Balbec Beauty is a brand that I have been following for a little while on Instagram where most notably their delicious looking French Green Clay & Yoghurt Cleanser with Matcha, Frankincense and Geranium caught my eye and kept reeling me in. I adore anything matcha (except liqueur, do yourself a favour and stay faaar away from that nastiness!) and when something possesses that beautiful green colour that is specific to this Japanese tea then you have my attention.Maneesha Patel, the lovely and intelligent founder of Balbec Beauty reached out to me a few months ago and an engaging email conversation ensued – she offered to send me one of her oils after realising where I was based and strange as it may seem from a blogger I actually politely declined; oils are something I have a surplus of and I explained to Maneesha that I wasn’t accepting any new ones until I had used up more of my stash. It also wouldn’t feel right to accept something that I wouldn’t get round to testing until much later. My testing procedure is pretty rigid in that I don’t mix around, I use at most two different oils at any given time (day vs night) in order to really gauge their efficacy and performance, and I like to test for several weeks. Maneesha then explained to me that she wouldn’t be able to send a cleanser as it’s preservative-free (more on that further down) and needs to be refrigerated up until its last use; she was afraid it would get stuck in customs for too long for it to reach me within a reasonable time to pop it into the fridge. Somewhat disappointed but understanding, I let go of the thought of possessing that beautiful green cleanser for the foreseeable future. What fortune then that not long after my man was scheduled to fly to the US on business – I emailed Maneesha asking if he could receive it at the hotel he was staying at, refrigerate it until he left and in that manner bring the green goodness home to me. Indeed he could! According to Maneesha, this is something her international customers do every so often so I was joining a league of extraordinary cleansers!
Packaged in a heavy Miron violet glass pot and cocooned in a hand-made, insulated eco-felt envelope (made of undyed and unprocessed Michigan wool), the whole experience of receiving the cleanser felt almost personalized (more on their packaging here). No doubt a detail that is not just coincidental. I promptly placed it into the fridge but not before opening it up to take a little sniff – matcha lovers may be a little disappointed that it doesn’t quite take them to the tea house of their dreams, rather it has a deep, earthy scent with clear notes of frankincense and geranium. Finished up many moons ago now, I indulged in the cleanser every morning letting the cool, fresh sensation of the lotion-like consistency wake me up and allowing it to dry just enough before hopping into the shower and rinsing it off. Due to its natural probiotic content from the yoghurt, it provides lactic acid to gently exfoliate, tighten pores and soothe the skin. While rinsing off I would massage the cleanser around on my face which made for a very silky experience indeed, revealing skin that was soft and even to the touch. At the time of testing my skin was behaving quite well in general so it’s hard to say whether it made a radical difference, but I will be quick to say that it didn’t aggravate or disagree with my skin at all. With sensitized skin this is something that I fear when trying something new but I had no such worries throughout the entire 4 weeks or so it took me to use up. For full ingredients list click here.In preparation for this post I wanted to interview Maneesha not only about her brand and products but also on her take regarding the use of zero preservatives, especially as this is such a hot topic where many of us are warned against using products without a proper preservation system. I will let Maneesha explain in her own words about this and why this is an integral part of her brand along with answers to other questions that I hope will pique your interest further in Balbec Beauty.
OO: How did Balbec Beauty come about?
BB: I lived with sensitive, inflamed and acne prone skin for years in my thirties because I was doing the wrong thing to my skin and body over and over. After researching carefully and having blood tests done, I found I am gluten and sugar sensitive and allergic to dust. I made lifestyle changes and my skin improved. However for topical care, I was looking for clean, green, daily skincare for my very delicate and sensitive skin that would give me the skin comfort that I really craved. I needed relief, and my acid mantle back for starters. I returned to a classic Ayurvedic recipe that had worked for me in the past: turmeric and yogurt. This soothed my skin and helped a lot. But it was a messy, drippy concoction, and I wanted something elegant that I could use every day – a full cleanse, tone, and moisturize routine that wasn’t dependent on whether I had time or not to make a recipe. I became determined to heal, improve and protect my skin in the long term. I began to understand that fresh preparations made of few nutrient-dense ingredients with no additives made a critical difference for my skin. There was nothing like it on the market and one thing led to another; the formulations, the insulated envelope, etc. and here we are.
