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Inside the making of a clean skincare brand created with Irish ingredients

By Holly O'Neill. This article originally appeared on IMAGE on July 31, 2019.

Codex Beauty is a natural skincare brand, built on science, created using organic, vegan and Irish ingredients. Founder Barbara Paldus and Manager Director Tracey Ryan share the highs and lows of creating a truly natural skincare brand with sustainable packaging. 

Barbara Paldus is a scientist, engineer and entrepreneur, who spent two decades leading innovation in the fields of spectroscopy, telecommunications, and biotechnology. By the age of 34, she had co-founded two Silicon Valley companies.

Tracey Ryan is a trained herbalist and the founder of Bia, an Irish natural skincare brand. She grew up in Tipperary, obsessed with nature, and later studied organic horticulture and sustainable development and an advanced degree in herbal science. 

So how and why did a Silicon Valley founder meet a Tipperary herbalist?

On the hunt for clean skincare to improve her baby’s skincare problems, Barbara discovered Bia Beauty’s Superfood serum in Cork International Airport. Every time she returned, she bought as many as she could get her hands on. “I loved Bia,” says Barbara. “When I sold my company, I called an old Irish distributor and asked me to find me the creator. Within two weeks, he had a phone number. I asked Tracey would she be interested in investment to grow her company and she said she had to think about it!”

That was May last year. Tracey did think about it and now Bia is a part of Codex Beauty, a bioscience-led beauty company, which just launched it’s first range, the Bia collection. 

The making of a clean beauty brand

The first thing to know about Codex is that it’s clean. Very, very clean. “I asked friends in the pharma industry, what do you think of the cosmetics industry, and they told me it’s a dirty industry,” says Barbara. “They organized for me to go see cosmetic manufacturers and having come from pharma, with these gorgeous, ultra-clean facilities, it was a complete shock how different the manufacturing conditions were. Then it made sense, why companies use these preservatives because if you don't manufacture in a clean environment, you will be contaminated. Therefore you have to put in a preservative system or you will have dangerous microbes growing in the product. So I thought, this has to change. This cannot be good for people.”

Tracey Ryan

Preservatives are the biggest issue you come to when creating a clean beauty brand. 

“When it comes to preservatives in natural skincare,” says Tracey, “we either have preservatives that work wonderfully, but they're really sensitizing and people have reactions to them, or we have preservatives that are gentle but just don't work. Then a product has to be taken out of shelves because it's growing mould. When I met Barbara she said, we've got to do something about the preservative system. We needed to do something different. We needed to make a preservative system that works and is gentle. 

“We tried everything that was on the market, all the different new natural preservative systems that have come out, and they are either contain ingredients that we did not want in our skincare or they just didn't work.  So we decided to create our own. It's an idea called a self-preserving system. You take ingredients that are not technically preservatives but they have a preservative effect against a particular microorganism. One might have preservative ability against yeast, one has ability against mould, one has an ability against fungus, one against bacteria and you bring them together. 

“They also have to have beneficial effects for the skin, like emollients that also keep moisture in the skin. We have a lactobacillus ferment - the stuff you make kimchi and sauerkraut from. This helps to lower the amount of overall preservative that you need to use. Then we found that they all work better at different pH systems. So it's about trying to find the sweet spot where they all work together. There’s another technique called the hurdle system, where you put as many hurdles in front of the micro-bacteria-growing organisms as possible. We use a very clean manufacturing facility. We use airless pumps, so the product isn't coming into contact with your fingers or with the air. We put more and more hurdles in front of anything growing in your product, plus this preserving system as well. It’s something quite unique in skincare. There is no other brand doing what we're doing.”

Wild, Irish ingredients

So what does an Irish herbalist experiment with when she gets a Silicon Valley budget?

“Barbara made me realise we have amazing ingredients here in Ireland.,” says Tracey. “She said, you need to bring these native ingredients to a world stage. As a small producer, we had to buy from distributors, we had to buy products off the shelf, I couldn't go to a grower and say I want some random herb. With Bia Beauty, this is what I had to do but with Codex, this is what I wanted to do. Now I can really show off what we have in Ireland in terms of our knowledge around formulation around herbs and our native plants like our seaweeds. We’ve been about going around the world telling people about the environment we have here for growing herbs and the pristine Atlantic Ocean and the seaweed that grows here and they're in shock.”

