Welcome to the first episode of the Pinks Boutique podcast. Introducing our founders, Kirstie and Luke Sherriff. In this episode, Kirstie and Luke reflect on the origins of Pinks Boutique and discuss the underlying ethos of the brand. Subscribe to the podcast or listen on iTunes.
Kirstie Sherriff: Welcome to the Pinks Boutique podcast with Luke and Kirstie Sheriff. In this series, we're going to walk you through organic skin care and organic spa with the Green Spa professionals - that's us. The show is going to include interviews with key players in both the organic cosmetic market and spa market. Discussions on all aspects of both the organic skin care industry, certification, ingredients; how this is applied and actually worked in spas; the pitfalls of this; and the future of organic in spa. Alongside reviews and feedback on all the eco spas that we visit and a larger look at how to affect your broader health and well-being and exactly what organic can do for your skin, mind, body and the planet.
Luke Sherriff: That's right. We thought the obvious thing to do would be to introduce Kirstie and I and talk a little bit about our background and why we consider ourselves to know so much about this topic. Kirstie and I met back in 1998.
Luke: Oxford University doing very different things. Kirstie was studying history, specializing in Maritime-Southeast Asia. I was busy doing a degree in human sciences, which is the study of humans and how they interact with their own environment. From that, we realized that we had a lot in common. I ended up being lucky enough to go off to London and play professional rugby for a living with Harlequin's for seven years and then up to play with Nottingham during which time Kirstie had taken her passion of beauty and set up a fantastic Pink's Academy training schools, which are now for training therapists in nails, beauty, and holistic training. We also obviously due to Kirstie's interest in Maritime Southeast Asia, found ourselves traveling across the world as often as we could to places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia and actually ended up getting married in Thailand, which was a fantastic experience.
Kirstie: If you let us near an airport we only tend to go east.
Luke: That's absolutely right, but it was a fantastic place to learn about spa, about treatments, about how to look after an individual and look after yourselves. We put all that information back into the Pinks Academy training. I was a pro rugby player, often the coaches would come in and change the way we looked at things. One year a guy called Phil Richards came in and decided we should have a look more closely at our diet. One of the things particularly was the quality of the ingredients, the quality of the food. We started to look closely at organic ingredients and how it impacted our performance.
Kirstie: It impacted my life quite a lot. I ended up in a house where we would eat, well I wasn't, but you were eating organic steak and broccoli at seven o'clock in the morning while I was trying to brush my teeth. That's my memory of it.
Luke: That is exactly what happened; however, there were some incredibly useful upsides and Kirstie and a lot of other wives and girlfriends noticed because they ended up eating in a similar fashion that their skins improved and that they felt better and lived better, which led Kirstie to go back to Pinks Academy where she was doing training, 2,000 people a year, and think a little bit more closely about what we should be using in our skin care.
Kirstie: Our two beauty academies were based in the Midlands, in Darby and Tamworth, and as Luke said really quickly had to become incredibly popular. As a tutor, you have a really interesting power over students, and one of the things I was noticing was that whatever I touched and used, they wanted. If I had a bowl or a tray or a spoon, they wanted it. It is quite an interesting power to wield. When Luke and his rugby team went through the organic world and hence so did I, I suddenly had this realisation that in the UK as a beauty therapist you never train in formulation. No, you never learn to fully break down a cream. You end up in a scenario where you use big spa brands and the rep comes and they teach you the top three, four key active ingredients, the exciting bits. No one ever tells you what the base of the product is. To be honest, despite having come from an academic background, neither of us had ever really looked at it or considered it physically either.
Luke: I wonder how many of you have actually turned over a bottle and read through the ingredients list.
Kirstie: Yeah, you look at the front. You look at the exciting two, three things that are screamed about on TV, screamed about in the pages of Mary Claire. There are a minimum of about 16 ingredients in every cosmetic I've pretty much ever picked up. I suddenly had this realisation of I had no idea what they were, which is bad enough if you're just someone at home using a beauty product, but I was touting myself as a professional tutor. I was in charge of eight new people a day, passing a minimum 2,000 people through our doors and they were headed off in the same direction with the knowledge that I had.
