The man and the molecule

Verso’s founder Lars Fredriksson on the eight-year-long process behind the Near1 technology — and how it was all worth it.
July 05, 2023

Lars Fredriksson founded Swedish skincare brand Verso in 2013. A lifelong dream, it’s made possible much thanks to the fact that he’d come across some really interesting ingredients. One of them, Retinol 8, is a special version of Vitamin A used exclusively by Verso.

— This has been instrumental to us and part of the reason why we exist; to offer highly effective and performance-driven skincare with Vitamin A that is more gentle to the skin and works for all people, he says.

He then realised that he wanted the 2.0 version of it and develop a Vitamin A for everybody. The challenge: he didn’t know how to do it.

— If Vitamin A is known to be ’the golden standard’  in the industry, the runner-up has been Niacinamide. And given that there’s tons of research on all the great benefits of Niacinamide, what if you can combine those molecules in a new formulation but at a molecular level? There was something there that I was intrigued about.

— When I spoke to the formulators, they explained that Vitamin A and Niacinamide have completely different characteristics and are not compatible. For instance, one of them is water soluble and one is fat soluble. I figured that you just need to work around that — I couldn’t let it go, says Fredriksson. He continues:

— It took a long time but when they told me for the first time that they had done it, it was obviously happiness, close to euphoria. But, then the next thing came from my lab team in Italy; ’it’s all good, but we can’t get it into a formulation — it’s not soluble’. I still felt that we needed to figure it out. And, again, it took such a long time before we got it to be soluble. In parallel, we also made sure that we did all the tests on a molecular level, such as measuring the toxicity and potential irritation, which is even more important when we work with Vitamin A. After that, when we had done all those tests and passed everything and it all looked very promising — there was no stability.

The process went back and forth, year after year. Since Verso doesn’t have tons of money, they needed to take it step by step, put things on hold a little bit, continue, saving up some money, and then do some more tests.

— Many times, when you’re going through such a struggle, is when you’re being the most creative. I do believe that that was part of the success — instead of just sitting there with all the resources or handing over things to tons of researchers to test. But yes, it’s taken such a long time.

The final clinical testing showed good results. And, as Fredriksson summarizes it, it was well worth the effort. Verso Super Elixir performs very well while also being so gentle to the skin that it is labelled Hypoallergenic and even people with sensitive skin can use it. The feedback has been tremendously good after launching and the serum has won several awards.

— We’re getting so many positive comments from people after trying the product, says Fredriksson. One of the keys to my drive is that this is what I wanted to fulfil. First, we created a new brand that is about to become global. Now, we are introducing it to new people with our own patented molecule that no one else has with all the benefits that we want it to have.

Lars Fredriksson.

You’ve had the same partner in Italy throughout all those years. What do they say?

— They come from a different world, the pharmaceutical industry. So if I call this a long lead time, this is nothing for them — rather a minimum. They’re used to formulate and come up with new API molecules for pharmaceutical companies.

— They have a very big part of this, obviously, not the least for never giving up on me and being both a great business partner and a mentor. If we had gone to a contract lab, I think the project would have been dead so many times, so without them, it wouldn’t have been possible. And we’ve also become lifelong friends, says Fredriksson. He continues:

— If you go back 10 years, we talked about reducing fine lines. Today, it’s about skin health and how can you promote your skin in the best way. Our technology used, called Near1, fits right in there, and that, I think, is part of the reason why we are getting all the awards. It’s giving nutrients and energy to the skin, but we’ve also made sure that it’s gonna be gentle to the skin so that more people can use it, without having issues of discomfort.

— If we take the ingredients, I wanted to get the best part of Vitamin A and Niacinamide. The innovation, though, is not to put them all together — we wouldn’t have a patent granted for that. What happened was that together, it showed unexpected things and really improves and stabilizes the Vitamin A. The Niacinamide had some really great properties in this format — and that was unexpected.

The process has been running for eight years. How do you proceed after this?

— We will continue! There are more things that we want to do with this technology. The first product out there is the Super Elixir and now we are working with more innovation where the main thing is to look into how we can put the technology in different kinds of formulations. The Super Elixir is a light oil, so now we want to see how can we make it in an emulsion, a lotion, or a face mask. What we will see is the same technology but in different formats.

Will you also offer it for other brands?

— No. I think this is a Verso thing!

Verso Super Elixir.

”Products have become more effective in the past 10–20 years”

You mentioned the increased focus on skin health. We’ve all seen this shift, how do you view it? 

— There is less talk about anti-aging. The products have become more effective in the past 10–20 years and continue to target fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation and such, but today, we look for products and formulas that, for instance, optimize our skin, for less pronounced wrinkles, and how to minimize the appearance of pigment spots. 

— Consumers are still looking for products that target signs that make us look older. We still want to stay young or at least younger-looking. By using products that moisturize and nourish the skin with the right active ingredients, the skin will look younger and will protect the skin against premature aging which is important in both appearance but moreover on a health perspective. For younger consumers, it’s important to maintain and prevent signs of ageing skin and how to prolong a healthy young-looking skin.

You’ve been running the business for a decade now. What’s been the most challenging for you? 

— There have been and are many challenges in building a global brand in a changing and more complex world — everything from logistics, R&D, and regulatory. And, at the same time, not to compromise on product quality or our DNA. Things always cost more and take longer time than planned, so it’s important to be focused.

— The number of brands that have entered the market is staggering so competition is even greater nowadays. The digital communication and online business made a big shift and was catapulted due to the pandemic. Online will continue to be strong but I think omni-channel will be very important with a great mix of both online and offline retail. 

Verso continues to grow, most recently in Asia and Australia, with an SPF product launching early next year. 

— This is something which we have been working with for a long time. And, we will of course see more products with our NEAR1 technology, aiming to continue to consolidate our position as Vitamin A pioneers, says Fredriksson. He adds:

— In these next coming years, it will be important to continue with creativity along with our scientific approach and build a strong relationship with our customers and make sure we stay relevant. The important thing is to keep focus on our brand and at the same time we need to localize and adapt our product offering and communication. Or ’Think global, act local’, as we use to put it.

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