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Best Buy Q & A: Conscious Skincare

We caught up with Rebecca, founder of our Best Buy company Conscious Skincare. The company came top in our ethical shopping guides for skincare, shaving gel and foam, shower gel and soap.

What inspired Conscious Skincare, and how did it begin?

A couple of things really. Previously, I worked for a major international company and spent a lot of time in airports where I’d buy a stock of high end face cream in Duty Free. A flight delay one day meant I had some time on my hands and I started to read the ingredients list. I consider myself to be reasonably educated but I couldn’t understand a word. I was then and still am very careful about what I eat, so I had to ask myself why was I putting stuff on my face that I could not comprehend?

That’s when my research began into skincare ingredients. There was little choice for more natural and organic products, just the same water-based ‘thin’ moisturisers out there, which did nothing for my skin - and so the concept of Conscious Skincare was born!

It was a while later when my husband and I moved to Wales that the launch occurred. My husband, Quentin was poisoned by wood stain and was very ill for months. It left him hypo-allergenic to just about everything, so I scrambled around, going through all my notes and came up with some products he could use safely. It was a very scary time in our lives.

What sets you apart from other organic brands?

We personally create all of our products; each one is unique... and then we make them. We use a Soil Association Approved food processing facility near where we live. We’re allowed to use these fantastic facilities because all our ingredients are plant-based: no chemical concoctions here!

We keep the formulations simple, limiting ingredients and using the latest key actives that nature provides. We know exactly what goes into our products and the source of our organic ingredients. We carefully research new ingredients and look for supporting evidence, not faddism or fashion. We verify our suppliers. We define how our products are made and ensure our organic ingredients aren’t overworked so that they retain as much of their nutritional value as possible.

Our products are treated more like a food than a skincare product!

How are toxic ingredients in skincare getting worse as time goes on?

Did you know that today you need to eat four apples to get the same amount of vitamins and minerals we used to get from one, because our soil is so impoverished?

A recent study shows that where humans previously had around 50 different chemical compounds in their bodies 20 years ago, that figure is now around 500.

We receive more and more emails from people who come to us after suffering from allergies or sudden allergic reactions to products they have been using. It’s hardly surprising because, in some cases, where there is a list of ingredients on the packaging, not all of them are declared.

The word ‘parfum’ can account for whole hosts of ingredients, including some preservatives that do not have to be declared on the packaging. Many of these hidden ingredients are known irritants.

There’s so much evidence out there showing a strong link between some of the common ingredients found in mainstream skincare and people’s allergic reactions, which is why, again, those ingredients don’t appear in our ingredients. We’re proud to have won several awards for our ‘Free From’ products!

What does being 'conscious' mean to you?

Conscious Skincare is what we do. Fundamentally it’s about making conscious, thoughtful decisions about what we do and how we do it, whether it’s ingredients, packaging or behaviour, and this philosophy drives everything we do.

From the very beginning, there were certain ingredients that would never make it into our products. Palm oil, parabens or 27 letter unpronounceable preservatives were never going to be included. We have a page on our website called ‘chemicals to avoid’, which lists the ingredients we leave out, and weirdly, they all start with ‘p'.  

Which brings us to 'p' for packaging. One of our core goals is to ‘leave no trace’. Our products are packaged in recyclable glass and aluminium, and we have started replacing all PET plastic with glass. Customers can choose if they need a pump, and we offer large size refills. We’ve paid equal attention to our packing materials too.

We have seen the ways manufacturers and shops shift the problem of plastic waste onto their customers. We don’t do that. We use paper tape, cardboard boxes and wrap, biodegradable pellets made from corn starch, which dissolve in water, corn starch bags too, which also biodegrade, and all our paper is made from recycled paper.

Waste and packaging has always been one of my bugbears, long before Conscious Skincare was born. I have written many a letter to CEOs of supermarkets and other companies to encourage them to rethink packaging. At Conscious Skincare, we minimise product waste by not over-ordering and making products in small batches so they’re as fresh as possible for our customers.

Because we only use natural ingredients, any scrapings go into the compost bin if I can’t use it myself. Our clean ingredients mean we’re allowed to make our products in a Soil Association Approved Food Manufacture facility right here in Wales! So our products are made to food hygiene standards.

What are the rewards of running an ethical business?

Having the freedom to decide what we do every day and how we do it! We’re so fortunate to be based in Wales where there’s a lot of business support and the Welsh are incredibly loyal too. We live in a beautiful coastal location with the sea just down the road.