I called the line Balbec because I see it as a refreshing opening, an adventure with the promise of healing and inspiration. This is part of what the fictional seaside town of Balbec in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time signifies.
OO:What is your background in formulation?
BB: I do not have a science background. I did my PhD in Italian Literature and also trained as an archivist. From my humanities background I bring research acumen and an understanding about the importance of making distinctions to my role as a formulator. Making distinctions allows one to understand parameters and creates a coherency among the products. When you have a mission, you are able to work with it in a deeper way to create the products that suit it.
It takes patience: countless hours of experimentation are required to bring the formulae to where they satisfy all my criteria. You have to be observant and curious, and open to things not working out. And you have to understand how and why things work (or don’t), I’m not interested in reinventing the wheel, but I enjoy the satisfying process of having to take wheels apart.
Then there is inclination and influence. I’ve always incorporated natural beauty into my regime when possible. I cultivated herbs in high school and from them made oils and herbal steams and have always relied on essential oils. I grew up with the stock health and beauty Ayurvedic recipes that every South Asian (at least of my generation) grows up with, which include ghee, yogurt, chickpea flower, turmeric, and other standard herbs. I’ve brought all these influences to bear on Balbec and they inform the formulations I am currently working on and my future work.
OO: In an industry that is growing for each day, how do you stand apart with Balbec? What can a consumer find with Balbec that is different from other skincare brands?
BB: Twenty years ago, I was in the cosmetic lounge at Bergdorf’s and someone asked me what I did for my skin, because it was in such great shape. At that point I was just using my drippy yogurt and turmeric concoction. I remember describing the mix and telling this person what to do, saying: it’s so fresh you can’t buy it. The woman was clearly disappointed because it involved a bit of DIY, with a caution not to stain herself and her countertops with turmeric. I get it. I used this a lot when I was in graduate school, but when I started working and had a family, I ended up buying high end department and health food store brands that were “plant based” out of convenience.When I returned to the basic recipe several years later to heal my skin, and then improved upon it, the results were so fantastic I thought: it figures—it’s so fresh you can’t even buy it – and a light when on.
So there is the obvious thing that we provide skincare that is fresh, probiotic and prebiotic with gentle effective botanicals that is suitable for sensitive skin. All of our essential oils must be safe, non-phototoxic and gentle enough to use over time. Cleansers and hydrosols require refrigeration because it is skin food and perishable, and we only use ingredients that benefit the skin. This combined with our very specific goal of promoting a healthy acid mantle is our very specific mission.
Another thing that sets us apart is our methods. I believe that how we work with the ingredients is as important as the ingredients themselves. For example, we triple sift our clays and we keep them from contacting metal to keep them effective. Using metal with clay interrupts its natural electrical charge and precludes its ability to work with ionic exchange, rendering it ineffective. I have no doubt that fresh yogurt is better for your skin than a shelf-stable lab produced one. We don’t use heat, we age certain oils, and in general, we want the characteristics of the ingredients to determine how we handle them. I had never thought of starting a skincare company, and if I couldn’t do it correctly and in a special way, then I wouldn’t have started, and I wouldn’t be able to continue.
You still can’t buy Balbec in stores; I don’t know if you ever will because it is too challenging for a beauty counter to carry a fresh product that has a shelf life the way food does. I did contact stores when we launched and a retailer told me: we love it and would love to carry it, but products typically stay on the shelf for three to six months before people buy it. There’s no way we could risk carrying a fresh product. I completely understand that. So yes, it’s perishable and our customers can buy it directly from us and enjoy it super fresh, thanks to the internet. I also really love the fact that we know all of our customers. This is very meaningful and gratifying for me because I can provide a level of service that I am proud of. It is a privilege.
OO: Where and how do you source your ingredients? What’s the most important aspect for you in the sourcing process?
BB: We source our ingredients from all over the world. They must be wildcrafted, organic or cultivated without chemicals, and the channels must be sustainable, fair and equitable. This is a moving target. My husband teaches and researches sustainable economics at Columbia University’s Earth Institute so he vets every supply chain decision. For everything we say yes to, there is a lot that we say no to. (More on their ingredients and methods here)
OO: Your beautiful yoghurt cleansers are preservative free and need to be used within a month. In the skincare world, there are those who claim that a product absolutely needs a preservative – what is your stance on this and how do you ensure that your cleansers are safe to use?
