Clonlara woman is combining her scientific training and sustainable ethos to effect change in business of skincare
IT IS often said that the global beauty industry can have an ugly side. Heavily reliant on plastic packaging, the sector produces up to 120 billion units every year.
And that’s before you get to the advertising hype, airbrushed images and increasing pressure to chase after perfection and eternal youth.
One woman, who is determined to tackle some of those issues is Dr Ruth Kelly from Clonlara.
The former environmental scientist is a pioneer in the emerging area of ethical beauty. It’s something that she believes passionately in, as do an increasing number of consumers.
Ethically produced beauty products have become increasingly attractive, as they are more sustainable and can offer real skin benefits, as opposed to empty promises.
“Women are under constant pressure to look ten years younger and really, that’s just rubbish,” – Dr Ruth Kelly.
“We should look at time as a gift and not as an enemy. What we should be striving for is to look the best we can for our age. That’s a message that has been missing for a long time until the likes of Dove came along and started taking account of women of all ages and ethnicities.”
The desire to create positive change in the skincare industry and to offer a more sustainable option to consumers was something that bubbled away in the back of Ruth’s mind for some time. It was only during the pandemic that she had the chance to make a bit of a leap of faith.
“I was a post-doctoral researcher in the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and later a research officer with Clare County Council,” she outlined.
“I’ve also worked in Research and Development and my PhD is in Sustainable Development. Later, I was a full time carer and lockdown hit as I was getting back to my career.
“I was always interested in organic and natural skincare and realised there are very few lines out there that are using sustainable and ethical ingredients and are actually backed by science.”
Ruth said that first-hand experience of the benefits of pure and natural products inspired her to branch out into the science of skincare.
“I had gotten a bottle of cacay oil, which comes from a kind of nut grown in South America, and I was amazed at how it improved the tone and texture of my skin,” she said.
“That’s when I began to do some serious reading and research and lockdown gave me the time to do that.”
Being a qualified scientist, Ruth has all of the skills to understand the technical aspects of skincare production. Her home laboratory is very much the nerve centre for the development of new products.
“I converted a spare room into a lab,” she explained. “I got my lab gear out again and I suppose things got started in a serious way around this time last year.
“I began sourcing supplies from organisations that are environmentally conscious and committed to fair trade and people whose ethos is in line with mine. Some of the oils come from India and the US, because that’s where they originate, but I buy Irish where feasible, particularly for the packaging.”
In just one short year, Óige Organics has gone from a dream to a reality. The last 12 months have seen Ruth develop a range of popular products, all of which are handmade.
There are now six oils and three cellular water mists, as well as a scrub, face cream and mask. All of them were developed after scientific testing, as well as anecdotal evidence of their efficacy and benefits.
“The aloe vera mist, for example, was something that I used with my daughter after she got a bit of sunburn and found that it was very calming,” Ruth said.
When it comes to the facial oils, Ruth has noticed that people don’t always understand their benefits.
“People often think that you shouldn’t put oil on the face, especially in the case of problem skin,” she said.
“If you take something like watermelon seed oil, though, that has proven benefits because it contains linoleic acid. Acne sufferers, for example, have lower levels of that and the oil can help to bring balance.
“As well as the research, there’s the fact that the ancient Egyptians have used the likes of olive oil for centuries. The likes of cacay and rosehip oil both contain vitamin A which is the natural form of retinol and can produce similar results without the adverse reactions that some over-the-counter cosmetic products can give rise to.”
Building a business during a pandemic has been a challenge that Ruth readily embraced.
Hand producing the products and looking after the packing, sales and marketing means taking multitasking to a fine art. Ruth even built her website (Oigeorganics.ie) herself.
She is modest, though, about her achievements to-date and while she clearly has an entrepreneurial spirit, she describes herself as “cautious, rather than a risk taker”.
She is keen to learn more about the marketing dimension of business and looking forward to tapping into the wealth of training opportunities and other small business supports.
“At the moment, I’m more or less a one-woman operation, but I’m hoping to grow and looking at accessing the support of the likes of the Local Enterprise Office (LEO),” she said.
While she hadn’t worked in a while before starting the business, Ruth is now enjoying her fairly hectic schedule which involves using her full skillset.
She is also particularly proud of the company’s approach to sustainability.
“The oils are filtered and bottled in the lab, where the scrub is also made and everything is done with a focus on keeping packing to a minimum and using recyclable materials where possible,” she said.
There’s even the option for customers to bringing their empty bottles back for a refill.
“I really want to encourage people to send the bottles back and there’s a discount for anyone who wants to get them refilled, as well as free post and packaging,” she explained.
“There is already so much waste packaging associated with beauty and cosmetic products. You can watch videos on YouTube where people demonstrate just how much waste some company’s products create.
“The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that by 2050 there will be more plastics in the sea than fish. I think younger people are a lot more conscious of this and there’s a greater urgency about reducing waste and that’s very important to me.”
All of Ruth’s products can be bought on her website and she also takes a stall once a month at Limerick’s hugely popular Urban Co-op.
“Things are at a very early stage,” she said. “At the moment, I’m working to get the products into health food shops and I think that demand for conscious skincare is really growing.
“Social and environmental values are far more important for many reasons and there is a huge interest in sustainable skincare products.”