I think Essential Care might have had its seeds sown in a careers interview my mother had with Boots in the 1960s. Inquiring about possibilities as a cosmetic chemist, she was told that there was “no future” in such a career. That rejection or bad advice, whichever it was, possibly lies behind the fervour and determination with which she went on to formulate her own products.
There was another spark too. In the 1970s Margaret studied beauty therapy and one of the assignments was to ‘take apart’ a facial moisturiser and study its constituents. As back then (and of course to an extent today) many commercial face creams – even the expensive ones - are full of cheap, nutrition-bereft petrochemicals, the findings were not pretty. Surely there must be a better, more nourishing way to make skin care? With sensitive-skin herself, and a catalogue of reactions to ‘conventional’ cosmetics, Margaret began to dabble in creating her own skin care.
When I was about seven my Mum began a course in herbal medicine. I didn’t understand the significance of it at the time, but I remember her finding it incredibly challenging and asking my brother’s friend Sib, a chemistry whizz, to help out with the complex aspects of the course. It was worth the battle as those learnings in the molecular makeup and interactive synergy of herbs laid the foundations for a lot of our products today.
Thirsty for more knowledge, Mum embarked on a diploma in aromatherapy – Mum was one of Shirley Price’s first students and she went on to become a founding member of the International Federation of Aromatherapists in 1985. She also specialised in phyto-nutrition, developing an in-depth knowledge of the profile of different extracts of plants from essential oils to tinctures and cold-pressed vegetable oils and butters and how each had their own beneficial properties for internal medicine and external skin health.
Meanwhile, while at primary school, I was coping with a fairly severe case of eczema, hiding my rough, red eczema-ridden hands from other children (although I was not alone and several of my peers had a similar dermatitis). I later discovered that my love of animals was a trigger for the eczema, but my skin problems were a catalyst for mum putting her newly gleaned knowledge of natural remedies to work.
I have a clear memory of her ‘brewing’ lotions and other concoctions in the kitchen. Ingredients were herbs from the garden and vegetable oils from the kitchen cupboard. I probably thought it was revolting gunk at the time (it almost certainly had an unusual smell), but it was then that Mum’s creams helped me for the first time, hugely outperforming the steroid or E45 creams prescribed by the doctors.
It wasn’t until at least 15 years later when I was in my early twenties and living in America that I discovered the benefits of her creams again. I had almost certainly not used natural skin care in the intervening years and had begun to develop skin allergies again (possibly triggered by stress related given an action-packed job as a management consultant!). In those 15 years Margaret had developed quite a range of skin care in response to both her own needs and friends asking her to make a cream for this and a shampoo for that. Nothing other than her formulations ‘agreed’ with me or worked and my interest was re-kindled.
I left America in 2002 and returned to Europe to start a Masters degree at the Institute of Political Studies ‘Sciences-Po’ in Paris. As you’ll read in the next blog, I didn’t get a lot of studying done and it was there that I began researching the business case for what became Essential Care.