(image taken from the Mokosh website linked here)
Marion O’Leary, director of Mokosh skincare, speaks all about natural beauty, the Mokosh skincare brand, toxic chemicals that are found within conventional beauty products and advice on starting a natural beauty brand. Keep reading for the full interview.
Business Name: Mokosh
Personal Name: Marion O’Leary
Job Title: Director
Please explain a bit about the business and what you hope to achieve with the business?
Mokosh is about making skin care that is as close to nature as we can make it. That means no preservatives or synthetic ingredients of any kind, and using only 100% pure certified organic botanicals. We believe that nature provides everything we need for perfect health; our task is simply to find the best way to use it. We turned to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, as well as modern science, to develop a way to use only 100% pure botanicals in our skin care. The next step is to show people how they can leave synthetic ingredients behind and help them discover how wonderfully their skin will respond.
Where did the idea for the brand come from? And what is the company ethos?
It started from pretty humble origins – making soap in my kitchen while I took a break from my career when my children were small. It began as a slow process of discovery where I learned about the origin of commonly used ingredients, their social and environmental impact, and how conventional skin care is made. What I discovered scared me, and I knew there had to be a better way. After a lot of research, I decided that Mokosh would be about making skin care that uses fair trade ingredients, without palm oil or its derivatives, without synthetic ingredients of any kind, and with minimal impact on the environment. We make skin care differently so that preservatives and other synthetic ingredients are not needed. I guess our ethos can be summarised as treading lightly on the planet, putting the welfare of people, animals and the environment first, while delivering the purest, most nutritious skin care we can.
Where did the decision to focus around natural beauty come from?
In my previous life I had been a veterinary surgeon, pathologist and medical researcher, so I am pretty familiar with the processes that lead to poor health and disease. To my mind, we are playing with fire when we eat, drink, inhale or apply to our bodies ingredients that are man-made and have only short term safety testing. I decided the only way I could be confident about the safety of my products was to have a strict policy on using only plant-based ingredients with a known safety record when applied to the skin.
Can you please tell us a bit about the synthetic ingredients that are used within conventional beauty products?
Synthetic ingredients in conventional products include preservatives, which stop the growth of microorganisms, emulsifiers, which allow the oil and water phases to mix, and a range of ingredients that improve the ‘feel’ of a product. An example is the parabens, which are preservatives that are very commonly used in cosmetics. Although they are known to be hormone disrupters in a laboratory setting, they are considered safe at the concentrations used in cosmetics, at least in short term studies. Another preservative that is used in some lipsticks, butylated hydroxyanisole, is carcinogenic in high doses, but considered not dangerous at the concentrations used in cosmetics. Despite the fact that consumers are exposed to only low doses of these potential toxins through cosmetics, it seems an unnecessary risk to include them in a formulation that is applied daily and over many years. This is of particular concern when we consider that an individual is likely to be exposed to a wide range of other potential toxins over their lifetime, whose interactions with each other are completely untested.
The other aspect of synthetic ingredients that should concern us is the environmental damage associated with them. For example, almost all emulsifiers have an input of palm oil, which means further rainforest destruction for palm oil plantations. Another ubiquitous ingredient, Triclosan, is an antibacterial and anti fungal agent used in antibacterial soaps and hand washes, toothpaste and other personal care products. It can survive in waterways where it is toxic to bacteria and algae, and has been found in land and sea animals high up the food chain. Its use has been linked to endocrine disruption, altered thyroid hormone metabolism and tumour development. Better to stick to plain old soap and water, which is now considered just as effective at disinfecting our hands.
Do you think that it is important for people to use natural brands rather than the alternatives?
I think that people need to be more aware of what they are putting on their skin, by taking the time to learn how to interpret ingredient labels. Not all ‘natural’ brands are necessarily free of toxins – the inclusion of an organic plant ingredient in a product does not mean that it doesn’t also contain parabens and ten other ingredients of questionable safety. Most people trust that a product must be safe if it’s on the shelf in a store and packaged with a natural looking label. Far better to assess what you put on your skin as carefully as what you eat. If you don’t really know what an ingredient is, you should look it up and then decide for yourself whether you want it on your skin.
Have you always had a passion for organic products that are kind to the environment?
I have always been interested in the environment, animals, organic farming and the health of the planet. When I became a vet I originally intended to work on wildlife, but a series of events led me in a different direction. I think that passion is what drove me to make the most ethical choices possible when formulating Mokosh skin care. It meant rethinking how skin care is made, and then sourcing our ingredients and packaging our products as sustainably and thoughtfully as possible.
How do you think that your product can benefit the consumer?
We think our skin care is the best way to take care of your skin, because it delivers the most potent dose of antioxidants, vitamins and beneficial fatty acids in a form that can be utilised and incorporated into the skin.
What is your best advice for other people wanting to get started and create a natural beauty business of their own?
Research is everything! It’s important to define exactly what you are trying to make, and you must be clear about the benefits and drawbacks of every ingredient. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet about skin care ingredients – you really need to go back to original research papers to find out the real story. Then read some more, and never stop reading.
What would you say has been your biggest success so far?
Still being in business 10 years after starting out! I think skin care is one of the most competitive business areas, and with a lot of green-washing and misleading marketing, it’s difficult for consumers to really understand what they are buying. Perhaps our truest measure of success is having so many long-term customers who will never use anything but Mokosh on their skin.
What has been the biggest challenge you faced when starting the business?
I think the most difficult part has been getting to grips with the business and marketing side. My science background was not very helpful with that!
Please share the most inspiring or motivational piece of advice that you have ever received.
I think my favourite go-to place for inspiration is Brain Pickings (www.brainpickings.org), a website that distils knowledge from philosophers and creatives throughout the ages. A favourite quote I picked up there is by Hugh Macleod:
‘The best way to get approval is not to need it. This is equally true in art and business. And love. And sex. And just about everything else worth having.’
So true. It affirms to me that our uncompromising stance on how we make skin care is the right path for us, even though it’s a long way from mainstream, turns convention on its head and often meets with resistance.
What are your favourite all natural beauty brands?
To be honest I don’t use any skin care brands apart from Mokosh. When I pick up makeup or other toiletries, I tend not to favour a particular brand, but spend far too much time standing in shopping aisles, reading the ingredients list, trying to work out exactly what is in each product, and whether I approve of this or that ingredient. I suspect shop staff think I’m a bit strange. It drives everyone crazy – I guess that’s why no one will come shopping with me!
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