Greenwashing in the beauty industry has never been more prevalent. ‘Natural’ is a term that is flung around in the marketing world to dupe consumers in perception over practice. More often than not, brands are using intentionally confusing terms such as ‘naturally derived’ to describe ingredients that have undergone chemically laden processes which end up being far from ‘natural.’
However, with more and more people suffering from skin sensitisation, there has been an influx of beauty brands that are focusing on 100% transparency and formulas with pure ingredients. In light of our awareness towards the harmful effects of plastic and petrochemical toxins, there is a new mass movement in consumerism that encourages a conscientious overall lifestyle from the food we eat to the products we use and the clothes we wear. Education feeds better choices.
Within 3 months of launching, Organic Riot has garnered an abundance of attention in the press across worldwide titles such as Vogue, Elle, Grazia and Harper’s Bazaar. Eco-friendly, sustainable and clean, Organic Riot is more than just a skincare brand, it’s a success story that honesty is what people are searching for in our modern world of hyper consumerism.
From food-grade oils and Ecocert-approved ingredients right through to recycled or recyclable packaging, Organic Riot is an affordable, straightforward and most importantly, safe skincare brand without any endocrine-disrupting synthetics or carcinogenic chemicals that we don’t need in our lives.
Today, we pick the brain of Siddharth Somaiya, founder of Organic Riot, about his booming business and where he’s taking it.
Following your studies in Fine Arts in Art and Technology, what was the reason behind pivoting into the world of beauty?
Long……. Story.. But in short, although it seems Organic Riot is a new brand, I’ve been working on it since mid 2016. We’ve gone through 2,000+ natural raw materials to hone in on this range of products. I am an artist by training and have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art & Technology. I worked in a speciality chemicals company for 6 years where I worked with the largest personal care companies in France, Japan, Korea, USA and Brazil to sell my speciality chemicals to them. After working there, I realised that many countries don’t have access to safe skincare whereas some countries are far ahead. I wondered why there was such a gap considering nobody wants to put anything unsafe on themselves. After more research I realised it all came down to education and access to information. Most problem-solving creams I have seen across the world, have at least one hormone disruptor in it! To me this was shocking considering there are so many wonderful ingredients across the world which have traditionally used to target skin problems in a gentle way. Especially New Zealand ingredients which are renowned world over for their superb bioactivity. I wanted to give everyone access to safe skincare and hence I left the job I had and made it my mission for everyone around the world to have access to safe skincare. To me Organic Riot is more of a cause than a business.
In an industry that is so rife with marketing trickery, how are you finding it to educate consumers to opt for a holistically responsible approach to life? What are the hurdles and what have you found most impactful in getting across your message, especially to those who are wilfully ignorant about toxins in everyday products?
I have thought about this marketing trickery and greenwashing angle a lot. It used to frustrate me. But as I thought about it more, I realised that eventually as people become more discerning, the less likely they are to fall prey to this trickery. And I know that for skincare, customers keep funnelling down to the best products and keep acquiring new knowledge which cannot be unlearnt.
I have come to realise that my role over time is to be an educator who happens to have products. I am doing my best to explain to people what the best ingredients are to use, what one should look at in an ingredient. We’re lucky we live in an age where consumers don’t just buy products based on marketing claims. We’re all checking labels. Understanding ingredients is a trend in skincare right now. Learning about what goes into the making of products allows you to choose them correctly, so that’s good news. But here’s one downside – there’s limited information out there. Often, this leads to unwarranted fear associated with certain ingredients that get spotlighted, and many others may slide under the radar. But we’re here to help and break things down, one ingredient at a time. Hopefully this will help us educate people in a better manner rather than go your typical fear mongering route, which doesn’t really come to any real conclusions and in fact alienates us from very important discussions we must have in today’s world where facts are misrepresented to suit ones agenda.
And I love that you point out the idea of holistic approach to beauty. I think this is the most important bit. Every time someone buys an Organic Riot product, we have an email that goes out to them asking them to pay attention to their lifestyle while focusing on their skincare. Our skin is a mirror of the life we lead. The decisions we make in our daily life, supermarket, emotional lives can potentially affect us for the rest of their lives. That is why looking at skincare holistically is the most important method of “self-care”.