Luke: And you're a control freak.
Kirstie: Yeah and that.
Luke: Kirstie likes to know everything. She finds it very difficult and...
Kirstie: Can you remember one of the things I said to you as I was utterly shocked and slightly disgusted at myself that I actually had not gone into it in any detail before. That I had had so much trust of the brands and of the beauty industry. When we now go into spas and teach the therapists and take them through the process that we went through, the exact same things happen. They kind of end up within an hour with their head in their hands going how is this possible? The same when we get to the end users like particular as a British person, we as a nation are relatively trusting, and we are surrounded by mass global giants in the beauty industry. Your Unilever, P&G, Este Lauder, L’Oreal, and all the brands that come out of them. We have really, really strong trust in what they are telling us.
Luke: We have a long history of bureaucracy and I think people in lots of ways trust what goes on around them and don't often enough question it, in my opinion, in the current Brexit, hard not to mention it, is I think a rebellion against that because people started to realise that these influences and powers come from elsewhere and the reason that makes it specifically is in the last couple of years European regulation has impacted our business as big players and lobbyists from some of those brands that we can't mention have tried to affect the ways that people list ingredients to help them potentially green wash, something we'll talk about later, and make it even more difficult for consumers to find exactly what's in that bottle.
Kirstie: And so what happened is we suddenly started to go back to the books. We researched, we found medical studies in both directions on most of the ingredients we were dealing with and got to a fairly startling point where fundamentally and in truth, the beauty industry literally collapsed around me. I love brands; I love boxes; I love bottles, and I love beauty. I'm third generation beauty. My grandparents, my parents were all hair and beauty wholesalers. I've lived it from being put in a wholesaler cash and carrier at one year old and I suddenly felt like I'd been utterly cheated and that what was in bottles and what I'd been promised were problematic in two ways. One: suddenly I realised actually a lot of these ingredients had real health issues and risk alongside them. As a beauty lover, probably the more disappointing one for me in a way was the fact that...
Luke: Not all of them are there because they work.
Kirstie: Yeah. That's what I'm handing my cash over for. I'm handing it over because I have a skin concern; I have spots so I have wrinkles or I've got skin pigmentation and I want it to disappear. Suddenly the realization that when you go through what an inky list, which is the legal ingredient list on any bottle when you go through that list suddenly you start to see that a lot of them are not there for the skin. They are there for multiple other reasons be it cheaply filling up the bottle, making it bigger, making profits bigger for a manufacturer, adding in colour so they stand out against the next one they are sitting next to.
Luke: Synthetic fragrance to attract you to a product, not necessarily as in our products where there's aromatherapy that's actually having a benefit.
Kirstie: Yeah and there's this whole host of ingredients in these bottles that genuinely as a professional facialist well then not in the bottle for my skin. That's when the revolution started for us essentially. What we thought would be useful to do today is in episode one is to start you, our listeners, exactly in the position we did and go through some of that list so that you can see the kind of startling position we ended up in and ultimately the reason that the next eight years occurred because without that list of ingredients, this all couldn't have happened.
Luke: That's why in 2008 we launched Pinks Boutique award winning certified organic skin care for professionals by professionals. With our expertise and training, one of the key things we deliver is organic luxury spa treatments and predominantly our spa brand. We've got a hundred spas across the UK including the John Lewis and Beauty Spa, which we're launching the second one in a couple weeks in Leeds, which is fantastic and exciting. This we're in particular excited because the Soil Association, you will have heard of in regards to food actually accredits our products with regard to the ingredients that go in them to give us a third party certification so that you guys can trust what we're saying. They sponsor and support Organic Beauty Week, which is a big thing for us obviously. We've been out with our spas this week meeting them, teaching them and we've supplied them and created our Truth Is Beauty wallet card, which is a fantastic other thing and if you get a chance to go to any of our spas or go to our website, Pinksboutique.com, you can request one of these and they have the list of baddies to avoid that Kirstie was describing just then was the point where she realized that she needed to learn a little bit more, or a lot more about what makes a good clean genuine organic natural product.
