You are working at colleen, you are also studying under a research grant from Bioresource Processing Alliance with Auckland University, and you are CEO and founder of natural haircare brand Botaniq. What are you up to, how is your life rolling?
It's busy, but it's good. I applied for funding for some research that I have always wanted to do. I'm trying to find an ingredient to use in Botaniq and potentially other brands might want to use it as well. There's quite a lack, especially in the haircare realm, of good active ingredients that truly come from natural sources.
There is something, in particular, I would like to be able to use in haircare and so I thought why not use this time when we can't travel to go back to uni and try to extract this ingredient.
It's commercially sensitive which means I can't talk about it in a very specific context but essentially what I'm doing is taking by-products and using green extraction technologies, running some tests on that ingredient to get efficacy results, and refining it to a highly active concentrated form.
How are you fitting it all in?
I'm lucky in that I really love everything that I do. Working at colleen is super fun and that feeds back into Botaniq. Uni is feeding into what I'm doing with the Botaniq too. I'm surrounded by inspiring people at every level of what I'm working on. It doesn't actually feel like work, as corny as that sounds. Even when I get a bit of downtime, I'm always mucking around with making products.
How do you support yourself, your health and your personal well-being ?
I'm really into running, so I try and run most days. I find it amazing for mental health and general well-being. I recently went vegan which I'm finding quite a good health thing as well. I like to drink wine and hang out with my friends and stuff like that too. I find it really energizing spending time with cool people.
Why did you start making haircare?
I didn’t have a lightbulb moment or anything like that. It was half necessity and half that I like figuring things out myself. I had always been interested in natural products. I grew up around Coromandel with hippie-ish parents. My parents bought a bit of land there when I was young. My mum was a baker and she kind of got over the rat race so they moved to Coromandel and my dad who is a builder built a house there. I moved down there as a teenager. I spent a lot of time in the bush and mucking around at the beach. I love getting back there when I can. Everyone in New Zealand knows how great Coromandel is. It’s a cool place to grow up.
Mum is an amazing gardener and had always taken a more herbal health route with us. Studying science and learning more about what is in haircare - most of the ingredients have come from petrochemical sources so are not renewable - I was thinking - Well, can you make hair care that comes from renewable resources that are as effective as the synthetic sources which we know perform well. I started playing around with an idea and went from there. There was so much trial and error, I made so many bad products.
How do you think your experience as a teenager has influenced your creation of Botaniq?
The cool thing about Coromandel is that you've got these great elements - you have the beach, and you have the bush, and it's all kind of intertwined as one. A lot of that comes through in Botaniq scents, the fragrances of the products. I am very fond of that sort of ocean breeze and green element because it reminds me so much of the smell of home. That’s the biggest thing that comes through, and the way that the ingredients work.
New Zealanders spend a lot of time at the beach. I think your hair looks best when you’ve been outside all day. Maris Sal Mist is about recreating the perfect beach hair without the crunchiness or drying effect of saltwater. I like trying to recreate that more natural aesthetic with my hair styling as well.
What's the difference between putting seawater in your hair vs. using a salt spray in your hair?
It depends on the salt spray for a start. I formulated Maris Sal Mist to be the same salinity as the ocean, so you get the same effect as seawater and added plant-based conditioning and moisturizing actives.
Salt has this amazing property where it helps curl your hair because it's forming extra hydrogen bonds in your hair. You get that nice springy curl, but at the same time when salt dries and the water evaporates, you are left with a salty film, and that's what leads to the crunchiness in your hair.
By using plant-based ingredients called humectants to draw moisture into the hair it stops the salt from being able to completely dry on your hair, which stops that super crunchy feeling. So Maris Sal Mist has all the benefits of swimming in the ocean without the ‘I can’t run my fingers through my hair’ feeling.
I had an incredible part of my childhood spent near Pirongia Maunga. We lived a relatively free life, it was the eighties, and I would jump on my bike to head up the mountain and climb trees and eat berries and rub leaves together. The only rule was that I had to be home by dark.