‘Naturally Derived’ is a big term that is used amongst greenwashing brands of all scales. What kind of extraction methods does Organic Riot opt for and how does it work to retain all of the phytonutrients?
This is such an important question! Thank you so much for asking this!
We source our raw materials from all over the world from farms next to volcanoes in New Zealand, Amazon Rainforest to farms in the Himalayas of India. Each ingredient is sourced from the place which grows the particular ingredient in the best way possible. We actually even take it a step further to know what temperature the oils were extracted and what extraction method was used.
For us this was of utmost importance, we wanted to procure extracts that have been extracted the right way, which is why for us traceability is most important. Not only that, the way the ingredient is grown adds to the potency of the oil. In-fact I had a discussion with the director of Agri-Bioresearch at an American University, where he also said there is scientific evidence about how the soil’s micro-biome is essential for the potency of the final fruit and hence it’s oil extract. We must give soil a lot of importance as soil is never “inert” and it is teeming with life.
Most people think of safe skincare as just replacing harsh synthetics with natural ingredients. It’s way more deeper than that. I can give umpteen examples of so many extracts procured from amazing farms which grow our raw materials without pesticides and pollution which have some unbelievable benefits compared to extracts from the same fruits from other regions. Just one quick example for you with one of our Superhero ingredients used in one of our products.
Our particular Kiwi extract is grown next to volcanoes in New Zealand. This means the soil is rich and the air is pollution free and no pesticides are used. Due to the hot sun, the kiwis need something to protect itself, so they intrinsically generate high amount of anti-oxidants. The oil is cold pressed and extracted using only water. (many natural oils are extracted using chemicals, which can be traced in the final oil, this is why water extraction is so safe). When extracted, this oil is known to have up to 2 times the amount of anti-oxidants than any other kiwi in the world. For e.g., Our particular extract has won international awards out of 1,000’s of Raw Materials, as to one of the most powerful anti-oxidants around due to its high bioactivity. This can only happen as its extracted in a safe and gentle manner and grown in superb conditions next to Volcanoes in the New Zealand region! All our ingredients have this sort of traceability and bioactivity to them.
When u apply this product, your skin can feel the freshness! Normally most manufacturers extract natural extracts using a chemical called Hexane and they have to heat the extract to ~200˚C, which literally burns away all its bioactivity. So, even though on paper it is a kiwi Extract, in reality it will never work the same way as a superb bioactive kiwi extract.
So, my main concern is sourcing and extraction methods to make sure the ingredient is powerful and extracted safely and effectively. All our natural oils are extracted using only cold press and extracted with water or steam only. Never extracted at more than 60˚C and never extracted using Hexane! That’s the key to a fantastic bioactive product.
The goal was to source ingredients which are the best versions of themselves from all parts of the world. To put it extremely simply for e.g., I can get Swiss Chocolate and put it next to a random Chocolate, although they are both Chocolate on paper, we all know which one tastes like heaven.
Also, we have to be aware of the limits of being truly “natural” and hence one has to use “naturally derived” ingredients to make sure the ingredients are safe, and they work, because if they don’t work, they will be doing a lot of harm. So, here safety and efficacy are key!
For example, in lipsticks, natural Iron Oxide (Red Pigment) is known to have more heavy metal content than its naturally derived counter-part which has none. So, focusing on Safety is always better in the long run.
I think as consumers our focus should be less on “naturality” and more on safety, efficacy and sustainable sourcing /production. I can use 100’s of natural ingredients which are harmful and also many synthetic ingredients which are absolutely safe. We should move away from fear mongering and do our best to acquire the right information.
Amongst all the noise, what are some tips you can share on spotting truly clean brands? How do we know that what we are purchasing is 100% clean and safe for us?
