T’s not every day that I get an opportunity like this — to interview a bona fide scientist. Let alone one who has been responsible for developing some of my absolute favourite skincare products (Thank you!). At last count, I am in possession of 14 items from Aēsop — they’re lying on my desk, they’re sitting on my bathroom shelf, they’re on my skin. Yes, I am an Aēsop acolyte. So, even before we met, I was already a fan of Dr Kate Forbes’ — the Australian brand’s global R&D and product manager.
The University of Melbourne alumnus, laureled with a PhD in Chemistry, a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma in Cosmetic Science, was in Singapore last weekend to give us lucky few a preview of the latest member of the Aēsop family: The Lucent Facial Concentrate. Ahead of a super-pampering workshop (face-time!) on a searing Saturday, I kicked it back with Dr Forbes at Aēsop Singapore’s cool, calm, covetable Club Street office as she offers me a little behind-the-scenes peek into the work and process it takes to develop a product (it could take as long as 10 years!). I also gleaned a few expert beauty tips you might find to be very useful — especially if you’re experiencing a post-lunch food coma or packing for your beach vacay. Of course, I wasn’t going to squander the opportunity to find out how Dr Forbes landed her dream job (“I never could have imagined that this is where I would be.”), get her take on self-confidence and learn the scientist’s art of seeing the positives in the face of negativity.
The important thing is to make sure you make the most of every moment, enjoy and embrace what you can do, and do that really well.
OK, this is probably akin to asking you to pick a favourite child, but what is your absolute favourite, can’t-live-without Aēsop product?
Dr Kate Forbes: It is a tough question. Obviously I’ve been involved in a lot of these formulations, and I put everything into making all of them. I think, from a chemist’s point of view, one of the most interesting would be the B Triple C Balancing Gel. It’s a Vitamin C-rich gel in an aloe-based format with panthenol, green tea… It’s really, I think, technically quite a difficult product to formulate. So that’s certainly one that I’m really proud to have in the range.
I’ll be the first to admit that the scent of a product plays a major, if not the most important, role in my decision to buy and use it religiously. “Stress” is a ubiquitous element in our modern life; at the end of each hectic day, there’s nothing quite like coming home to a nice hot shower, and washing the woes of the day off your face with pampering products that also sooth the senses. This is one of the reasons I adore Aēsop products. My question is, what does it take for you and your team to get something so personal as scent so right?
KF: I think we have a very strong vision ourselves of what an Aesop product smells like. For us, scent is part of the product. We use essential oils rather than synthetic fragrance ingredients to begin with. We’re very comfortable with the palette of ingredients we use and just work confidently within that, and saying, “for this product, which one is going to be beneficial?”, “What’s going to deliver the experience to the customer?”. We want functionality and efficacy in the formulation, but scent helps make the experience more pleasurable. If we can make anyone’s moments that little bit more enjoyable, then that improves the experience.
From conceptualising a product to launching it, how long does it usually take? What is the most important step in the process?
KF: Well, I think every step is important. It really starts with the ingredient research — efficacy, safety, all of that. If you get any part of the process wrong, the whole thing doesn’t work. So I think the key is the team we have at our head office with our laboratory on site in our Melbourne head office. It’s very interactive, and everyone has to work together to achieve what we achieve in the end. Every person’s role is really important. The process, for us, takes at least two years.
In a world where we are confronted with everyone’s idea of beauty (real or curated) from every direction through mainstream and social media, it’d be interesting to hear what your notion of “beauty” is.
KF: I guess it’s probably quite expected that after 15 years with the company, my approach to beauty is aligned with that of Aēsop’s — that beauty is actually about skin health. If we can get that right, then people should feel confident. I don’t believe that we need to be
presenting an image of beauty that is crafted behind something else. Most women just don’t have time for that as well. I’m a person who spends two seconds drying my hair to get out of the house — because it’s not a focus for me.
What are your golden rules when it comes to skincare?
