Jennifer Rock, aka The Skin Nerd, is unusual in many senses of the word. An Irish entrepreneur who has built a rapidly expanding beauty empire, she exhibits a sort of intense, frenetic energy that suggests a constant internal momentum.
When you speak with her, though, you’ll notice something still underneath the sprinting pace at which she seems to live her life; an observational quality that tells you she misses nothing, even as she rockets past you. Rock appears to be the sort of person you could drop into a town where she doesn’t speak a word of the native language, only to come back a year later to find she’s the mayor.
Those of us in and around the Irish beauty industry have witnessed her business grow from its origins as a Facebook page and then a Blog to a lucrative online skin consultancy, The Nerd Network, a standalone alternative to facial wipes, The Cleanse-off Mitt, and a skincare brand, Skingredients, which has just launched in the UK (as well as two books – the second of which, The Skin Nerd Philosophy: Your Expert Guide to Skin Health, launches this month).
Rock has always seemed to just be going faster than everyone else. She thinks faster, speaks faster. She gets to the point, and she does it quickly. When it comes to beauty – a global industry that Forbes valued at $532 billion last year – Rock appears to know which way the wind is going before everyone else does.
The classic beauty brand origin story is often that of a former journalist or beauty industry professional. They are generally white, middle or upper-middle class, frequently independently wealthy and have the specialised and elite contacts needed to finance, launch and publicise a brand.
I was motivated by people’s perceptions and my absolute determination to not allow those perceptions define me
This isn’t Rock’s story. She’s a door-kicker – someone who doesn’t fit the mould but pushes through anyway. Rock was pregnant with her son Matthew as she sat her Leaving Cert. She says that while she wouldn’t exactly advocate the timing, “it put me on the career path a lot sooner. It forced me to really challenge myself psychologically, financially, in doing it alone. I really am the person I am today, and the business is what it is, because of him.
“He’s actually outside packing boxes right now. It’s come full circle. He’s nearly the age that I was when I became pregnant, so I believe that you can choose to accept or you can choose to pivot – that word’s a bit overused, but really, Matthew became my why.”
Rock says she had to work to resist the general societal assumption that her pregnancy at 18 meant her life was over. “I was motivated by people’s perceptions,” she says “and my absolute determination to not allow those perceptions define me. The community that you live in can decide ‘oh God love her’, type thing. I felt that. Every time someone sympathised, or said ‘Ah that’s great now that you’ll do beauty and be able to do a few little bits on the side – every time someone said ‘little’ or ‘bits’… it motivated me.”
When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, the approach was simplistic
Rock cut her teeth after training as a dermal facialist by working in London for skincare brands based in markets such as the US and Australia; companies that worked with nutritionists, dieticians and cosmetic doctors. This, she says, gave her a sense of the untapped potential of a company operating within the skincare sector.
The Skin Nerd approach to skincare, which has proved so successful, is essentially problem-solving and holistic. After a thorough consultation form – not, Rock stresses, the usual type you get before a facial, which is essentially just attending to legalities to protect the vendor, but a five-page deep dive into your skin issues, lifestyle and desires, including photos – you’re given tailored advice and the chance to buy recommended products from a wide range of brands.
“One product is never going to be the answer,” she says. “I do believe that you need to look after your diet, your stress, as well as your skincare. A multidisciplinary approach has always been my go-to. We’ve always referred people on to dermatologists or doctors if we need to.”
The success stories speak for themselves and Rock has amassed celebrity fans and the respect of beauty industry heavyweights such as columnist Sali Hughes and skincare superinfluencer Caroline Hirons.
With her online skin consultation business, Rock saw a gap in the skincare market, not in terms of what brands weren’t doing, but what they were failing to do – “when I was teaching people to become therapists and teaching on behalf of skincare brands, I noticed is that people were disillusioned, disappointed, that they felt quite marketed to. Some of the brilliant progress in the industry – groundbreaking new technology and the focus on individual ingredients – seemed to have added to the confusion.
“When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, the approach was simplistic. You’d cleanse, tone, moisturise… and that was the extent of it. Now there’s serums, essences, pre-serums. I wanted to drown out the noise and bring together the brands I know to work.”
During lockdown, the beauty industry scrambled to establish or expand online formats, with brands and services – even those as specialised as dermatologists and plastic surgeons – switching to online and Zoom consultations or checkups, where possible.
She has the experience to know she can navigate a challenge, and it shows
Rock established the Nerd Network on the basis of online consultation in 2017 when no one was doing it, and when many critics insisted the physical nature of face-to-face consultation just wouldn’t translate. It has been a massive success.
“People keep coming back because of the education we give, and the support thereafter. We have a Nerd Line you can Whatsapp seven days a week. You can contact us through live chat seven days a week. We encourage regular follow-ups – I think that is what’s missing in skincare. We’re accountable for a client’s skin as much as they are.”
Through sharp marketing and a keen understanding of social media and the selling-power of the right platforms, Rock has done almost everything right, making herself an Irish household name and her skincare brand an international competitor in a saturated market. She has the experience to know she can navigate a challenge, and it shows.
“I’m confident enough to know what I don’t have confidence in”, she laughs. This is the approach of her new book, incorporating the advice of experts across a number of areas to highlight the multi-pronged approach necessary for great skin. With the launch of her bestselling Skingredients products into the UK, there’s no doubt that Rock has further expansion in mind – she’s a woman on a mission, with more moulds to break.
Jennifer Rock on paring it all back
“Four steps in the morning, three at night. That’s all you need! Double cleanse. Use a serum – if you can acclimatise to a Vitamin A or retinoid, great (they can be drying to use but are worth it), but choose something with antioxidants – they are the absolute underdogs of skincare. Then use a hyaluronic acid serum if you feel like it. Then SPF. If people just did those steps by morning and again by night (without the SPF) – I don’t necessarily think you need a moisturiser per se – they’d see a difference. Take a photo every week to document your progress. Not to become obsessed with it, but more for the visual journey. We’re so emotionally attached to our faces; being able to track the improvement helps.
The Skin Nerd’s Skincare Tips:
1 Go back to basics. Try not to overcomplicate your routine and try not to look at marketing campaigns.
2 Double Cleanse! Cleansing thoroughly twice to remove all trace of makeup and SPF is essential for the absorption and effectiveness of the skincare to follow.
3 Antioxidants are vegetables for the face. I also recommend Vitamins A and C but antioxidants should have the same celebrated reputation.
4 See your skin as an organ. We think of it as an accessory. We paint it and we buff it. We can often feel guilty – especially those with small children – about investing in our skin. I really don’t believe having a cleanser, a serum and an SPF is about anything more than minding an organ – having the core parts of skincare right is something we all deserve.
The Skin Nerd Philosophy: Your Expert Guide to Skin Health is published in Hardback by Hachette Ireland, 24th September, €17.99