How True Botanicals’ Founder Hillary Peterson Turned A Cancer Diagnosis Into A Career Opportunity

Yasmin Nouri

Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.

Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.

How True Botanicals’ Founder Hillary Peterson Turned A Cancer Diagnosis Into A Career Opportunity

After getting diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Hillary Peterson committed to becoming healthier, but quickly realized the beauty products she used were full of toxins.

On this episode of the Behind Her Empire podcast, True Botanicals founder Hillary Peterson discusses her journey in creating a non toxic and sustainable skincare brand.


“In my early thirties I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer,” Peterson said. “I wanted to do everything I could to live the healthiest possible life. And through that exploration, I was really shocked to find that my skincare products had toxins in them, and specifically, endocrine disrupting toxins.”

Peterson knew something had to change. She decided she could create the products she wanted that didn’t exist in the current market. While working as a consultant for Levi’s, she spent her free time researching the beauty industry, different products and consulting with skin care and environmental experts.

“Early on, we had done a clinical trial against a leading moisturizer, and the product dramatically outperformed that moisturizer. So then what I did is I took that information, and brought it to New York,” she explained. “I was able to say this is the moisturizer, ‘here are the results. This is how our product outperform so that I could get them to take the product home and use it. And that's how we developed an initial cult following for what still is one of our core products: Renew Pure Radiance Oil.”

True Botanicals combines science with nature to make clean products that are not only good for your skin, but the environment. They use glass and aluminum for packaging to make recycling easier. They require that every ingredient is “safe certified.”

Peterson said they were self-funded for two years, and to keep the business afloat, funding decisions were centered on specific products rather than branding and marketing.

“We focused on investing in the products themselves, the quality of the ingredients,” Peterson explained. “And we were literally blending the products ourselves for those early years.”

That do-it-yourself mentality translated into their marketing strategy as well. True Botanicals relied heavily on word of mouth and building a reputation among the skincare scene.

“So I knew from my experience with my prior role that word of mouth and establishing a real reputation for the products in the brand was key,” she said. “So I started off with a heavy focus on PR.”

Rather than taking on the role herself, Peterson also made the decision to hire a CEO who was an expert in the beauty industry.

“I think one thing that was just an incredible, pivotal step for me was to hire a CEO who's a beauty industry veteran,” she said. “And she in turn brought on people who really understand this industry and I feel like they're helping us to continue to evolve in a way that emulates beauty industry best practices, while innovating and doing things differently.”

For the most part, True Botanicals’ rise to fame was relatively smooth sailing. However, Peterson said early on there was one crisis involving an issue with a supplier that resulted in discontinuing their number two best-selling product.

“Our ingredient supplier had not disclosed to us that there was BHT preserving our retinol,” she said. “So we were making a product with BHT in it, and we didn't know it. And that was definitely a crisis just in terms of making a really tough decision. But we thought about it overnight, and we actually called up Women's Wear Daily, and we made an announcement. So we discontinued our number two selling product.”

In the end, the tough decision paid off. True Botanicals later created a retinol alternative that Peterson said she’d “much rather use anyway.”

“It was just one of those decisions where we prioritized our values and commitment,” she said.

For Peterson, entrepreneurship is a path that requires a lot of determination, but it also comes with a lot of flexibility.

“I found a lot of opportunities to be sitting at the kitchen table, while my kids were doing homework, and I could be doing work myself,” she said. “That was a really fantastic aspect of being an entrepreneur.”

dot.la social and engagement intern Gitanjali Mahapatracontributed to this post.

This podcast is produced by Behind Her Empire. The views and opinions expressed in the show are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of dot.LA or its newsroom.

Hear more of the Behind Her Empire podcast. Subscribe on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radioor wherever you get your podcasts.

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Why Women’s Purchasing Power Is a Huge Advantage for Female-Led Leagues

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

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Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

LA Tech Week: How These Six Greentech Startups Are Tackling Major Climate Issues
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