't have any debt at the time. I had paid everything off, credit cards and stuff like that. So when I started beneath your mask, I thought I had a good amount of money saved and this is going to be like enough, but I just had no clue because again, my background is not beauty, but yeah, I started it with my own money. I'm still 100% on the company. So yeah.
Jodi KatzWell, let's talk about this balance. Because earlier in your career, you said it was 24/7, and that probably felt like it would strangle you at some points, it's too much. And now you're growing your own business. And for me in my own business, I feel like the growth of the business is such a seduction. Right? It's like these opportunities pop up, the email comes rolls in the, I see them like a white space. And then my instinct is to jump on it, even though like maybe I don't have the time or don't want to spend the time on it. It's this constant sort of internal battle about like paying attention to these growth moments or pay attention to myself and my needs beyond the business. So how do you manage that seduction now that you're so much more cognizant of balance,
Dana JacksonEven though I'm more cognizant of it, it's still a struggle for me. I don't think you could really be an entrepreneurial without it being a struggle for you because every moment it feels like that moment, every opportunity feels like that make or break one or this could be the one to get your business where you want it. And I found myself for, I would say the, your masters turned four in this past December. I would say probably the first three years of my business was just like, okay, you just let me get through this month. Let me get through this month. Like every, but then next month something comes up and that's when something happens and you think those opportunities won't be there. So it's just really been this last year where I'm able to say, you know, if this is the opportunity that's meant for us and it'll be there, like when we're ready.

So this is the first year that I've been comfortable saying no to things and no to opportunities that a couple of years ago I would have jumped at or taking my time with things. But it is absolutely a struggle because you have a vision for your business, you can see that it can get there, but it's like, "If I don't do everything in my power, will I get there?" And it's like, the answer is yes, but it won't get there without me. So that's why I also have to take care of me. What I realized, even our lip balm has become this cult product, which is hard to top your hero product. The lip balm is the most recent one, but we've been out of stock on it for a while. And I have people like, "When is it coming back? Is it discontinued, oh my gosh."

You know, if we saw a million lip balms tomorrow, it wouldn't be worth my kidney. So that's how dramatic I have to be with myself, otherwise I'm going to try to meet the demand. So when I put it in that perspective, that allows me to calm down. But that sounds dramatic, I have to be with myself because it's like, "Yeah, you don't want to miss this opportunity. You don't want to miss customers quite craving your product. But again, it doesn't exist anymore. I have a good friend, the same one that called me and made me talk to her friends. She was like, "What? Nobody wants it if you're dead."
Jodi KatzI think that it would be a great t-shirt right? Selling a million lip balms isn't worth your kidney.
Dana JacksonRight. Even though some customers think that it would. Sometimes they'll make you feel like it is worth it, it's that serious and I have to even tell now my team, and I think that's why it's so important to put stuff in, put things in perspective, because I don't want them to go down the path that I went to. I wish my boss before would have told me, it was until after I got sick that he said, "Oh, you have to train your clients. If things can wait until the morning. Let them wait till the morning," and I'm like, "Why are you just now telling me this?"

I've been making them happen 24 hours a day and so now I try to stress out with my team. You don't have to answer a customer service email on Christmas. Like they get it and you don't have to answer it over the weekend. We're not doing rocket science. We're not saving lives here and so be with your family. That's important to me, be with your family, take the time that you need. I'll let you know if something is urgent, but mostly everything can wait until the next business day.
Jodi KatzI love that you say that because I think that it's robotic for people to have to think that they have to respond in that moment, right? You become a robot and not a human and we do have to train our staff because also like the culture around us, the business culture around us rewards this overwork approach. I don't want my team to feel that way.
Dana JacksonYeah.
Jodi KatzI don't want to feel that way. So we have to give each other that advice and that training and to give people permission to take breaks.
Dana JacksonYeah. Especially with cell phones and I know for me, I used to feel like, "People know I have a cell phone, they know I'm working at home, so I'm required to respond right now or it's like, why didn't I?" So I think people are used to these just super fast responses and people jumping on every single thing as soon as it comes through. It's just not realistic. So yeah. But yeah, I think with the cell phones, and then also now everyone working from home. When you work from home, I firmly believe people get more work done because you're working way more. It's easy to be like, "Let me just grab my laptop and answer this email since I'm right here, I'm just watching TV." But what I found that is important too, is have a break to your day. So into your day when you're working from home, meaning if you take a walk or you make dinner or whatever it is, but something has to signify the end of the work day for you. Otherwise your house becomes work and you don't want to live at work.
Jodi KatzYeah, no we don't. We need to take breaks. Well, Dana, thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom with our listeners.
Dana JacksonThank you so much for having me. I'm so glad we finally got a chance to do this and hopefully we'll be able to see each other in person one day.
Jodi KatzI hope soon. And for our listeners, I hope you enjoy this interview with Dana. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes and for updates about the show. Follow us on Instagram at where Brains Meet Beauty podcast.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty® with Jodi Katz, tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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