Products made by hand with fresh ingredients, invented by Helen
Products made by hand with fresh ingredients, invented by Helen
- Meet Helen Ambrosen, LUSH founder and product inventor
“I see cosmetics as more of an art than science, and being able to draw beautiful pictures with ingredients like this is almost like painting a portrait and thinking ‘how does this sound?’ and ‘what effect is this going to have?”
What are your favourite ingredients to work with, and why?
It's such a privilege to be able to work with beautiful ingredients. I see cosmetics as more of an art than a science, and being able to draw beautiful pictures with ingredients like this is almost like painting a portrait and thinking 'how does this sound?' and 'what effect is this going to have?' It's like creating a harmony out of different elements. What a lovely thing to be able to use these fabulous ingredients. I always think of the effect first; it's the most important things for our customers.
Cocoa Butter: I love cocoa butter. It enables me to make liquids into solids and turn products into very visual elements. Hennas, for example, mixing them with cocoa butter makes them very visual and is also very good for the hair. Solid conditioners, King of Skin and the other solid butters are so visual and have great effects on the skin because of the cocoa butter. It is a fantastic ingredient and helps us to cut out packaging.
Almond Oil: I love vegetable oils in skincare and hair care. They may just look ordinary, but I always think of the material they come from; I always see the beauty of the whole ingredient. We call almond oil the "queen of oils" because it's incredible on the skin. It's medium weight, fabulous for the skin and great for the hair. It's so gentle. I eat loads of almonds! I love working with vegetable oils and essential oils.
Seaweed: I've always had a love for seaweed, ever since I was two years old. It's a favourite of mine. My passion came from growing up in the Midlands and we'd go on holidays to 'The Sea.' (With a capital 'T' and a capital 'S'!) It was special going on holiday there. I live near the sea now and I couldn't imagine being far from it for very long. The smells, the effects and the look of seaweed have always been interesting to me. They're such clever plants; everyone looks at seaweed like it's weird, but I love it. Cosmetically, they're full of nutrients, very softening and we can get it locally!
Wheatgrass: Wheatgrass is beautiful. Again, it's very nutritious and full of vitamins, minerals and chlorophyll. I love the visual and it's lovely to run your hands through - like beautiful hair! Before I worked with the creative team, I worked in a research organisation that did genetic fingerprinting. I worked on analysing the antioxidant in wheatgrass, which is called superoxide dismutase. It's very beneficial and gobbles up free radicals caused by sun damage. That's a bit scientific! Wheatgrass is a wonderful cocktail of beneficial elements.
Flowers: I have a reputation at the local florist for buying lots of fresh flowers. They always ask me, 'you're not going to chop those up, are you?' Flowers are beautiful for the skin and very firming.
How did you acquire your vast knowledge of ingredients and their benefits?
Observation is key. I couldn't do my job without using products myself, so I've become an expert at evaluating products based on their effect on me. I use myself as a benchmark. Unless you use products yourself, you can't do this job effectively. You just can't get an idea of the effect without experience. Our serums work brilliantly. I'm blessed with good skin and if a product works on my skin, I know it's a good product; Full of Grace works wonders on my skin. There are simple truths to the ingredients; oat milk, almond oil, olive oil, avocados etc, they're all great for the skin and that's indisputable.
When you're creating a moisturizer, what properties do you look for in an ingredient?
I look for effects and a balance that will benefit the skin in the best way. A moisturizer is about fine detail and striking a delicate balance. You need to consider the amounts of ingredients; fresh fruit juices can be too much in excess and it's a lot of fine tuning. Mark and I work together on moisturizers and it's a lot like watching grass grow. I have to be careful in documenting what we're doing because I could go the wrong way. I had 12 different versions of Handy Gurugu and I almost chose the wrong one! I look for properties on skin types and fruits are key in Enzymion, vegetable oils in Skin's Shangri La are moisturizing and help dry skin.
Why "fresh" ingredients? Wouldn't it be easier to use something else?
It would be easier, but it wouldn't be as much fun! I could absolutely use synthetic alternatives to create effects, but where would the artistry be? Journalists always ask, "What makes it work? Is it vitamin E, vitamin A?" I always say, "It's the whole thing." It's the vitality and the freshness of the whole ingredient that makes it work. You can extract a synthetic vitamin and add it in, but adding the whole element is what makes it effective. It's a sad reflection when people don't believe you, but it's true. It'd be boring to use just a vitamin or just a mineral and I don't like being bored. The love of our customers makes me
What's your favourite moisturizer?
I love Skin's Shangri La because it's brimming with lovely ingredients. It's heavenly and contains all of my favourite ingredients. I use it in winter and as a night cream.
How does our Buying Team influence the ingredients that you use? Do you ask them to source particular ingredients for you, or do they bring ingredients to you to consider for your inventions?
They bring back stories, beautiful stories that touch me and inspire me to do something with those ingredients to make a difference. When they tell me about villages and co-operatives that they've met and show me incredible pictures, I feel inspired to go and use the ingredient. Chile, Nias, Palestine... It makes me eager to use them. These visits are life-changing for them and they get to see the people that create the ingredients. There's such history and such a story.
Where do you look for inspiration when inventing a product? Where's the strangest place you've found it?
I run a lot and I can get into a very deep place when I run. I'm in a world of my own and it gives me space to think. That's where I get my inspiration a lot of the time, but it can come from weird places. I went running once and was thinking about a product so much that I ended up on a huge hill in the Purbecks during the tail-end of a hurricane. I thought, 'I'm in my 50s, no one knows where I am...' I completely lost track of where I was! It takes a lot of energy to create a product and it can tire you out. You sometimes put off doing it because you know it's going to drain you.
Is it a long process to develop a new product?
It can be. You just want to get on and do it instantly, but it takes a while. You put off staring at the blank sheet of paper and fill up your time with distractions. You have to be disciplined.
Are there any products (made by any company) that you wish you had invented first?
Peppermint toothpaste. That's such an incredible product. Everyone uses it twice a day without thinking and it's so effective. It would have been good to invent that! I'm proud of the things I've invented, so I don't feel inadequate or unfulfilled. Our creative team is pretty special and weird. I'm probably the weirdest! I'm good at inventing bases.
If you had to choose just one, what product would you like to be remembered for?
I'd like to be remembered for the hennas. It was such a strike of lightning. It's interesting to think of your legacy like that. When I look at our soap base, I think of Stan Krysztal. Remember me for the Bubble Bars because they're fun and colourful. I'd like to think that I'd be around a bit longer, though! And if I don't turn up one day, check the Purbecks! Or lost in a hurricane...
There's a bit of controversy around safe synthetics at the moment; what's your take on it?
If you want to wash your hair in the modern way, you need a surfactant. If you want a product that lasts, you need a preservative. The synthetics we use have been used safely for many years and they are very effective. When materials are used widely for many purposes for many decades, it's a good indication that they are alright to use. It's a good thing that they have such a history. The more established a material is, that's a very good thing. We have to consider the science behind a synthetic, whether it's good science, flawed or based on animal tests. Our decisions are very informed. All these things go through my head when we choose. It's based on practical, environmental and ethical considerations. Synthetics are good and they carry the fresh materials and lovely oils. They are the frame around a beautiful portrait.
If you weren't in the lab creating concoctions, where would you be?
My passion has been working outdoors. I'd be outside somewhere!