Turns out, the most exciting Irish skincare ingredient might be the least sexy one you can think of, but when you think of about its preservative powers, it’s a wonder it hasn’t been explored more thoroughly. I am, of course, referring to the bog. “ To us, the bog is the most mundane thing in the world, it’s where I got dragged at the weekend. But when you're explaining it to someone in LA, it sounds amazing, like, “they're 10,000 years old, they happened during the Ice Age and we have loads of artefacts, like chalices that are on display in the museum, that were pulled out of the bog in pristine condition.”’

The first line, the Bia collection

So what are the first products you create when starting a skincare line? “We have a chief medical officer, she's a dermatologist in New York and we asked her, “if you were starting a skincare line, what would you start with?” She goes, “there are only two things you really need. Hydration and cleansing.” So this line is all about  cleansing, hydration and skin protection.” 

This is the first of a global collective of lines from Codex Beauty, with five lines planned based on plants from all around the world; a line from Patagonia for reducing oxidative stress, another from the Arctic Circle for antioxidants and therefore anti-aging, a mommy and baby line from the Alps with alpine flowers for very sensitive skin. There’s soaps and body products on the way too, but for now, you have your perfect five-step collection for cleansing and hydration. 

Here, Tracey breaks down the ingredients inside each product. 

Bia Exfoliating Wash, €50

This has elderflower water, with a light and gentle toning ability. There’s castor and thistle and safflower oil for drawing and cleansing and the grain is jojoba oil. It’s been hydrogenated and made into a wax. It’s a really light exfoliation so you can use it everyday. 

Bia Day Cream, €78

This has plant-derived hyaluronic acid and infusions of calendula, one of the most loved herbs in skincare, with incredible hydrating properties. 

Bia Skin Superfood, €55

This is really good for keeping hydration in. It has the new preservative system. We took out the essential oils as they really didn't contribute to the whole hydration system. They were in there just for scent, and I love the quote from Jennifer Rock, “smells don’t change cells.” So there’s no more essential oils in there because they just don't have any place. The natural smell is lovely though. Other products do have essential oils but they have them they're in small quantities and for therapeutic benefits, they're not there for scents. They're there to have a benefit the skin, for example, green mandarin is really good at balancing sebum in the skin. 

Bia Eye Gel Cream, €72

Arnica is the hero ingredient in this. Arnica is used for dispersing fluid and bruising so it’s great if the eyes are puffy, baggy, or if you’ve had a bad night's sleep. My tip is to keep it in the fridge because it's soothing and cooling. It really tones the under-eye area. It’s called a gel-cream because it is neither gel nor cream. It’s perfect for the under-eye area, you want it to be thin and light on that super sensitive skin.

Bia Facial Oil, €100

This is really beautiful. It’s a thin, dry oil so this skins into your skin so quickly and so easily. We used use rose hip oil, kiwi seed oil and there is serrated wracked rock infused oil,prickly pear seed oil, sea buckthorn oil in there, bog myrtle. 

Eco-friendly packaging

It’s borderline greenwashing to create a perfectly clean and natural skincare brand, then package it into plastic packaging, but of course, this extraordinarily considered line would never do that. Codex Beauty truly is extremely considered — even the logo, which appears to be just a beautiful illustration, sort of like the 80’s Spirograph game, is actually a mathematically calculated Fibonacci series. “That's what plant petals follow,” says Barbara. “If you look at most flowers, that’s the math pattern to describe them.”

Codex Beauty’s packaging is carbon neutral, which is no mean feat. 

“This is made from bioethanol,” according to Barbara, “so it’s made from plant matter. The plant matter fixes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So this plastic is reducing the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. That means that the carbon footprint, for example of the Superfoood Tube, which is all green plastic is at 81% less than an equivalent fossil fuel based tube. We're still working to get the caps on some of the other tubes to be made of green plastic but those are still at a45% to 50% reduction. The white boxes the products come in are made from recycled forestry materials so they don't generate any additional waste to the system. They're all PFC certified, biodegradable ink, everything is biodegradable so we're not going to be creating problems for the environment.”

If you listen very carefully, you can hear Gwyneth Paltrow fuming that she didn’t come up this brand first. 

Codex Beauty is available from select Meadows & Byrnes stores and

Photography by Codex Beauty.



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