Paige DeAngelo

Cosmetics Get a Makeover

Kira Karlstrom

Paige DeAngelo

BA communications ’23

Founder and CEO, Aer Cosmetics (Philadelphia)

Age 23

Some say that beauty is only skin deep, but Paige DeAngelo, BA communications ’23, knows better. Hundreds of millions of discarded cosmetics containers that wind up in landfills each year are worse than an eyesore, DeAngelo says, since the plastic will take hundreds of years to decompose and release the powerful greenhouse gas methane in the process.

DeAngelo started a company, Aer Cosmetics, based on a formula she devised for water-soluble, vegan, cruelty-free mascara that can be produced with tablets in a refillable tube. Both the tube and the wand come clean in the dishwasher, and the product — which follows FDA regulations — is easy on sensitive skin.

Since its launch in August 2023, Aer Cosmetics has become a darling of the startup ecosystem, winning first place for the U.S. in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in 2023.

Defeating entrepreneurs from Ivy League institutions and those with doctoral degrees, DeAngelo recalls experiencing imposter syndrome.

“It was kind of intimidating,” DeAngelo says. “I did not expect it at all.”

Yet the entrepreneurial journey DeAngelo has taken reveals steely determination behind her expertly groomed lashes.

DeAngelo came to Drexel expecting to pursue a career in journalism and meteorology, a topic that had fascinated her since grade school. The more she studied the subject for assignments on DUTV, Drexel’s television station, the more she became alarmed about climate change.

Preaching sustainability on camera became a fraught topic for DeAngelo, who has used cosmetics since she began competitive dancing at age 8. (A former captain of the Drexel Dance Team, DeAngelo has since become a dancer for the Philadelphia Flyers and also gives private lessons).

“I had this overwhelming weight of guilt, understanding how much a passion of mine was causing waste and harm to our environment,” she says.

She began scouring the internet for sustainable cosmetics formulas but found scant choices for consumers who have sensitive skin. Through trial and error — and a $22 investment in supplies — she concocted a formula that worked. Plans for a career in meteorology soon receded.

But DeAngelo had no experience launching a business, beguiling investors, navigating FDA regulations, negotiating contracts with manufacturers or designing a reusable container, much less securing a patent for one.

Launching a company immersed DeAngelo in all of the above. She assembled a roster of mentors that includes Charles Sacco, vice dean of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship.

“He’s kind of like a therapist,” DeAngelo says. “He won’t give me the answer. He’ll work me to it, which is the best way to learn. That’s just the epitome of Drexel experiential learning: Me figuring it out on my own, with the assisted guidance of my mentor.”

DeAngelo spent last fall scrambling to assemble components for her mascara kits, which were manufactured in different places. Since the final pieces arrived in the midst of the holiday season, DeAngelo couldn’t begin sales until January.

Throughout the process, DeAngelo has eagerly shared her experience with others, whether through a TEDx talk she gave on campus in 2023 or in social media posts that bring onlookers inside the entrepreneurial maelstrom she occupies.

“One of my passions is teaching and explaining my mistakes so other people don’t have to go through the same ones,” DeAngelo says. “The majority of this process has been just the push and pull of ‘OK, this is something I have to do,’ and it looks like a bunch of fog in front of me. I can’t see anything. So I just wave my hands till it clears up.”

As a meteorologist might say, the forecast calls for patchy fog, followed by clearing.

How I Pay it Forward

I use my speaking platforms to break the fourth wall of business and allow my community to see the trials and tribulations it took me to develop my startup. With this authenticity, I hope to inspire younger entrepreneurs that they, too, are capable of accomplishing their dreams, regardless of how big they seem. I ambitiously hope that just one of my videos could spark someone’s confidence to create a life-changing startup of their own. Recently, I’ve begun traveling to different universities and high schools as a guest and keynote speaker to share how I went from no experience to a launched business while I was in their shoes, and how they can do it too.

Concerns about climate change inspired Paige DeAngelo to create sustainable mascara.