Skincential Sciences, a company with an innovative line of cosmetic products marketed as a way to erase blemishes and soften skin, has caught the attention of beauty bloggers on YouTube, Oprah’s lifestyle magazine, and celebrity skin care professionals. Documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the firm has also attracted interest and funding from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The previously undisclosed relationship with the CIA might come as some surprise to a visitor to the website of Clearista, the main product line of Skincential Sciences, which boasts of a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.”
Though the public-facing side of the company touts a range of skin care products, Skincential Sciences developed a patented technology that removes a thin outer layer of the skin, revealing unique biomarkers that can be used for a variety of diagnostic tests, including DNA collection.
Skincential Science’s noninvasive procedure, described on the Clearista website as “painless,” is said to require only water, a special detergent, and a few brushes against the skin, making it a convenient option for restoring the glow of a youthful complexion — and a novel technique for gathering information about a person’s biochemistry.
In-Q-Tel, founded in 1999 by then-CIA Director George Tenet, identifies cutting-edge technology to support the mission of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and provides venture funding to help grow tech firms to develop those solutions.
Our company is an outlier for In-Q-Tel,” Russ Lebovitz, the chief executive of Skincential Sciences, said during an interview with The Intercept. He conceded that the relationship might make for “an unusual and interesting story,” but said, “If there’s something beneath the surface, that’s not part of our relationship and I’m not directly aware. They’re interested here in something that can get easy access to biomarkers.”
Still, Lebovitz claimed he has limited knowledge of why In-Q-Tel selected his firm.
I can’t tell you how everyone works with In-Q-Tel, but they are very interested in doing things that are pure science,” Lebovitz said. The CIA fund approached his company, telling him the fund shares an interest in looking at DNA extraction using the method pioneered by Skincential Sciences, according to Lebovitz.
Skincential Sciences was among several presenting companies.
The shroud of secrecy around In-Q-Tel belies a 17-year effort to build ties between the CIA and the biggest names in Silicon Valley. Gilman Louie, a video game executive known for publishing best-sellers such as Tetris, Falcon, and Civilization II, was brought on as the first chief executive of In-Q-Tel. The popular mapping tool Google Earth was created around technology developed by Keyhole Corp., an In-Q-Tel-backed company that was later acquired by Google.