Karen Ballou, 68: Always Look Forward

After a battle with cancer, entrepreneur Karen Ballou applied her decades of experience in the beauty industry to creating a skincare brand centered around the skin’s immunity and microbiome. She discusses her health and wellness journey, the challenges women face in the business world, and her top hosting tip for a great dinner party.

We are the sum of our experiences — the good, the bad, and the unexpected. Events may happen that are profoundly disturbing at the time but then send us on new paths that we may never have traversed. Karen has a long history in the beauty industry and beauty education, but it was her experience with cancer treatment that led her to establish a skincare company based on the skin’s immunity and its own microbiome: Immunocologie. She found a unique product that worked for her and, using her existing skill set, she brought it out into the world.

How old are you?
A very young 68!

You went through a battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma. What were your first thoughts when you were diagnosed?
WOW, it was a biggy; I just couldn’t wrap my head around it! I was in shock, disbelief. I cried and I cried… afraid to tell anyone for fear of what it meant and means to many of us… a death sentence. The word cancer hits you so hard that you can’t imagine unless you have been there!

How did you choose your medical team?
When first diagnosed, I wanted to go to Sloan Kettering in NYC since I was living in Connecticut. But after asking around, an oncology doctor who had just left Sloan and was working at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, CT was recommended to me. It seemed reasonable to check him out, and I never looked back. Additionally, I sought a second opinion from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, a place where my mother received treatment for a different cancer. After meeting with the Dana-Farber team of oncologists and receiving a similar diagnosis, I decided to have my treatment close to home at Norwalk Hospital. During this time, I also began exploring a healthier lifestyle and sought out wellness practitioners, acupuncturists, Chinese medicine practitioners, and exercise programs to support my wellbeing.

What was your mindset during the treatment process?
It was a roller coaster of emotions. I felt sad, cried a lot, and was overwhelmed by the unknown. Facing my first treatment, I knew I was sick and that only chemotherapy and radiation could help me get better. At first I felt isolated, like the only one going through this in my circle of friends but, in reality, I was so fortunate to have my kids and people who genuinely loved me all around me. To cope with the challenges, I had to visualize being well and manifest that positivity in my heart. It was a difficult journey, but I am grateful to have come out of it stronger.

“Cancer changes you for life”

What did the treatment do to you physically?
The treatment had various physical effects on me. I experienced nausea, fatigue, body aches, weakness, and brain fog. The specific treatment I received was called ABVD (Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Vinblastine, and Dacarbazine), and it made me feel like I had a never-ending bad hangover.

How has battling and surviving cancer changed you today?
Cancer changes you for life. As mentioned, initially I was scared to share my diagnosis with others but, over time, I embraced it and used my experience to help and inspire others. My family’s support and love gave me the strength to carry out my mission and make a positive impact on others’ lives.

Where are you from and where are you currently based?
I’m from a small town north of Boston: Wilmington, Massachusetts. I currently split my time between NYC and Portsmouth, NH, where my residence is.

You have lived in many cities; what are your thoughts on living in NYC?
I love living in the City That Never Sleeps. NYC offers community, networking opportunities, and a unique atmosphere where everyone eventually comes through. Whether it’s for a morning run, coffee, lunch, dinner, or even a glass of bubbly at my apartment, it’s always easy to get together with friends and conduct business.

How did you get into the beauty industry?
My interest in the beauty industry sparked at a very young age, inspired by my grandmother who had beautiful skin and took good care of it. After college, I got the opportunity to work for Elizabeth Arden, which became my entry point into the beauty industry. I embraced my career path, staying focused and seizing incredible opportunities to work with various brands and distributors in the skincare world.

You have a lot of experience with beauty education. What attracted you to helping in that area?
Throughout my career, I realized that aestheticians are the front lines of the skincare business, dealing with “hands-on experience” and offering valuable insights. I obtained my aesthetician’s license and started my own school in Atlanta, becoming one of the first to introduce the use of serums on the skin. I also noticed varying requirements for licensing from state to state, which made me passionate about offering support and opportunities for aestheticians to excel in their profession.

How is it different for a woman running a business today than it was when you entered business?
Unfortunately, not much has changed. Women still face challenges in the business world, where their messages may have more impact when supported by male voices. Juggling multiple responsibilities like careers, marriages, children, and family is common for women entrepreneurs, but it’s essential to invest in support staff and delegate to focus on being visionaries and keeping their brands on track.

“Women still face challenges in the business world”

What are some of the challenges women still face in business?
One challenge is the perception that a male presence is required to strengthen a woman’s message, especially when seeking investments from venture capitalists or decision-makers. Additionally, women often take on multiple roles within their businesses, assuming various responsibilities, which can lead to burnout. Delegation and investing in support staff are crucial for sustained success.

“Never give up” is the way to success! Failure is not an option! 

What is it like working with your husband and your son?
Working with my husband and son has been a joy! It’s a beautiful blessing. Keeping the lines of communication open at all times and shared goals are essential elements for successful collaboration. We have just that as we continue to work together and grow and extend our business. 

The Sunshine Report

What is the Sunshine report?
The Sunshine report is an initiative my husband and I started to help small towns around the country who have found themselves in an economic decline. We find bringing people together, they find the resources and even become motivated to get back into making their town alive again. We are beginning by improving communities around NH and, as we do this, we like to bring sunshine and positivity into people’s lives.

You started a skincare brand that is focused on the skin’s immunity and microbiome. Can you tell us more about the science behind that?
Immunocologie is the first product line designed to address skin immunity and the microbiome, recognizing the skin’s inherent intelligence. With key ingredients like French green clay, ionized clay water, and clean, plant-based formulations, Immunocologie supports the skin’s barrier system, providing essential minerals to balance its pH and nourish cells. The minerals found in our purified green clay and ionized water hydrate the skin, facilitate respiration, and combat free radicals contributing to visible aging, hypersensitivity, redness, and breakouts.

What is your relationship to your personal health?
My personal health is a priority, and I am committed to maintaining overall wellbeing. My journey through cancer reinforced the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle and taking care of my body.

“Skin changes as we age, but I believe skin is skin”

How is skin at 50, 60, or 70 different than skin at 30?
Skin changes as we age, but I believe that skin is skin.

What are your skincare travel essentials?
When my husband and I travel (we average two trips a month), I always try to fit everything into my black carryon. I like maintaining my healthy skin routine even while on the go. I love products that keep the skin hydrated and protected during changing climates and air travel.

What are some of your non-skincare rituals that you do to keep your skin healthy? How would you describe your fashion style?
Alongside skincare, I prioritize overall wellness, which includes maintaining a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress reduction practices. As for fashion, my style can be described as classic and chic, often following a black and white motif that pairs well with our Immunocologie packaging.

We understand that you love hosting friends and family. What is your #1 hosting tip for a great dinner party?
My #1 hosting tip for a great dinner party is to create a warm and inviting atmosphere, where guests feel comfortable and cherished. Attention to detail and genuine care for each guest’s experience go a long way in creating memorable gatherings.

What are your 3 life non-negotiables?
My three life non-negotiables are: prioritizing health and wellbeing, cherishing quality time with family and friends — means so much to spend time together, and always staying positive even when the tough gets going, and always looking forward!

Connect with Karen:
Immunocologie Skincare

Images by David Harry Stewart.

See medical disclaimer below. ↓


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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.


David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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