Kirstie: When we realized that, the ultimate outcome is we ended up having to make one because there wasn't anything in the professional spa industry. The first ingredient we became faced with on every single bottle we opened - one was aqua and it's always, always followed by paraffinum liquidum. It is in probably every cream you will have in your bathroom, body cream, cleanser. Creams are a mixture of oil and water together and pariffinum liquid is the cheapest option to mix with that water. It's a by-product of the petroleum industry. They virtually hand it to the beauty industry. It's classed as a toxin; there are rules on how they dispose of it. They are not allowed to pump it straight into the sea so the beauty world gets it. We use it to make our cream. The worst case scenario - there are studies suggesting that anything petroleum-based, petroleum derivative could have carcinogenic properties. Best case scenario is that it's fundamentally an inert substance. Can you remember when we had a really interesting conversation with Stuart, a formulator, when they were talking about dermatologically testing for allergens.
Luke: I know, that's right.
Kirstie: When they are testing for allergens, when you are having proper dermatological testing, they would put a blob of paraffinum liquidum on one spot because it is inert and...
Luke: It's a trial patch. They know you are not going to react to that so they test it.
Kirstie: Yeah. That really should tell us something. Beauty therapists and a load of top facialists are now trying to avoid it. The fear is that even ignoring the worries that a minimum of paraffinum liquidum, so sometimes it is referred to as mineral oil that it is essentially like wrapping your skin in a cling film. That is pore clogging, not great if you have oily skin, acne, spots, yet ironically will always be the base of most spot regime products and teen products because it's so ultimately cheap. It's a cheap ingredient with little benefit but is a substantial, substantial percentage of every bottle alongside water.
Luke: I think it annoys me as much that you're essentially paying for something that does nothing. I mean that's one of the things that frustrates us both is there is absolutely no reason other than a manufacturer of a cosmetic company making more money because it's just filling their product with something that doesn't have any benefit to you. For me, that's as annoying as, you know, other potential bad outcomes.
Kirstie: Because the options are in replacement you need a seed oil. So you need something like organic apricot oil or organic coke seed oil, things that we use and they're more expensive. It is simply a game of math though paraffinum liquidum that's your first one to head off to your bathroom to look for because I'm pretty sure it will take you about three seconds before you find it. Very worryingly, if you do have young children it is a substantial ingredient in most child bath, baby oil, body washes so go check those quite quickly too.
Luke: A little challenge - see if you can get through three products without finding it.
Kirstie: Yeah. Four, those of you who are new to ingredient lis as well, remember that they are purposely listed in order of which there is most in the bottle. So the ingredient that comes first has the highest percentage in the bottle. Paraffinum liquidum will always be in the top list. Now if you are really lucky it will be followed, and I say that with some irony.
Luke: I'm not sure if you sound sarcastic enough.
Kirstie: If you're really lucky, your paraffinum liquidum will be followed by propylene glycol, another petroleum derivative. Honestly, and this is from very cheap skin care products to very expensive skin care products, your first three ingredients will be water, paraffinum liquidum - petro derivative, propylene glycol - petro derivative. They will probably make up about seventy to eighty percent of the bottle. That is the fundamental base of the emulsion. Now propylene glycol gets wheeled out to the press relatively frequently because it is the key ingredient in...
Luke: Windscreen wipers, windscreen washers.
Kirstie: Not actually the windscreen wipers. In car window screens, it's used as antifreeze. It's used to scrape barnacles off the side of boats when they come out and hydraulic brake fluid. It's an ingredient that in the green world gets ruled out as a real scaremongering ingredient. Again, we can do episodes and may well do episodes - we really want to hear from people which of these ingredients you want us to do full episodes and dig even deeper into. There are studies, medical studies that we have read with severe risk and then there are medical studies like in most things that then say there are none. But goes back to the fundamental base of could there be a better alternative for it?