KF: Keep it simple. If you can keep it simple and incorporate it into a daily routine, then it’s sort of easy for you to stick with. For me, the absolute basic skincare is cleanse, tone, moisturise morning and evening. I mean, it’s surprising how many people don’t realise that just cleansing your face twice a day can make a big difference, particularly if you’re putting products on your face throughout the day — make-up, sunscreen, not to mention pollution. Cleansing is so, so important.
And then it’s paying attention. Make sure that you’re seeing the early signs saying your skin is potentially a little bit more sensitive, or it’s a bit irritated or dehydrated. Try to look out for that and work out what you can do to help that before it becomes something you feel you got to cover up.
IT’S SURPRISING HOW MANY PEOPLE DON’T REALISE THAT JUST CLEANSING YOUR FACE TWICE A DAY CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE.
Let’s play a little game of mix-and-match. Can you match an Aēsop product to the mood we wish to achieve please?
To wake up in the morning and feel fresh and awake:
What you want to do is cleanse your face effectively, and so I’m going to say the Fabulous Face Cleanser.
To beat that post-lunch food coma:
Immediate Moisture Facial Hydrosol, which is a portable spritz hydrosol that you can carry around to refresh your face throughout the day.
To feel calm and relaxed before bedtime:
Damascan Rose Facial Treatment — it’s a vitamin-rich treatment oil to help moisturise, replenish all those nutrients back into your skin.
To feel happy any time of the day:
(Laughs) It depends on what makes you happy. If you have a few moments you can relax, I would go with the Blue Chamomile Facial Hydrating Masque, which is a moisturising
mask. Getting the moisture back into your skin will help you feel replenished.
To get into the holiday mood:
Before you go away, exfoliate with Purifying Facial Exfoliating Paste. For your flight, I would go with the Blue Chamomile Facial Hydrating Masque. It’s the perfect product to use in a plane environment to protect your skin from dehydration.
There are so many conversations these days about doing what you love and chasing dreams. When you were growing up, what did you dream of becoming? How did you eventually end up doing what you do?
KF: Certainly not this, specifically. I wasn’t so keenly involved in the whole beauty scene… but I was really interested in science. I was able to study chemistry at university, ended up doing a PhD in Chemistry (at the University of Melbourne). I thought maybe I might end up in a sort of academic area, but while I was at university, I was able to get a part-time job at Aēsop at their head office when it was still in its very young days. That opened my mind to the idea that you can apply science to real life or to business, you know, and that was an eye-opening moment to me — I hadn’t thought about it that way. And now, I’m actually applying my scientific background to creating something that I love — I guess I never could have imagined that this is where I would be.
What is one thing a woman can do to feel confident and empowered?
KF: For me, knowledge is what gives me that confidence. You know, public speaking was something I was terrified of when I was younger, but now, if I’m asked to speak about something that I know, something that I love, I have the confidence that whatever anyone throws at me, I’d have an answer to it because I know it. So getting that knowledge and learning, I think, is something that certainly give you that confidence to go, “Well, actually I know something about this; I have a view on this.”
What are your secret ingredients to a life well lived?
KF: I think as you go through life, as you learn and experience, you realise that you can’t do everything. So the important thing is to make sure you make the most of every moment, enjoy and embrace what you can do, and do that really well. You just can’t do everything and end up disappointing yourself if you try to take on too much at a time.
And when you do disappoint yourself — it’s inevitable — how do you get back on track?
KF: I think in those moments, you just have to be cognisant of the things you have done, and use those positive things to help get you back up. Great family. Great friends. Those people who say to you, “Come on, you know you can do this” — and you know you can because you’ve done it before. So yeah, those moments happen, just focus on the positives.
Aēsop’s very first facial concentrate, Lucent Facial Concentrate (“a high-intensity vitamin-boosting concentrate that fortifies, balances, soothes and replenishes the skin”) launches in Singapore on September 5. Wait for it.