Yeah, I don't know what it's like to grow up in the city. Speaking to friends who grew up in cities it’s a totally different buzz. We had calf club day as well, taking a farm animal to school is pretty hectic. I’m so glad I grew up with that as a kid.
I’ve got my calf-club ribbons somewhere, I was runner up. Well actually, the girl who won, her lamb sadly died. And because I was runner-up, I got to take her place at regionals with my goat named Sparky. On the day, Sparky choked and just would not budge and would not do the obstacle course. I was devastated.
Good story. Are you using any local ingredients in Botaniq?
I use a local Hemp Seed oil which is grown and cold-pressed locally and one of the nicest oils for hair care and skincare. It's full of antioxidants and the fatty acid profile is incredible for your hair.
Using oils is such an essential part of a hair-care routine. Over time, your hair’s natural lipid layer is degraded so it's important that you replace that by substituting it with oil. Natural oils are the best because they are the most similar to our hair’s own natural oil. I also use the Black Current seed oil, which again, is high in antioxidants and has an amazing lipid profile. That’s grown down south and cold-pressed too. It’s nice to work with New Zealand based companies, I try to do it as much as possible.
I was working with a couple of native plant extracts but I was having issues where I couldn’t find any. Any companies that were producing them using Tikanga so I made the decision to stop using native plant extracts. As a Pakeha, I don't think it’s right for me to use those ingredients unless it’s done respectfully. That’s just a personal thing
If an ingredient is synthesised in a lab, how can it be bad? And what do lab-made ingredients take from the environment that natural ingredients don’t?
Using natural resources is awesome, but you can run into issues. Is it right for you to use a naturally grown ingredient that should be used for food or is taking up land space? Are you respecting indigenous cultures when you're using these ingredients? Are you growing an ingredient that is really taxing on the land or requires lots of pesticides?
It is a big deep rabbit-hole to go down. I do a lot of background research into these things and designing something in the lab is awesome and you can do that using natural ingredients. That's called green chemistry and what green chemistry does is it takes renewable, raw materials and processes them in a way that creates new and effective ingredients that are concentrated and standardised, which is really important.
We can create these safe and effective ingredients to replace traditional petrochemical ingredients. We need to make the move away from relying on Petrochemicals. I think they may still serve a purpose but obviously, it's a non-renewable resource and it needs to be something that we transition out of. There's a lot of scaremongering around synthetic chemicals and I don't think that's right.
I use 100% naturally derived ingredients because to me, it's a challenge which I really like. Look at the life cycle of an ingredient, how it's grown, how it's produced, how it is used, and weigh that up. Then you will have the answer to what is the most sustainable option.
Is more waste created in the making of natural ingredients than lab-made ingredients?
I think waste is such an interesting concept because it's very human-centric. Only humans create waste. Nature doesn't create waste.
It’s all in production design, right? For example, when I look at wanting to use this ingredient from this plant and I've got leftover plant material, what can I do with that plant material so that it isn't wasted. Is it being composted? Is it being used to generate energy? Is there another ingredient I can get out of it? This comes back to the indigenous view of using the whole plant or returning the plant back to the site where it's harvested from so that it can regenerate the soil.
We really need to move away from this linear economy that we're in, where we take, make and waste. Nature is a circular system where nothing is wasted. If you give it value, it's not a waste anymore. A way we can move forward as a society is to get rid of that concept of waste. You can apply that to any industry.
Are you developing any new products aside from your research project?
Yes, I am. I've got shampoo and conditioner coming by the end of the year. They are in stability testing at the moment. Stability testing makes sure that the product is not going to separate and that the preservative is working effectively.
It's important that you preserve any product that contains water because otherwise mould and bacteria grow in it, and that's not desirable at all.
With Botaniq shampoo and conditioner I’m using nature-identical preservatives because they have such a long history of effectiveness, and they can be used in very small quantities. It also means that the shampoo’s don't cost $200 each. Using natural preservatives are really expensive. They are insanely expensive. Using nature-identical is the same as what you get out of the plant. It’s worse to have a skin infection from bacteria than it is to have a preservative in your product.
What are your upcoming Botaniq shampoo and conditioner designed to achieve for our hair?
