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In Conversation with Poets Atelier Co-Founder Carol Ahmed

April 17, 2024 Poets Atelier, Skincare

From the buzzy world of biotech beauty to life as a beauty founder, we spoke with Poets Atelier Co-Founder Carol Ahmed…

When did you passion for skincare begin? Could you tell us a little about your background?

My sister was the first person to introduce me to skincare and I still take her advice on everything beauty related. Curiosity led me to study cosmetic chemistry, whilst she studied dermal therapy. I have a corporate background, beginning my career as a Chartered Accountant in a “Big 4” accounting firm, then I held finance roles at various companies. When I decided to pursue a different career path, I reached out to the incredible founders of ONDA Beauty in New York who gave me the opportunity to join their team. The experience at ONDA really cemented my passion for skincare.

What was the catalyst for creating Poets Atelier?

I wanted to live a more fulfilling life that was true to my values – when I had that awareness, Poets Atelier was created and we launched 4 years later. It made perfect sense to partner with my sister because our skillsets are so different but equally necessary and important. Poets Atelier represents the belief that beauty can be redefined through confidence and creativity, and these are the tools that can help you achieve anything you want.

Could you introduce us to Poets Atelier…what do we need to know?

Poets Atelier is a premium microbiome skincare brand – we believe that a balanced and diverse microbiome contributes to maintaining healthy skin. Beyond having “clean” ingredients and pre- and post-biotics, our products are designed by biochemists in a specialist lab to have minimal disruption to the microorganisms that populate our skin. We consider factors such as formulation, preservatives, pH level, fragrance and essential oils that can disrupt the skin microbiome and become the root cause of most skin concerns. Every stage of the formulation and manufacturing process has been considered and we use the highest quality ingredients at clinically effective concentrations, ensuring the bioactive compounds of our raw materials are efficiently delivered to the skin for maximum results.

For someone who might be new to this terminology, what is the skin microbiome and how is Poets Atelier microbiome-gentle?

Your microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms including good and bad bacteria, fungi, yeast and virus. These microbes live inside your skin and gut. A dysbiosis (or imbalance) in the skin microbiome can lead to a range of skin issues including dryness, redness, acne, eczema, dermatitis and other common conditions. We address this by ensuring our formulations are microbiome-gentle by working with experts in the skin and gut microbiome, using the optimal preservative system for our products, creating our own probiotic bio-fermented ingredients, excluding essential oils, and maximizing bioactive ingredients.

Who did you think about – or what skin concerns and goals were in mind, when you created Poets Atelier?

We wanted to build and maintain a healthy microbiome, address hyperpigmentation and prevent pre-mature ageing from UV damage. We looked into the phyto-nutrient composition of all our ingredients to target this, whilst making sure our products were pregnancy safe. We also wanted the products to be multi-beneficial and easy to apply in a streamlined routine, rather than creating multiple different products that achieved the same thing.

What were your non-negotiable when creating Poets Atelier?

Our products had to be microbiome-gentle, raw ingredients sustainably sourced with high nutrient values, actives formulated at clinically effective levels, essential-oil and fragrance free whilst maintaining a pleasant aroma, pregnancy safe, well preserved and cruelty free. Needless to say, we went through multiple manufacturers and hundreds of samples to get it right.

Talking Clean Beauty & Conscious Beauty

How do you approach the term ‘Clean Beauty’?

Our approach to clean beauty reflects products that are consciously formulated, efficacious, sustainable, innovative and most importantly, safe. I think it’s important for brands to be purpose-driven, considering the human, social and environmental impact of their products. At Poets Atelier, I think we go beyond clean beauty and work towards microbiome-gentle which we hope to be the future baseline for all skincare products.

People often like to know, is it all-natural or vegan, fragrance-free or ‘cleanly’ formulated. What are Poets Atelier Conscious Beauty credentials?

Our products are formulated to have all-natural or nature identical ingredients supported by biotech actives. We are essential-oil free, fragrance-free, cruelty-free, microbiome-friendly, pregnancy safe and considered clean. 

What do you ‘leave out’ and why? 

We comply with EU regulations, banning over 1600 chemicals and endocrine disruptors. We also leave out essential oils, phenoxyethanol, mineral oils, potassium sorbate and hyaluronic acid.

When used mindfully there are many benefits to essential oils, however as they are highly potent, essential oils can cause irritation, photosensitivity, disrupt skin pH levels, kill off good bacteria and erode the skin’s protective barrier. We exclude essential oils to minimise these skin reactions.

We exclude mineral oils as we prefer to use pure botanical oils that have beneficial bioactive compounds and provide topical nutrition to the skin.

We exclude hyaluronic acid because it can draw moisture from your skin, cause irritation and more dryness. Instead, we use high quality alternatives such as Polyglutamic Acid and Saccharide Isomerate which are proven to be more effective.

