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What Being a Woman in Biotech + Hair Means to Me

Bioengineer and soon-to-be trichologist Sareena Karim shares how she uses science to empower others to embrace their unique beauty. Read More

Sareena—a Pennsylvania-based bioengineer, founder of haircare company Foli-Q, educator, and soon-to-be trichologist—harnesses her biotech background to educate others about their hair and guide them through what they need to do to take care of it.

She started her company, Foli-Q, during college in an entrepreneurship class.  It’s focused on building technology to help the everyday person take better care of their hair, and incorporating that technology in the salon to help stylists and other haircare professionals provide better services to their clients.

What Being a Woman in Biotech + Hair Means to Me

This Women’s History Month, we invited her to share her hair story, including her top hair tips, advice for women in science, insights about biotech, and more. 

let’s talk about your personal hair journey—pick a word that describes the best you’ve ever felt about your hair.

Empowered. My hair is a part of my identity, so when I have good hair days it makes me feel confident and more powerful. When I look good, I feel good.

how about one for the lowest?

Sadness. My passion for hair came from trauma: when I was six years old I went to a boarding school where my caretaker did not know how to take care of curly hair. 

Instead of trying to learn from a textured hair stylist or looking online for any resources, they decided to grab me by my hair and pull me into a salon to ask the stylists to cut off six inches of my hair. I was lucky enough that there was a textured hair stylist in the salon (Ms. Hope) who didn’t cut my hair, but instead showed me hair products and methods to take care of it. 

That’s where my hair journey started, because at six I had to learn to take care of my hair.

did you have any beauty icons or personal heroes growing up?

When I was young, artists like Beyonce, Rihanna, and Alicia Keys had a huge impact on me. They’re all super talented and always changing up their hair whether it be wearing it natural, in braids, or straightening it. 

I’d try to copy their hairstyles, specifically the style that was half-cornrows, half-curls that they wore a lot in the early 2000s.

My personal hero would have to be Ms. Hope, who as I mentioned before was the stylist who helped me when I was starting my haircare journey. I haven't seen her since I was probably 14 years old, but she quite literally changed my life for the better.  She’s one of the reasons I have so much respect for hairstylists—she started my love for my hair.

did you always know this was your path?

I got here today by listening to myself and my passions: science, haircare, and being creative. 

When I was younger I wanted to be an artist, and then when I was in 7th grade I had my first biology class. From there, I was interested in learning about how the body works. My love for science was also fueled by the fact that my mom has an autoimmune disease. The more I learned about the body, the more I felt connected to her, and that I could maybe even help her. 

When I started college I wanted to be able to start a company building medical devices so that I could help people like my mom, which is why I studied bioengineering. 

For now, I am focusing on haircare because it’s one of my passions—but in the future, who knows?

any advice for women just starting their science career?

Always keep learning. There’s so much you can do with a good foundation in STEM. Science gives us a way to understand how the world works. I think the more we learn and understand the better people we can be and the more impactful change we can make.

What Being a Woman in Biotech + Hair Means to Me

what has it been like to be a woman working in biotech and haircare?

It’s made me very adaptable and I have to take my own advice: always keep learning.

When I initially started working on my business, I didn’t know a lot about the science of haircare so I took cosmetic formulation courses, read every book I could about hair, and worked at a hair salon.

Because I had a foundation in chemistry, organic chemistry, and biology, it made translating everything to hair science easier for me. I think that there are times that I’ve been in rooms where people didn’t understand the purpose of my business because they can’t relate to the problems I’m addressing. 

When people think of a business in the beauty space, they think of the products, the art, and the marketing. Those are all important to beauty, but what they don’t realize is every one of those products is made using science, and the way you apply them takes into consideration the science of your hair.

how do you see these fields impacting the world?

Biotechnology has impacted so many industries and most people think of biotechnology in medicine, health, and even food production, now we are seeing more companies in the beauty space like my own startup through the analysis development and like K18 through the sustainable ingredient selection and creation. I’m interested to see how biotech continues to change the beauty industry.

what made you decide to pursue trichology?

Becoming a trichologist will help me give better information both in the education side of my business and in the analysis. Even though I have worked in a hair salon and done research on hair in college, I think that learning trichology kind of combines some of the hands-on experience I’ve had in a salon with the science base I have as an engineer.

Haircare consumers do a lot of self-research when it comes to the products that they use. Information can be a double-edged sword because I think the more knowledge a consumer has about a product the better decisions they can make around purchasing and use. 

It forces brands to create better products and to give better education about the products. But it also causes problems when the information may not be interpreted correctly. It can cause fear around certain ingredients and products, which ends up impacting what ingredients brands use and the products that able to be created.

what’s been the most surprising part of your training so far?

Seeing how hair is so connected to the wellness of your body. I learned in school the different processes of the body like energy production and metabolism but learning about them again through the lens of a trichologist is super interesting.

how do you take care of your hair? any favorite K18 products or other products?

I like to use a less is more approach when it comes to my hair so I try to keep my hair routine as simple as possible. This makes K18 an ideal choice for me.

When I clarify my hair, I love to use the K18 PEPTIDE PREP™ detox shampoo and I typically follow up with Nizoral to help manage my dandruff. 

Because I get my hair highlighted every couple months, I also like to use the K18 leave-in molecular repair hair mask every other week. Then I grab a conditioning product. Sometimes it's a leave-in conditioner, conditioner, or a hair mask and I detangle my hair. Then I follow up with a geI. Right now, I really like the Not Your Mother’s Curl Talk Sculpting Gel. 

I typically use a microfiber hair towel to dry my hair then I plop my hair with the AQUIS Flip until my roots are dry. Finally, I diffuse my hair and scrunch it out with the K18 molecular repair oil and sometimes I use a little bit of the K18 DAMAGE SHIELD protective conditioner to help scrunch my hair too.

What Being a Woman in Biotech + Hair Means to Me

what does your self-care routine consist of?


For self-care, I try to focus on my mental health by going outside and taking a walk. I take lessons in Taekwondo and I’m working towards getting a black belt!

I also love a good scalp massage with a scalp brush and some type of detox shampoo like the K18 detox shampoo, the Briogeo Scalp Revival Exfoliator Charcoal Shampoo, or Living Proof Clarifying Detox Shampoo. Every once in a while, I’ll apply a face mask. I like the Overnight Face Mask from Kiehls.

anything else you’d like to share?

As I look back on my journey in both biotech and haircare, it's been a rollercoaster of learning, passion, and growth.  I'm excited to keep pushing boundaries in haircare, blending tech and science to empower everyone to embrace their unique beauty. From launching Foli-Q during my college days to diving into trichology, every step has been fueled by my love for science and haircare.

To all the women starting their science careers, my advice is simple: never stop learning, and never doubt your potential to make a difference. Science is a tool for change, and with dedication, there is a huge impact we can make on the world.

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