A history of Organic Formulation


I still recall the day I smelled my first batch of organic rose essential oil.   It was over 30 years ago and it was a small amount from a batch that had been grown in Turkey.  It was exquisite and delicate and the scent will remain in my memory forever.  It evoked a warmth and excitement about what could be possible in the future with organic formulating.

So many people needed to ‘want to do it differently’, so many people needed to support that rose oil on its journey to my desk.  That is one of the less talked about aspects of working with organic materials that gives me joy.  The community of growers, traders, brand owners, certifying bodies and customers that all need to pool their energy together to make something good happen.   To put quality over quantity.

In the early days, in the cosmetic world, the concept of trying to make a product entirely organic was met with a strange response.  One of the most exciting milestones was making the first batch of certified organic soap in 2004.  The organic raw ingredients were available but we had to work hard to change the systems and get the processes in place so that we could actually produce the organic version of an established product.

Now it is wonderful now to see the breadth and quality of organic products that are on the market today.  A real accolade for all those, who in the early days, supported organic developments. Together, we have come a long way and it is an honour to be a part of this community.

Dr Pauline in the lab.

 I recall my first organic cosmetics standards meetings, as young chemist, in the presence of industry gurus like Jo Fairley, Romy Fraser, Maarten van Perlo and Francis Blake.  People who I have really enjoyed working with and have learnt much from.

One of the first Soil Association certified products I  created was  Neal’s Yard Remedies Wild Rose Beauty Balm. I remember being in the laboratory for hours trying to make a particular aspect of the formula work but it was worth every moment spent perfecting this as I think it remains a  favourite amongst organic shoppers.

Five years ago we set up Natural Products Factory, where we make Nourish.   A small seed in the heart of Battersea.   We love to conceive products and we love to make them.  We love the blend of hard science, sensual science, purpose and pleasure that needs to go into making a product work.

One of the first things we did for our brand Nourish is to have our factory Soil Association approved.  It was in my DNA and felt the logical thing to do.

As a scientist, I have had some wonderful research programs looking into how organic and natural extracts can be used to improve the overall health of skin.  Nourish formulations are a distillation of this research and of the 30 years spent observing how products can impact on a person’s life.   Innovation underpins all I do and our organic Kale range is an example of this. Even the Kale extract is made to my formulation to ensure it has the exact qualities I want.   Kale applied topically has recently been shown to play a key role in helping to reduce air borne pollutants causing damage to the skin – this is something we will learn more about over the next couple of years. My kale extract is used in our Argan & Kale Hand Cream, Kale Biomimetic Anti-Ageing Eye Cream and our Kale Enzymatic Exfoliating Cleanser.

Our Argan Skin Renew is a good example of a product which I feel moves organic formulation forwards. Trying to get a formulation absolutely perfect can take dedication and time - there were 43 different formulations for this product but, to me that is worthwhile to get such a great product. Combining efficacy, sensuality and a wonderful sensual experience is the engine that drives our formulation strategy.  This combines Rose of Jericho, Argan, Frankincense and Myrrh to deliver a superior level of hydration and cellular renewal.  Clinical tests validated my work on this formulation; these showed Argan Skin Renew improves hydration by 50% over a 12 hour period.

The question that often comes up for me as a formulator is ‘why organic?’

Aside from the gorgeous sensual qualities of organic raw materials it is about looking after our health but,  as important, is  the health of the earth. For me the soil is the skin of the earth.  It protects humanity and it allows human beings to evolve.  Protecting this precious asset supports all species for future generations  and is fundamental to life.

By Dr Pauline Hili