Potassium sorbate is considered safe however through speaking to other cosmetic chemists, it has been shown to be irritating to a lot of consumers with sensitive skin.

It’s often hard to find products that may be used during different skin stages like pregnancy and when breastfeeding. Was that a conscious decision when formulating Poets Atelier?

Yes, it was a conscious decision because we knew we wanted to grow the microbiome category and also enter a space that is often over-looked, that is; pregnancy and postpartum skincare.

The buzz about Biotech Skincare and Bio-Fermented Ingredients

Biotech is a new buzz word in beauty and sounds very scientific. Could you explain what biotech means and how it’s part of Poets Atelier products?

Biotechnology is a new generation of bioactive ingredients and involves the application of scientific principles to living organisms and cells to produce identical, biomimetic or innovative ingredients that have a lower environmental impact. Fermentation is a classic example of biotechnology, breaking down organic material with microorganisms to create new active ingredients. Biotech actives in Poets Atelier products include our own range of custom probiotic bio-ferments, Diglucosyl Gallic Acid (a patented biotech molecule activated by the skin microbiome to target inflammation and hyperpigmentation) and Saccharide Isomerate (biotechnological marine extract).

Could you explain bio-fermentation to us? What is it – and what can we expect from bio-fermented ingredients?

A distinction of microbiome skincare is quality and concentration of bioactive compounds. Bioactive compounds have a direct effect on the skin and provide a wide range of benefits, such as promoting cell growth, reducing inflammation and supporting the skin’s natural barrier function. Examples include carotenoids, polyphenols and flavonoids.

We selected botanicals and raw ingredients that have high concentrations of bioactive compounds to target specific skin concerns however they can be difficult to extract or are not easily absorbed by the body. Our specialist lab uses probiotic fermentation to enhance the bioavailability of our raw ingredients by feeding them to microorganisms, unlocking a spectrum of vitamins and nutrients and producing a range of metabolites including organic acids, enzymes and other bioactive compounds. These potent bio-ferments are unique to our formulations and are more easily absorbed by the body to provide a greater level of efficacy. This process goes beyond traditional skincare formulations, making bio-fermented skincare more expensive.

Hero Ingredients and Game-Changing Results

Tell us about the Vitamin C in Poets Atelier products; where does it come from, how does it work and why did you choose it?

We use two forms of Vitamin C – THD Ascorbate and natural Vitamin C found in our Bio-Fermented Kakadu Plum (Gubinge).

THD Ascorbate is one of the most effective and stable forms of Vitamin C. Although expensive, it provides all the benefits of traditional L-Ascorbic Acid. We chose it because THD Ascorbate is fat soluble so the active can penetrate into deeper layers of the skin compared to water-soluble Vitamin C. It is effective at 2% but we use a concentration of 12% to target hyperpigmentation. This means those with extremely sensitive skin may need to introduce it gradually into their routine and build tolerance.

The natural Vitamin C in Kakadu Plum is supercharged in our Biome Active Face Oil through bio-fermentation, making it more potent and bioavailable to the skin compared to Kakadu Plum in other formulations. Together, these two forms of Vitamin C provide an unprecedented level of antioxidant protection.

Most Vitamin C on the market include fragrance and essential oils – typically a citrus/orange scent. We were able to create a stable, essential-oil and fragrance free vitamin C oil with a subtle sweet and pleasant aroma which is something we’re proud of!

Cacay Oil sounds like a miracle worker. Why did you choose to include it within Biome Active Face Oil?

Cacay is a lessor known oil but we chose it for its potency, essential fatty acids and high concentrations of phyto-retinols (natural pro-Vitamin A). It has a beautiful dry touch that combines perfectly with THD Ascorbate which has an oilier feel, resulting in a beautiful textured oil. It has 3 times more Vitamin A than rosehip oil, and higher vitamin E and F concentration than argan oil so works to increase skin cell turnover and improve skin texture and tone. We have had retinol users switch to our face oil and see the same results. It’s also pregnancy safe!

How do you suggest people use Poets Atelier within their routine?

We created two hero products that can be applied in the morning and evening after cleansing. First the Strength & Recovery Serum followed by Biome Active Face Oil. We didn’t include gums or hyaluronic acid in the serum to avoid stickiness and pilling so it acts as a beautiful primer under makeup with daily anti-oxidant protection. Both products are designed to deliver the benefits of multiple products in one, and contain a spectrum of oil-soluble and water-soluble nutrients including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B3, omega fatty acids and antioxidants. The serum is in a generous 50ml size, designed to use alongside our treatment face oil.

Is Poets Atelier suitable for all skin types – even those with dry or oily skin?

Yes, there are many factors that can impact the state of our skin, our aim is not to strive for perfection but for the healthiest and most resilient skin possible for each individual. This means less reactive skin while it goes through its many states.

Poets Atelier is formulated with several ingredients to minimise the signs of skin ageing like fine lines, wrinkles and uneven skin tone. How do you approach the term anti-ageing within the beauty industry?