Our office has to be on one of the best industrial parks ever, with lots of greenery, a field outside our office and where flocks of sheep or goats are regular lawnmowers!

There is a social element to your business in your decision to use organic cotton bags. Can you tell us a little about this?

As well as using fair-trade ingredients where we can, Freeset, a fair trade co-operative, make our cosmetic bags using organic cotton and line them with recycled sarees.

The bags are made by women in India to provide them with a job, earn a living wage, escape the poverty cycle and regain their self–esteem. It’s such a positive story for all these lovely ladies.  They then have enough money to send their children to school!

image: rebecca conscious skincare on her porch in wales
Rebecca, the founder of Conscious Skincare on her porch in the Welsh countryside.

Why are you proud to have the Best Buy label on your products?

We’re very selective in the types of awards we enter. We have found that in many cases if you pay for advertorial alongside your entries then you increase your chance of an award win. We don’t like that, and we think that is deceptive and misleading.

We only enter award programmes that are independent and with completely independent judges, and so when we saw the opportunity to approach Ethical Consumer for an independent audit and review of our brand and products, we jumped at the chance.

In our own personal choices, when we purchase products with the Ethical Consumer Best Buy badge, this conveys a trust and assurance that the product you are buying has some credentials and ethics that have been rigorously reviewed.

The fact that you approach Ethical Consumer and can be refused is a great consumer gain for those of us trying to wade through the greenwash and find the types of companies we want to buy from. We perceive Ethical Consumer to have the same gravitas as Which? magazine.

What challenges do you face as an ethical company?

Like all companies, there are always challenges from all directions! For example, although we carefully choose our supply chain, there are still challenges around excess packaging, which takes time and effort to push back on. We don’t simply push the problem onto our customers, we push back, and where we don’t get a positive response then we vote with our feet.

From a retail perspective, pushing back against the increasing consumer expectation of 'order today, receive it tomorrow'. Of course some companies can achieve this but because of how we work, we're more akin to the 'slow' movement rather than a fast-moving consumer one and take 2-3 days to process orders and faster whenever we can!

We also hand-make all our products here in Wales; they’re not imported in bulk from overseas and simply repacked, and so if a product is not in stock, we need to make it.

There is a sea of change around plastics, which is great, but there is still a lot more discussion to be had. We are often asked if used containers can be sent to us to be refilled or re-used, but the carbon used to do this singular process far outweighs the energy used to recycle the containers.

It is not just the carbon used by Royal Mail to return the empties; we would have to set up a sterilisation process to clean and sterilise returned containers and then swab and test to ensure that they are clean for re-use.

Current recycling for metals such as aluminium and recyclable plastics has been in place for decades and works very well. We are a manufacturer, and we are simply not geared up to be a recycling plant as well: that is a very different model. But this is a great time for change and lots of learning.

What do you have to say to people who are worried about falling victim to greenwashing in the health and beauty industries?

Ask, ask and ask again! Sadly, consumers have to work increasingly hard to ensure that they’re buying the type of product they want from an equally suitable brand.

There are lots of wolves in sheep’s clothing out there! Firstly, there are some fantastic guides out there, Ethical Consumer being one of them of course as well as Naturewatch Foundation who create the Compassionate Shopping Guide.

Secondly, if it’s on sale in a major mainstream high-street pharmacy, then it’s highly unlikely to have any green credentials, so before setting out, have a look at those online stores and check out the products you’re thinking of buying.

Who owns the brand? Have a look at the corporate section on their website. How do they run their company? Look on the back of packaging if you can at the registered company address: who owns this brand and what do other people have to say about them?

With the increasing number of independent stores and refill shops, there is a growing platform giving far easier accessibility to more ethically driven brands than ever before.

What are your hopes for Conscious Skincare going forwards?

To be the next Anita Roddick! Bold I know, and she was unique. I was lucky to be a teenager in the 80s when Anita Roddick first appeared. She brought a whole new way of thinking and showed you could have a successful business and run it in an ethical way so everyone could benefit.

In my day, I marched against just about everything, always fighting for the underdog. Nowadays, I’m more of an armchair protester, but the fire Anita Roddick started in me is still there and burning bright!

If I could emulate just a few of the things she did and bring some new ways of doing things for the benefit of all living things on the planet, that’ll do for me.

We would like to thank Rebecca for taking the time to talk to Ethical Consumer. For more information about Conscious Skincare, visit our ethical shopping guide to skincare.

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