The shampoo is designed with scalp care actives. I've noticed in the salon that so many people have scalp issues. I’m working with Phospholipids and some other really cool natural ingredients. Essentially your scalp is an extension of your face, and it is super sensitive because you have so many follicles and blood vessels happening in there too. We treat our scalp so badly, we nail it with a blow-dryer, put the product on it, use drying shampoos or shampoos laden with conditioning agents.
All the cells in your body are made up of a phospholipid bilayer. Phospholipids are an amazing ingredient for barrier repair and moisturization which makes them an amazing ingredient for dry and compromised scalps.
The conditioners use plant-based lipids to restore damaged hair and restore the lipid layer. I’m all about restoring that lipid layer. One of the conditioners is designed specifically for curly hair and both are silicone-free. It’s been years and years in the making.
Have you seen anything cool lately happening out in the world of skin and hair care?
I do read up a lot on stuff. It's hard sometimes because you see something that sounds cool and then you realise it's just marketing. It’s quite had to wade through that. There’s cool stuff happening around the circular economy with design and packaging.
Packaging is such a big one. When you are small-scale you want to do everything right and you think - maybe I could get this made and then you have to order 10,000 units. It becomes really difficult than when you're a small business.
Anything that is single-use is problematic. It doesn't matter whether it's made from plants or petroleum. You use it for a second and then you throw it out.
Re-using and sterilising is a big one for packaging. With Botaniq I’m trying to keep my packaging in a closed-loop system so that none of it ends up in landfills. I take back my glass bottles and jars which get sterilised and re-used. I work with TerraCycle who take all of my lids to make sure they get recycled or repurposed.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve made the plastic out of plants or if you have made it out of petroleum, it's still plastic and it's still gonna have the same end of life issues, no matter what the starting material is.
What sort of things do you personally struggle with your hair?
My hair is baby fine but I'm lucky my hair is a little bit wavy too. I spent years GHDing the shit out of my hair and you know doing all the stuff. I started leaving it alone and it's the best my hair has been. Being fine it gets oily quickly. I wash my hair a lot. I like having clean hair.
What do you think of the No-wash trend?
I think if it works for you, awesome. If you’re thinking about using baking soda to clean your hair? Don't do that. On your hair and scalp, it’s the worst thing. I clean my shower with baking soda, there's no way I’m going to put that on my scalp. The pH is way too high, it’s too abrasive, it's just absolutely wrong. Just do no shampoo, rinse your hair with water.
What's on your shower shelf?
Samples of my shampoo and conditioner, and I make my own body wash. I'm super minimal with what I use. Weleda Skin Food is the best moisturiser hands down. I use Maryse Mineral Dew on my face every day. I make a lot of my own stuff as well when having downtime.
Can you tell me about a hairstyle or trend from the past that you hope to never see again?
The Rachel haircut. I reckon that's the worst haircut that has ever existed. Right? It is just so bad. That should just never come back. Everything else is cool.
I thought that you would pick the micro-fringe...
I think the micro-fringe looks good on some people. Not for me but some people can definitely rock a micro-fringe. As a child who grew up in small towns, and you would have been the same, I had full-on mullets. Like the most intense mullets. When I saw the mullet trend coming back it was quite traumatising. I could never do it again because I never had a mullet and an ironic way, literally it was the haircut of my childhood. I’m talking two inches long on top and then halfway down my back.
Is the future is promising for hair care?
Yes. Totally. What's happening now is that people seeking transparency, and if you're hiding behind marketing, you get found out pretty quick.
People are after authenticity. If you put in the hard yards with being natural and authentic and you’ve put all this extra work in it will pay off in the end.
I like to be optimistic; it is not all doom and gloom. People are doing some cool stuff, and I think it's inspiring for that to become the norm.
This the awesome thing about being at university. I'm doing a Masters in Chemical and Material Engineering. Engineering is practical, it's solving real-world problems. I'm working with the most inspiring woman and men, working on the coolest research and they are genuinely going to save us. We can't just keep throwing things away because there is NO away.
We see each other all the time and still we can have a conversation that blows my mind. Thank you!