I think in today’s world every consumer has a right to know what they’re putting on themselves. If you have any doubts the best thing to do it literally just message the brand on Instagram. If you want to know extraction methods of an ingredient, how much % of an ingredient is used to make sure it will not cause a reaction etc, the best thing to do is just send a DM. We get 20-30 DM’s everyday asking all sorts of questions and we reply to each and every one of them. As a brand owner I know that someone trusting you with their skincare is like someone trusting you with their sense of self. As your skin is so deeply intertwined with your sense of confidence etc. For me, being approachable and answering all questions is a step towards showing my transparency and building trust with my consumers. I think this is the best way to know if a brand is truly clean or not as if they’re not willing to answer your doubts then they might not be following the best “clean” beauty standards.
What are the key ingredients you use in Organic Riot and which ones have you found to effectively replace the toxic synthetic fillers and preservatives we see in most brands?
We don’t use any fillers in our products. So, we never really tried to replace toxic fillers with natural ones. No fillers. No dilution. Everything you see on the ingredients label is present for the betterment of your skin.
There are so many problem solving ingredients we have replaced with safer alternatives!
Ill name a couple super hero Ingredients:
(Organic Certified) Rosehip extract: This ingredient is just amazing! I’m sourcing it from South Africa, as it is grown in a wonderful environment without pollution and pesticides. When extracted (using only cold-press) it has one of the highest amounts of Vitamin A compared to most other Rosehip extracts in the world. Vitamin A is key as it is known to be powerful in promoting skin building compounds. Most “Anti-Aging” products use a synthetic Vitamin A, called Retinol, even though it is linked to reproductive toxicity. In Europe, pregnant and lactating women are advised to avoid it. One can just use a natural Rosehip extract and get the fantastic benefits of Vitamin A without any of the horrible side-effects of Retinoids.
Liquorice Extract: Many people use creams with Cortisol (a form of steroids) to manage pigmentation. Liquorice Extract has proven to yield a reduction in pigmentation. Not only that, Liquorice Extract also prevents pigmentation and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin! Which is why we use this in Dazzle. We have had 1,000’ s of customers who have slowly moved away from creams with Steroids to using our product.
(Organic Certified) Tamanu extract: I am getting this from the Fiji Islands. It’s used in some countries to treat extreme skin conditions such as burn wounds as it is a super powerful skin nutrient. It’s skin regenerative properties are exceptional and it also helps the skin build up strength against a harsh polluted environment.
Manuka Extract: It’s one of the only ingredients in the world that can kill the MRSA bug and therefore used globally in hospitals for healing all sorts of wounds. It offers a host of benefits – it has strong antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, and also kills yeasts and candida, all while being very gentle on the skin. Traditionally, it has been used to promote new cell growth and thereby overall growth and the healing of wounds. Hence, it’s often used in acne treatments to prevent and reduce scars and replenish the skin’s natural balance. As an ingredient, it helps manage all the stresses of modern urban living, including pollution and blue light damage.
We use Manuka and Tamanu together to manage pimples and break outs. So, people don’t need to use drying Salicylic Acid/ Benzoyl Peroxide. Or use potentially harmful Antibiotics or Resorcinol on our faces any more to target acne. Just a simple dab of Zap on your face is enough to calm skin down rather than punish it into obedience.
Preservatives: The word ‘preservative’ often comes with a negative connotation. And for good reason. As of today the most commonly used preservatives are parabens, formaldehyde derivatives, toluene derivatives which are all known to be eco-toxic and endocrine disruptors.
In hot climates, preservatives are essential. They prevent the growth of bacteria, mould and yeast in skincare products. So skipping them isn’t a good idea either as it can lead to extremely harmful damage to the skin and acid mantle. Which is why, we employ one of the safest available preservation systems that don’t trigger hormone disruption or carcinogenic properties or eco toxic properties.
Food-Grade Certified + Natural Products Association® approved + Whole Foods® Premium Body Care approved ingredient. It was originally discovered in the berries from the rowan tree. Potassium sorbate is known to be as harmless to humans as common salt and has been used in the food industry for over 80 years. It is used to keep foods like jams, cakes and milkshakes fresh! In skincare, it is known to maintain your skin’s pH at the right level and keeps products fresh for longer.
