News of our planet’s degradation dominates headlines. Everyday we read stories about the devastating effects of climate change; plastic waste clogging our oceans; carbon emissions; food grown in compromised soil; additives in products we use daily; chemical residues – including plastics – in our skin’s chemical composition. As a species we seem hell-bent on destroying our planet and consequently ourselves. But then something shows up, something which helps shape a better, more sustainable, future. And gives us hope.
The ethos of the organic organic skincare brand, Esse, is outlined on its website: it is cruelty-free, certified organic, no animal products are used and it is dedicated to the development of Fair Trade and environmentally sustainable natural products. I had tried some products and my troubled skin eased. To find out more, I met Kayleigh van der Heever, the brand’s Western Cape representative.

Congratulations to Esse on winning the Best Day Cream category in Sweden’s Organic Beauty Awards.

Thank you. We are also runners up in UK’s ‘Free From’ Skincare Awards 2018!

Tell me about the product and about using live probiotics in the formulations.

Probiotic microbes [bacteria and yeast] live on and in our skin. Without them, skin ages rapidly. We encourage the growth of beneficial microbes by including live probiotics in two serums. Other products we make include probiotics which are kept whole, but are not necessary live. It’s a difficult and expensive process, but it benefits the skin. Probiotics and consideration for our microbiomes are the future of skincare; they treat a wide range of problems. After making the shocking discovery that chemical residues – including plastics – were in the skin’s chemical composition three days after nothing was applied to it, we are even more committed to Trevor’s vision of sustainable living and to preserving Africa’s biodiversity.

How important is it to use nothing else, not even an aqueous cream, when using Esse products?

Petrochemical-based creams seem innocuous but cause harm by signalling a negative feedback by discouraging the skin from making its own oil. Big hospitals currently prefer coconut oil. Preservatives, found even in bland creams, react against the pre- and probiotics in ours. Why buy a great product, only to destroy its active ingredient with a preservative? Rather don’t.

As a fairly small brand, will you cope with the increased demand your awards may lead to?

We started from humble beginnings and ‘skilled-up’ as we grew, now employing around sixty people. Our natural ingredients are locally and organically grown, and the supply and demand logic will sustain us. I love being part of a company that empowers local communities.

As a young chemist, why did Esse’s founder, Trevor Steyn, focus on skincare?

Trevor wants to play a part in an ‘indefinitely sustainable future’ and lives by that resolve. In 1996, he completed his master’s degree in organic chemistry when he developed an interest in African plant chemistry. His original research was on Kigelia africana, the African sausage tree, and he planned to develop dietary supplements. On observing how the plant’s extracts benefitted skin, he changed focus to research other African plants and their effect on the skin. After two intense years, he realised he could make a better product than anything on the shelves, and concentrated on formulating. Esse was born in 2002 in a laboratory he created in a rented house. A young tree stood outside that lab, and his children played under and in it while he and Dee, his wife, established the company. The Esse headquarter is still there. The tree, much bigger now, is also still there and much treasured by everyone who works in that space.

Does Trevor’s commitment to work-life-balance influence the work ethic of the company?

His management style reflects balance in work and life. He is young and doesn’t fit the corporate image of a business tycoon. He surfs, plays squash and practises yoga. But beneath the casual exterior hides an extraordinary intellect and razor-sharp focus. He is clever, dedicated, and pays intense attention to detail.

Esse’s unusual holistic approach looks at lifestyle changes (even recommends gardening) to help correct disorders. How do you get that message across?

We are all passionate about Esse. The ongoing research into new probiotic species and delivery methods keeps us enthused. Our stockists are genuinely ethical about educating themselves and their clients. Media interest also plays a huge role in getting our probiotic message out. Once people are convinced of the ingredients’ benefits, they easily find us.

Esse isn’t in big stores or pharmacies. Do want it to reach a wider client base?

Our clients tend to be curious and invested in overall skin health and well-being. Knowledge is key; so our primary route to market is through salon and spa, where trained therapists share their knowledge of both skin and Esse. New clients find us after googling ‘probiotics’ or searching for ‘environmentally-friendly skin care’, as the world reaches out to that message.

Tell me about the packaging. Is it recyclable?

Glass is indefinitely recyclable, it is inert and non-toxic. Although it is not ideal in the ground, it will never leach contaminants into the environment. We do not re-use our packaging, but all of it is recyclable.

Might future copycat companies undercut Esse?

As with any honest movement, large scale adaption to skin probiotics is good for converting people to make better choices, and we welcome that. Any ethical competitor would struggle to undercut Esse on pricing because we don’t cut corners to increase margins. Apart from our probiotic and organic philosophies, we have always incorporated high-end, safe and effective active ingredients to offer the best in anti-ageing skincare.

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Photo credits: Images supplied.