The passion behind the new Issada skincare range
By Deb Farnworth-Wood
Over the years the creation of many skincare ranges has been driven by the need of the business founder to fix their own skincare problems. I’ve observed that this approach often leads to a range being biased towards a limited number of conditions and centred around a particular ingredient. For instance, using mainly AHA or BHA’s – plant and animal derived acids used in daily anti-aging products as well as for peels. This if often why many skincare brands have just one or two hero products that they stand or fall by.
That’s why, when developing the new Issada Clinical Formula range, I was dedicated to making every single product a hero product. As a result, the range is unique, effective and provides unparalleled results for all the core skin concerns that I know our clients want to resolve. There were no development short cuts – I’ve gone through a thorough process to ensure every product formula is refined to as near perfect as possible. The result is a range of 20 retail products and 10 professional products that are highly effective using pure, ethically sourced ingredients.
When it comes to developing a skincare range, I have significant expertise. In 2016 I commissioned the formulation and manufacture of a product range for a business I owned at the time. The focus was to solve the skincare problems of the hundreds of thousands of clients across the then 20-odd clinics in my brand. Even before that I had worked with pharmacists and formulators to develop treatment products for clinics and as far back as 20 years ago, when I owned a pharmacy, I worked with my pharmacist to develop a formula for babies with cradle cap. All this experience and knowledge has been channelled into the development of the new Issada skincare range.
In 2016 I was alarmed by how many decisions I had to make that were not based on efficacy but on price, logistics and manufacturing constraints. I learned that many skincare brands use the same base in each category (moisturisers, serums etc) because this cuts production costs, is favourable for buying discounts and makes for faster and easier research and development. However, when everyone is using the same base, then other factors can come into play such as absorption and efficacy of the actives.
Many ingredients in skincare are used in tiny amounts but with large suppliers requiring significant minimum orders, this introduces extra upfront expenditure and bring other logistical issues such as storage, shelf life and wastage. The alternative is you restrict the choice of actives to ingredients either readily available in Australia or available in smaller quantities.
Despite these challenges, I believe the skin care range I created back then was very good. However, it is always in my nature to improve everything I do so in 2019 when I sold that business, I retained my original clinic and set off on another skincare formulation journey.
This time I had a whole new approach. This time the products would not be limited by cost-effective production. This time there would be no compromise and every product would be a highly effective, problem-solving hero.
Having been through the process before, many aspects of the project were easier, but it was still time-consuming - combining collaboration with international formulators, on-site R&D, packaging logistics, and multiple manufacturers and suppliers. Not to mention the procurement of a factory/warehouse with its necessary fit out and equipment requirements, and of course eventually, the challenge of COVID-19.
The detail that goes into developing product specifications is critically important. I create a profile for every product specifying what, why and how. For example, in our Recovery Complex for post-treatment application, I was looking for many qualities: soothing and calming, anti-redness action and anti-bacterial. In addition, it had to be suitable for use on the face and body. When used on the body it needed to quickly cover large areas such as men’s shoulders and legs after laser treatments, which meant it needed to glide onto the skin easily and be rapidly absorbed. Finally, because laser rooms can sometimes smell unpleasant after laser hair removal, I wanted it to smell great with a scent that was clean, safe, non-reactive, mentally calming and yet would linger just enough for the next client to walk in and not smell singed hair. Solving for all these requirements was a big ask!
Because of the Issada ethos, the qualities of Natural, Organic and Clean were high on my radar and the majority of the products are exactly that. However, there is a fine line between “natural ingredients” and refined “actives” which have in many cases been concentrated and so it was impossible to produce the results we wanted without some small compromise in those areas. But I absolutely refused to compromise when it came to Cruelty Free. Other factors such as recyclable packaging, vegan and no parabens arose as I wanted my range to tick all those boxes too.
Once the profile is complete, considerable research goes into bases and active ingredients before samples are ordered for R&D. Ingredients can take up to six weeks to arrive which of course impacts on the R&D program. Therefore, the R&D phase can span many months of making small batches which are tested for stability, efficacy and shelf life. Everyone I meet says “I’ll test a product for you” but choosing the right sampler is crucial as we need the testers to be knowledgeable about skin, be compliant in using the product, willing to have photos taken and to be able to provide intelligent, articulate feedback.
As each of the formulas completed initial testing they were launched in my clinic where the staff critiqued every aspect from packaging through to consistency and of course efficacy. My team have all worked with many other skincare ranges, so their feedback was invaluable. Consumer satisfaction was also assessed through feedback and repeat purchases.
Packaging is a major project itself. It was really difficult it is to get the packaging correct from a practical point of view as well as dealing with the fact that different countries have unique recycling specifications.
We worked tirelessly to source quality bottles and tubes and to develop a unique look. Screen and silk printing of packaging only becomes viable with minimum orders of 5,000-10,000 per SKU so during the development and early trial days the products were manually labelled which meant we could adapt the formula if necessary and easily change the labels which we printed in house. During this period, we found unexpected issues with some of the packaging, for example the beautiful dropper bottles we had purchased for one of the serums were too time consuming to sterilize and assemble for use.
Launching with an extensive range of 20 retail products and 10 professional products meant we needed a lot of storage space for packaging as well as production, bottling and finished goods areas. I literally knocked on the doors of other local factories to see if anyone could let me have more storage space “just in case”.
COVID-19 slowed our progress significantly. We were on target to launch the range in July but with lockdowns and freight delays we lost nearly four months. Throughout the initial Australia-wide lockdown, my support and marketing team worked from home. R&D was able to continue in the factory as that was able to remain open because we also make a men’s grooming range (shavewithvalor.com) there and it was considered an essential service and spared the harshest restrictions.
The packaging company I had been working with for several months suddenly swapped their production focus to hand sanitiser bottles and halted the manufacture of all other bottles until 2021 and so I had to start the whole process again with another supplier.
Other activities that are a crucial part of the development are stability and microbe testing. We had to undertake the stability tests three times in all – with the original packaging we used in the clinic, then the new Issada packaging and again when we changed manufacturer.
Finally with the product range in place, the bottles and packaging sorted and the tests completed there is a whole new project of work around developing Point of Sale materials, a training program and, of course, a comprehensive marketing campaign.
I’m often asked about the investment in the process – and the financial investment is considerable – but the time, effort and commitments is actually more daunting than the money and of course none of it can be achieved without the best team around you.
Deb Farnworth-Wood is a 10 x business founder across a range of Aesthetic, Health and Wellness businesses. She is the owner of Issada Cosmetics – the iconic Australian Mineral Make-up range, and Shave With Valor – an organic men’s’ grooming range. She also founded the Australian Skin Clinics Franchise which she sold in 2019.