Dehydroacetic acid and Benzyl Alcohol
NaTrue® (True Friends of Natural and Organic Cosmetics®) Certified + U.S. FDA Permitted + Soil Association® certified organic compound which keeps our product fresh. It is commonly used in the food industry for prolonging freshness of strawberries. This is one of the only ‘ecologically friendly raw materials’ as per the strictest European Commission regulations.
These preservatives keep our products gentle. In addition, our cutting-edge packaging technology ensures no interaction between the outside atmosphere and the product, so it stays as fresh as the day it was packed. We use airless packaging. All our products come in recycled and ultra-safe BPA-free bottles. The pump technology we use ensures the product inside is not exposed to the air outside. This increases the product’s shelf life and allows it to stay just as effective as the day it was made. Hence our requirement for using preservatives is even lesser!
Where do you see the beauty industry moving towards and what are the main obstacles you predict we will be facing for that to happen?
I think the industry will move towards more transparency as customers are becoming more discerning. This is the best thing as this will help distil brands down to be very clear in what they use in their formulas.
Another aspect I see growing is the concept of being holistically sustainable.
Beauty products have been known for killing off a species without you knowing about it. The process of a product reaching from ingredient to your home is a long one, and quite an opaque one. There are many links in the chain and it is filled with opacity. My idea is to make it more transparent and only buy from places where transparency exists.
We think of Organic Farming as the most sustainable method of procuring an “Ethical” product. A simple example again is the Organic Certified Palm oil which has been responsible for the death of 100,000+ orangutans in the Sumatra Forests of South East Asia. You can ask why does organic farming harm the environment in some cases? This is because in organic farming, the yields are lower (without pesticides) and hence farmers need to use larger land to get the same production using non organic methods. Hence, they cut forests to grow “organic” certified products. None of this technically violates the basic criteria of “organic and sustainable” cosmetics, but can you honestly say they are “ethical”? That is main question. As brands we should not hide behind certifications and in-fact look, at each ingredient case by case.
Yes, It’s difficult to lead an entirely ethically honest life. But it is important for us to research and empower ourselves with the right knowledge so that we can know for ourselves what is truly sustainable and ethical.
To us ‘cruelty free’ aren’t just words on a box. We dig deep to understand the harvesting methods of raw materials to ensure two important factors – that no form of animal cruelty or child labour has been used during the process. We firmly believe: animal cruelty is more than just testing beauty products on animals. Sourcing ‘vegan and organic’ ingredients from farms which have led to de-forestation and loss of animal life is equally cruel. There is nothing ‘cruelty free’ about a brand if it uses ‘vegan and organic’ ingredients which has links to child labour.
Another huge aspect is packaging and recyclability of it:
Our outer packaging is printed with food-grade, non-bio-accumulating & heavy-metal free inks. Each box is free of any sort of plastic matte/ glossy lamination so as to not interfere with the complete recycling of the box. Our tubes are made of BPA-free recyclable plastic polymers from Japan. Our product information is printed directly on the tubes, so they’re free from labels and adhesives that affect the recyclability potential of these tubes. We have way more information about this which would be another 3,000 words. If you’re interested I can share all that we do for being sustainable in our packaging practices.
Where to from here for you and Organic Riot? What are you focused on and is there anything in the pipeline?
Current focus is getting the word out about the brand. Why we exist and what our goals are, this is my only focus right now to be honest. We have a few more products in the pipe line, as many customers want to have an all “Organic Riot” lifestyle. So, we will have to give them that. ☺
Last one – what is the best advice you have ever received?
“Beauty is discovered not created”. This is not actually advice I’ve received but something I’ve concluded after hearing many discussions on the idea of “beauty” from 100’s of customers. The concept of beauty is always in flux and ever changing. I think it’s very important for us not to be bogged down and oppressed by a “standard” definition of beauty. We can define it the way we want in order to discover it everywhere we go.
Many customers I have had would only wash their face in the dark as they hated seeing their acne scars. Now, the same customers go confident and foundation free! This brings me the most joy for me to see them embrace themselves. This to me is the most empowering and the best way to live as a beauty consumer. This is why we even write “beauty is discovered not created” on our packaging to remind people no make-up/ skincare is required if you find beauty within yourself.
Words: Sophie Chung