We think that ageing is a privilege and that it’s unrealistic to eliminate all signs of skin aging. However, due to exposure to environmental aggressors and sun damage, particularly in Australia – we do aim to help reduce the signs of premature ageing that manifests as hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles and skin sagging.

How can natural alternatives replace traditional vitamin A or retinol-based products?

Natural ingredients such as bakuchiol and phyto-retinols are a gentle alternative to traditional retinol-based products when formulated correctly. They have to be used consistently for a longer period of time to receive similar benefits but are great for those with sensitive or compromised skin barriers, or for those who are pregnant.  

Strength & Recovery Bio-Serum uses bio-tech actives and bio-ferments. Could you tell us about some of these hero ingredients and what they do?

Bio-Fermented Centella Asiatica (Gotu Kola): Regenerative, wound-healing, skin-soothing, anti-blemish
Bio-Fermented Green Tea: Contains EGCG, a powerful antioxidant that fights the effects of pollution and oxidative stress on the skin. Reduces the signs of sun damage such as hyperpigmentation.
Bio-Fermented Pomegranate: Contains a high concentration of alpha-punicic acid (omega 5), found exclusively in pomegranate seed to stimulate the skin’s self-repair mechanisms. Pomegranate enzymes provide gentle exfoliation.
Bio-Fermented Licorice Root: Skin-brightening, anti-inflammatory, helps to reduces pigmentation induced by UVB

Life as a Skincare Entrepreneur

What’s a typical day like as the founder of a skincare brand?

Every single day is different and you have to wear many hats but that’s what makes it rewarding and fulfilling. We could be working on anything from new product development and marketing to finance and tax to sales and customer orders.

What’s your personal beauty routine like?

My routine is very simple, in the morning and evening after cleansing the face I apply Strength & Recovery Serum, followed by the Biome Active Face Oil (+ SPF in the AM). I’ll also apply an exfoliating mask 1-2 times a week. I don’t often wear make-up but when I do, I love Westman Atelier and Hourglass.

Beyond skincare, what are you passionate about and how do you enjoy down time?

I love travelling and experiencing new cultures. I’m passionate about continuous learning so I am always reading or listening to podcasts on a variety of topics from business to self-development.

What are some of the challenges of building a skincare brand?

There are challenges in every step of the development process, which applies to building any business in any industry. I think you need to be clear on your unique selling proposition, who your target customer and market is, vision & values, distribution channels and margin/pricing. Some common hurdles people go through specifically in skincare include selecting the right manufacturer, meeting minimum order quantities and sourcing. Once you have a product, there are challenges in becoming retail ready and supporting sales in various distribution channels.

What came first; the idea for the products, the name, the branding, the technology, the…?

We always knew we wanted to be microbiome focused and essential-oil free. Identifying a small gap in an already saturated market came first, then clarifying who the target customer was/who the products would benefit, then the product development.

Wearing multiple ‘hats’, how do you balance work-life when you’re a brand founder?

This is difficult for everyone, and I don’t think the perfect balance exists. As a brand founder it’s hard to switch off because you’re thinking about the business beyond typical work hours but organising my day and prioritising things based on urgency and importance helps.  

What have been some of the highlights of creating Poets Atelier?

The biggest highlight would be hearing feedback about how the products have transformed peoples’ skin and help build their confidence. I also love being able to work with my sister every day.

What are your dreams for Poets Atelier and what might we see in future?

We hope to help as many people as possible. We’ll only create products that we feel are innovative and useful as we learn more about the skin microbiome.

The Andersen Quick Fire Round

Current Andersen Beauty favourites in your Wishlist? ROZ haircare range!

Skincare or makeup? Skincare

Rise early or sleep-in? Sleep in

Sweet or Savoury? Sweet

Favourite item in your beauty bag (other than Poets Atelier)? Hourglass ambient light palette

Beach or City? Beach

You have two minutes to leave the house, what do you apply? SPF protection and lip balm

Best advice you’ve ever been given? Choose courage over comfort

Favourite date-night plan? Classic – dinner and a movie

Ultimate comfort food? Chocolate

Go-to aperatif – what’s your drink? Spicy Margarita or Iced Tea (non-alcoholic)

Poets Atelier was born in Sydney. Can we delve into your Little Back Book to Sydney?

Have brunch at: Room 10 – Potts Point

Go for a facial at: Fenn – Paddington

Find the best coffee/sweet treat at: Gumption by Coffee Alchemy, Edition Coffee Roasters, Tokyo Lamington

The ultimate shopping is at: The Intersection, Oxford St & Glenmore Road – Paddington

Dinner reservations at: Freds, Le Foote, Ester, Dining Room & Terrace at Shell House, Mimi’s, Ragazzi, Porteno…I could go on

Take in nature at: Hermitage Foreshore Track or Cremorne Point Walk

Late night supper at: Huberts

Book a night at: Ace Hotel

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