Do you know what’s in your skincare?

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Like most women, in my pre-zero waste days, my bathroom cupboard was filled with dozens of mainstream skincare products.

Cleansers, moisturisers, serums, toners, exfoliators, eyes gels… you name it, I had it.

I loved sampling new products, and while I had my favourites, I wasn’t afraid to mix up my skincare regime and take the latest miracle cream for a whirl.

Once I decided to go zero waste though, out went those previously beloved products (recycled with Terracyle, of course).

Not only is the packaging of most mainstream brands terrible for the environment, so too are a lot of the ingredients, many of which are petroleum-derived.

Many cosmetics and skincare products also contain endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as phthalates and parabens, which are known to cause a slew of health issues.

Deciding to adopt a zero waste lifestyle has had the added benefit of not only dramatically reducing the amount of plastic waste our household produces, it also allows us to dodge a host of synthetic ingredients that are in most beauty products.

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What’s the alternative?

One of the first brands I stumbled upon in my early days of going zero waste was Mokosh.

I was immediately attracted to the brand’s certified organic credentials, their natural synthetic-free ingredients, and their commitment to sustainable and low waste packaging.

(I love their Pure Body Balm, the Coconut and Blackcurrent Lip Balm, and I use the Handmade Organic Olive Oil Soap for my two-year-old son.)

So today, I’m excited to bring you this interview with Mokosh’s director, Marion O’Leary.

We spoke about why certified organic skincare is so important, and Marion demystifies some of the ingredients that go into mainstream beauty brands and why they may be detrimental to your health (and the health of the planet).

What inspired you to start your own skincare brand, Mokosh?

I started making my own skincare during a break from work when my children were young.

Although I had been a scientist for my whole career – first as a veterinarian, then a pathologist and a medical scientist – I had always been interested in natural fragrances, and natural skincare products.

When I began to look into it, I was appalled to discover that so many potentially harmful ingredients are included in all skincare.

Like most people, I never really looked further than the title on the label, and did not realise I had been using questionable ingredients on my skin, and my children’s skin, all this time.

I decided to look at new ways of making skincare that do not rely on the preservatives, emulsifiers and other synthetic ingredients that I found so worrying.

I drew on Ayurveda (the ancient Indian system of medicine) and the latest science to formulate the range. My aim was to draw on the many different properties of plants to create products that serve all the nutritional needs of the skin.

Over the years, the products have evolved and the formulas have been perfected, so that they now contain 100% certified organic botanical ingredients.

Over time I have become more and more convinced that this new method of making skincare is so much better for the health of the skin.

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How and why are Mokosh’s formulations so different from other skincare brands?

Our products differ from other skincare ranges in that they are made without water.

Most people don’t realise that moisturisers are made with around 80% water, making them the perfect environment for the growth of microorganisms, and the reason preservatives must be included in water-containing skincare.

We consider preservatives in skincare problematic because they are powerful antimicrobials that can upset the skin’s all-important microbiome. All products in our range are free of preservatives.

The absence of water also means we do not need to include emulsifiers, which are detergent-like molecules that are needed to stabilise the oil and water emulsion, and unfortunately, like any detergent, they can upset the skin’s barrier function.

We believe the reason our customers find the health of their skin improves so dramatically when they switch to our range is because we leave out preservatives, emulsifiers and all the other synthetic ingredients that can wreak havoc with our skin’s health.

An additional benefit of our water-free formulation is that our skincare is very concentrated, up to five times more concentrated than water-containing skincare, so our moisturisers last around five times longer.

Why is certified organic so important when it comes to skincare?

Many people find it difficult to interpret labels on skincare products. For a start, the font size for the ingredients list is usually tiny, and most people don’t know what something like ‘diethyl phthalate’ is, and whether it’s good or bad for them (it’s not good!).

Instead, they are guided by branding, which of course tells you nothing about what is in the product. So unless you’re prepared to educate yourself about the ingredients in skincare products, you won’t really know how safe a product is.

Buying certified organic skincare is a fail-safe way to overcome this problem. This is because in Australia, certifying bodies do not allow potentially dangerous synthetics like the paraben preservatives, the phthalates and the PEGs in skincare products, and they must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic ingredients.

The other benefit of buying certified organic skincare, food and clothing is that you are supporting sustainable agriculture. As most people know, our planet’s soils, our biodiversity, and our whole ecosystem are in great danger due to climate change and unsustainable farming practices.

Each of us needs to do our bit by supporting sustainable agriculture – this means buying certified organic when we can.

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Why do you think so many people continue to use brands that are harmful to their own health, as well as the health of the planet?

I think this is mostly due to people not knowing the negative impact of their actions.

I find it surprising that people are still unaware of the ecological devastation caused by palm plantations and that their skincare is contributing to this disaster, if it is like most brands and contains hidden palm oil.

Still more are unaware of the potentially harmful long-term effects of applying paraben-containing skincare and phthalate-laden fragrances to their bodies and those of their children. It is something they are just not aware of.

Thankfully, more and more people are taking action on plastic use, but I am still surprised at how many people still buy all their food and skincare packaged in plastic when other options are available.

I believe that as people become more educated on the urgency of taking action for their health and the health of the planet, they will gradually make the switch to the healthier and more sustainable options.

Tell us how Mokosh strives to be an environmentally friendly brand.

We look at every aspect of our business, from our ingredients and packaging, to our handling of waste products, our use of water and electricity, and our recycling policy, and try to continually improve wherever we can.

Because we don’t use synthetic ingredients like emulsifiers, thickeners and stabilisers, we don’t have any hidden palm oil in our products. Ours is one of the few palm oil-free skincare brands available.

We package in glass and paper, and are continually looking at how to reduce our footprint in this area. We have recently introduced a jar-return scheme where we collect used Mokosh jars and wash, sterilise and refill them. We hope to be able to do the same for bottles in the future.

We also ran a buy-a-tree campaign this year, which resulted in the planting of 286 trees (so far) in a biodiversity hot spot. We hope to be able to add significantly to this number by the end of the year.

We have more ideas in the pipeline and hope to gradually roll them out as the year goes on.

Which book is currently on your nightstand?

I’m currently reading ‘Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life’ by Dr Claudia Welch.

This has been such an eye-opener for me and has changed the way I think about stress, the role of hormones in women’s health, and why it is so important for women to look after our physical and mental health.

It draws on western science, Ayurveda and Chinese medicine for understanding our bodies and what is needed for health – something that resonated with me because I did the same when formulating our skincare.

I believe a combination of eastern and western science offers a far rounder perspective. I think every woman should read this book.

Thank you for your time, Marion!

Please note, this is not a sponsored post.