Luke: If there is any concern at all, why would you risk it? There are so many better natural organic alternatives that get as good, if not better results. We're big believers in going that little bit further and finding something that is actually beneficial without the potential risk. It's a no brainer really.
Kirstie: Propylene glycol is there as a humectant, it attracts water, which is crucial in skin care. But hyaluronic acid would be your amazing alternative as a humectant, but substantially more expensive, but substantially more effective.
Luke: And better for you!
Kirstie: So paraffinum liquid, propylene glycol - look for those two first. Third up.
Luke: Here is SLS, the sodium lauryl sulphates. There found in shampoos, bubble baths and things that make things go firm and frothy so we're very used to them. They are actually probably less known as engine degreasers, car washes, floor cleaners and obviously a very cheap way and unnecessary in some products or procedures necessary because they are the emulsifiers and the surfactants, the things that bind products and make them foam. Obviously, there is lots of evidence and lots of non-green dermatologists that themselves say that they are potentially involved in childhood eczema. The worst case now is they are carcinogens and again as we say all along is there are loads of natural and organic alternatives. Although it would be nice and some always are, you probably won't get a natural alternative, which, what is the best product? Imperial leather.
Kirstie: The froth.
Luke: That is hard to do naturally, but it's not necessary. It's just something that you would become used to.
Kirstie: Yeah and this the question. We all grew up sitting in giant frothing bubble baths and to be fair to our parents, they didn't know any better. That this ingredient knowledge and the studies didn't exist, but the real question is if there is a chance that sodium lauryl sulphate irritates skin and causes eczema and causes dermatitis, which people outside of the natural and organic sector, dermatologists now agree with, do you really need bubbles?
Luke: Yeah, that's a no. People assume I think over the years that that's what makes it clean. It's not actually the case, it's just a sensation that makes it feel light and fluffy.
Kirstie: Totally psychological. However, you try wash to your hair with something that doesn't bubble and it really does, it does mess with you.
Luke: It is probably one of the hardest things in the natural world to get over.
Kirstie: That's why natural skin care, real organic certified skin care is in my opinion, and I'm sure some people might disagree, is leaps and bounds ahead of the hair care industry at the moment. But it is because we genuinely can take all of these nasty ingredients out and replace them and get results. If not, more substantial better results. Whereas in hair, it does become quite tricky.
Luke: Also, we've worked really hard with some of products to produce things with a similar consistency so the consumer doesn't feel like they're making too big a leap. It's a big enough leap to spend a little bit more and do a bit more research on a product. It is then difficult to use or perceive as different to use. That doesn't help our cause either.
Kirstie: But if you do have eczema or anyone in your family does, really, really go looking for sodium lauryl sulphate and that's how it will appear because it really is in my professional skin opinion a problem that will irritate that skin condition even further.
Luke: That's a problem that you and your sisters suffer from with shampoos and dry scalp.
Kirstie: I mean the thing that it's in, you don't necessarily go to fast because again who knew that someone would say that this needed bubbleless toothpaste.
Kirstie: If I use a toothpaste with sodium lauryl sulphate in it and it is very difficult to find one without then I will have to after one or two days the sides of my lip will start to crack. I'll start to get rashes around my mouth. We've had a few spa clients where they've been suffering with pigmentation, lack of pigment, loss of pigmentation around their mouth. Quite severe rashes and we've changed their toothpaste and low and behold mouth area fixed.
Luke: Next on our list is our favourite purely because it sounds so fantastic. People can actually say methylisothiazolinone.
Kirstie: I give that one to Luke because try as I might, still this many years in and I cannot say that word. I like to go with its acronym MI.
Luke: That is because it is a bit abrupt. In all seriousness, there's a possibility that it's as bad if not worse than some of the things that it replaced. It's a preservative, which is permitted by European regulation and believed by dermatologists to be causing dramatic contact dermatitis. Interestingly, there's a good chance that it was put in products to replace parabens as you would have all probably heard about parabens, paraben-free products.
