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Why 60 is the new 40 for Beautyblender founder Rea Ann Silva

Silva chats with Mika Brzezinski about how she built her beauty empire, ageism, why failure is an asset and more.
Beautyblender founder and CEO Rea Ann Silva.
Beautyblender founder and CEO Rea Ann Silva.Courtesy of Beautyblender.

Rea Ann Silva never imagined her career after the age of 50. In fact, when Prince’s iconic song “1999” came out in 1982 when Silva was in her early 20s, she remembered thinking that “my life is going to be over by then.”

She was very wrong.

Flash forward to today, and Silva – the 60-year-old founder and CEO of Beautyblender – has built a beauty empire. The company says it has sold over 500,000 million of her signature, egg-shaped cosmetic sponges that’s a favorite among celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Meghan Markle and Heidi Klum. Her products are available in over 50 countries and she has expanded her line to include foundation, concealers, powders and more.

Her rise to the top, however, wasn’t linear or quick. Before Beautyblender, Silva was a single mom and working makeup artist. She invested every penny into her business and didn’t take a salary for nearly 10 years

RELATED: How broke, single mom Rea Ann Silva built her Beautyblender empire

“When I launched Beautyblender, I struggled to pay my rent, my car was repossessed, I was doing magic tricks with money trying to pay bills as a single parent,” said Silva, who was recently honored on Forbes and Know Your Value’s “50 Over 50” inaugural list. “My advice is to take one little step to your dream every day. You have to embrace — not fear — the challenges. Dream, be fearless, and follow through.”

She did just that. And now, at age 60, Silva says she is just getting started. She recently chatted with Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski about how she built her beauty empire, ageism, why failure is an asset and more.

Below is their conversation, which has been edited for brevity and clarity:

Mika Brzezinski: We recently launched our 50 Over 50 initiative, which celebrates women over the age of 50 who have achieved significant success later in life, often by overcoming formidable odds or barriers. We're thrilled that you were one of our honorees.

It’s hard for women like us to work in visual mediums. But I have found we are witnessing a real change with women who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. They are not stopping, and they’re also reaching their highest heights. What do you think?

Rea Ann Silva: …Top level, we're taking better care of ourselves now. We're living longer. It really is our time. Hats off, kudos to you for being able to really lead this initiative … I feel like for so long, especially again, being in the entertainment industry as you know, being on camera, ageism is real.

I keep reminding myself, especially because this year I turned 60, that the concept of time is a human concept. It really has nothing to do with anything.

Brzezinski: I’m curious, did you ever envision your career after 50 when you were younger?

Silva: … I didn't envision my life past honestly like 40, 45.

…As a matter of fact, when I started Beautyblender, I kept thinking, "OK, by the time I turn 50, I want to have the option of working … in a trailer doing makeup if I want to, but I didn't want it to be my only option. So that was like really the premise that drove me to really try to be successful with this new idea [of the Beautyblender makeup sponge].

And also, because I had spent so much time on set and in production, away from my family, my kids specifically. [I thought] “I’m really am going to need to spend some time with them because these 14, 16, 18 hour days are not doing it.” So, I could not envision until Beautyblender came around what I was going to be doing at this age … As far as the world was concerned, I'd be knitting a little crochet blanket in front of a fireplace and drinking a hot toddy.

Silva has expanded her line to include foundation, concealers, powders and more.
Silva has expanded her line to include foundation, concealers, powders and more.Courtesy of Beautyblender.

Brzezinski: We have so much in common. At 40, I thought I would be done with and wouldn’t have a job in TV. Instead, at 40 my career exploded, I created Know Your Value and now 50 Over 50. I’m 54 and my whole outlook has changed.

Let’s talk about the start of your career. What was the most valuable experience? For example, I started out in local news doing everything myself, and I still consider it the most valuable experience of my entire television career.

Silva: … One of the things that I tell myself, almost on a daily basis … you just have to remember that you know what you know, and nobody knows what you know. And so never think that your contribution, conversation, talent or art is subpar.

There's so much information now on social media. And if we talk specifically about makeup, there are tutorials from everybody and every makeup artist … and you can start to feel like, “God, do I really know what I know? Do I know enough?”

… The first time I walked on a set and did makeup was a little scary, because I had only done it in person and not on a person for camera. You have to everyday just know that you know what you know, and it's enough. And whatever you don't know, don't take it as a failure. You're there to learn.

Some of my biggest learnings haven't been from classes or people actually trying to teach me, it's been from failure and experience. So, I'm really not too afraid to fail because I know that there is a lesson in it for me …

Brzezinski: What do guys know that we don't know? Many men look at things and they go about them casually. If it doesn't work out, they don't freak out. When things don't work out for women, we often get so offended. We often tie ourselves up in knots when we fail.

Silva: … I think it goes back to the very beginning of interpersonal relationships between men and women and making families. At a certain age, women stop looking at each other as resources and start looking at each other more like, and I'm generalizing, but we started looking at each other as competition. And so, you don't share the stories. You don't share the lessons, you don't necessarily have the same kind of network. The guys go out and golf or they talk about business and they help each other. So that's why I'm so excited about anything that has to do with supporting female entrepreneurship and just general growth for women in general.

Brzezinski: I'm curious. When did you know you had something with the Beautyblender sponge?

Silva: Nobody's more surprised than I am about how a little sponge really has impacted my life and the life of everybody that's around me.

…The first real recognition that I was actually doing things … is really when I got the respect of my peers. That was when I started to get requests from other makeup artists that wanted a Beautyblender. It's one thing to know something works for yourself. It's another thing to know that you have other artists that you respect … and they say they can't live without [your product] and they need to use it. So that was really, for me, one of the first kind of moments where I took a breath and relaxed a little because really your peers are your biggest critics because they're the other expert.

…And I would say the biggest thing beyond that was getting a Best of Beauty award from Allure magazine …Now everything is online, but back in the day, you had to subscribe to a magazine, wait for the mail or buy it on a magazine stand …Allure was really specifically beauty, beauty, beauty. And for them to give me that kind of support and that kind of recognition was just like, “Oh my God. We really did something here.”

Brzezinski: What do you enjoy the most about being able to run a business and employ people and employ people doing something that you love doing?

Silva: For me, it's the people. I have an amazingly talented, passionate team that I work with… I love each and every one of them. And I mean, it's such an honor. And so humbling when you realize people really are supporting you and your ideas.

…I'm sitting in my office in Pennsylvania today, and I'm looking around. I have my people working in the warehouse, people in assembly, people in planning and customer service and operations. And it's just such an honor and a responsibility to be supporting these people. You're supporting them and they're supporting their families by you supporting them. And it's just awesome.

Brzezinski: Finally, where do you want to go with this at 60?

Silva: I wish I could say that 60 was like a threshold for me, where I started thinking like, "what's your end game?", I don't know about you, but for me Covid-19 was like a silver lining. I know it's a horrible situation, but I wasn't traveling and I wasn't having to be everywhere all the time. It really gave me some time to reflect and take care of myself.

… I can say confidently now sat 60 years old, I don't really see an end. I still own my business 100 percent. I don't have any financial partners or investors or anything like that yet. I like that autonomy.

In many ways, I look at my business as a legacy business for my kids, hopefully. My daughter has taken an interest in Beautyblender, and she works very closely with us, but she has her own interests. And my son is in school right now, he's in D.C. going to Howard University. At 21 years old, he has no clue yet what he's really going to do. But for me, I am enjoying the hell out of what I'm doing. I love what I'm doing … I don't see an end to it right now. I'm still full throttle ahead right now.