Kirstie: Parabens are the only one really in this baddies list that has hit the mainstream press. More and more people seem to know the word. We're getting people walking into spas saying is it paraben-free? In truth, I don't think they really know exactly what paraben was and if it came up and bashed them on the nose, but there are a family of them. They will appear in the bottom line list of an ingredient list - butylparaben, methoparaben, ethoparaben, propoparaben and they are synthetic chemical preservatives. They are what give you a thirty six-, forty eight-month shelf life. They are there for no benefit to your skin whatsoever. It is to do with extending a shelf life and this an ability for a manufacturer to sell it. They have hit the press because there's been studies done showing and I say this loosely in that there have been studies in both directions, but there have been a number of studies done proving that they are increasing cancer rates significantly when tested and unfortunately I think for the mice it was mice. Then there have been studies arguing the other way. Luke is the scientist. When we met, he was based in labs. You know with medical studies that they are always relatively difficult in that you can skew studies in either direction and often it depends who is funding them.
Luke: That's a very cynical view although it is possibly true. I think the other problem with MI is there is an equal amount of evidence that suggests that it is potentially carcinogenic. That it causes eczema and I think really realistically they have just traded one bad product for another bad one. I think it's just generally best to be avoided.
Kirstie: Really in our opinion you want to avoid parabens. You want to avoid MI. There are now much, much nicer ways of preserving a bottle and our predominant way is using vitamin e tocopherol. People won't do it because it's such an expensive way to preserve, but vitamin e on its own, you would choose it to go in a bottle for how good it is on the skin.
Luke: Also the obvious solution is the case in a lot of our bond products is not to have water because the reason you need to preserve a product is because of bacteria and stability. If you have water in it that increases the chance of those things occurring, which is why they put heavy preservatives in it, whereas if you make an oil or a bond based product with less water in it and less air then you don't have as much to worry about.
Kirstie: There in it is the irony of skin care. They fill it up with seventy to eighty percent of just pure aqua and paraffinum liquid and then go oh, we have a lot of water. Now we've got a lot that needs preserving and you get a load of preservatives too.
Luke: Absolutely. Obviously we've talked in quite a lot of depth about some of these ingredients, but there is quite a long list. The best place to find our truth is beauty list is at Pinksboutique.com/podcast and you can look on the episode show notes to find out a little bit more. Also there's a great website called skin deep, which is an American site - www.ewg.org/skindeep/ - and that's a case where you can go and put in any ingredient and they'll essentially give you the data, give you any testing that's been going there and give you a score. I really like it because it is really clear so if you are looking at a name as we were discussing here methylisothiazolinone, which is MI then obviously you can type that in and they'll give you a score between one and ten and you're looking for anything that's a one or two.
Kirstie: One is green, ten is red and bad.
Luke: Red is an obvious colour coding. I think it's a great place to go and find that stuff. Obviously, our list is a guarantee that we don't have those in it. The skin deep website has got I think sixty-four thousand ingredients.
Kirstie: They are currently the biggest global ingredient website. Luke and I tonight have dealt with I would say the majors. The majors that we want you to go and check. They were the first four ones that I came to realize how problematic the bottles that we were using were. These are things we want you to first go and look in your bathrooms for. Paraffinum liquidum, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulphate, parabens and their friend MI. They are the top player of a much bigger list, but there will be a book of your product and unfortunately I guarantee that you will find most of those in most of the bottles. The best thing to do is go and start to have a look. Do not beat yourself up about this. Don't feel bad that they're there. We didn't know they were there. I was teaching people how to do facials and skincare and didn't know they were there. This is about learning and growing knowledge and starting to be informed to make your own choices. We'd love you to follow us on other media at Twitter, on Instagram and facebook.
Luke: We hope you enjoyed the show. As ever we would love to hear from you, feedback, ideas of what else we could do with the show. Things that you'd like to know and we really look forward to your input into the next instalment.