BB: Thank you, Nic. Actually we guarantee our cleansers for six weeks, and our hydrosols for eight. When properly refrigerated, they can stay fresh longer. I agree that a product needs a preservative. Each of our ingredients are nutrition for the skin, and we add nothing either synthetic or natural to the formulae for strictly preservation purposes. Balbec’s preservatives are: refrigeration, a short shelf life, Miron violet glass, and the inherently preservative qualities of the ingredients themselves. We calibrated our formulations to ensure that they stay fresh for the time period we guarantee. Then we sent them to independent labs to make sure that our preservation methods work and our products are safe to use.
OO: While I was using the cleanser I noticed that some kind of liquid would rise and sometimes spill over – will you explain what this is and why it acts in that way?
BB: This is whey from the yogurt. It is part of the yogurt protein that doesn’t solidify and occasionally separates out. Simply mix it back into the cleanser, as it is good for your skin and keeps the cleanser lovely and creamy.
OO: What is your favourite product from the line and why?
BB: That’s difficult! It’s the favorite child cliché. I will say that I choose different products at different times, depending on what is going on with my skin! I did create the Restorative Oil specifically for my super fragile skin, to help heal scars and blemishes, and to give me a real sense of protection. I didn’t think it would be a crowd pleaser because of its slightly medicinal smell and its richness, but people do like it.
OO: What is your best-selling product?
BB: Because it is an aromatherapeutic line and people choose products based on aromatherapy and their skin’s needs, I notice customers continue to buy the same product over and over. However, when people buy gifts for other people, they tend to buy: French Green Clay and Yogurt Cleanser with Frankincense and Geranium, any one of the hydrosols, and either the Moisturizing Oil with Frankincense and Neroli or Moisturizing Oil with Sandalwood, Vetiver and Frankincense.
OO: What is your beauty philosophy?
BB: Beauty is such a big subject. As far as seeking personal beauty I think it is important to take a creative and uplifting approach. One can choose or aspire to be either pretty—pretty face, pretty hair, body, etc.–or a force of nature. Everyone is a force of nature, but when we really claim this as something to align with, then everything follows—pretty included. Then beauty is expansive, limitless. If I see a man or woman who is not typically, classically pretty, but has an amazing presence, self-knowledge, an interest in self-care, and a great spirit, he or she adds to my sense of beauty, regardless of age, convention, etc. If someone is conventionally pretty, but there’s experience or dynamism lacking—I can’t help thinking, give this person time, but I don’t necessarily feel that exhilaration of beauty as such. Fretting about flaws or ageing tends to diminish the beauty experience, I think. It isn’t interesting.
OO: What are your personal dos and dont’s when it comes to skincare?
BB: 1) I start by noticing how my skin feels. It should feel comfortable. It is surprising how many people are not in touch with how they feel physically. I understand. I lived with uncomfortable skin for a long time and thought it was normal. I try to be in touch with how my body feels overall (digestion, energy, how you feel in your skin), and then make adjustments.
2) Hydrate and eat well. I realize this means different things for different people. For me it means drinking a lot of water (2.5-3 liters a day), and I have to be cautious about sugar and carbs because of my sugar sensitivity.
3) Don’t kill the messenger. If I have a blemish, I take it as a sign about my eating, resting, stress levels, etc. Skin is not meant to just hang out and be pretty, it is a vital organ and a mirror of health—it needs to function and sometimes that means getting signs I would rather not see.
4) Cleanse perfectly using the gentlest pressure. Great skin hygiene begins with perfectly cleansed skin. I find it pointless to invest in a lot of great products if skin can’t receive them because of improper cleansing.
5) Always honor the acid mantle.
6) I wipe down my key board and personal devices frequently.
7) Sleep enough. This is important for hormonal balance and it makes a huge difference in how my skin looks and feels.
8) I have to avoid coffee as much as I love it. The cortisol response triggers acne for me. I haven’t had coffee in five years.
9) Exercise. To reduce stress, balance hormones, rid the body of toxins, and to feel amazing. I like yoga, especially Iyengar yoga.
OO: Oils or cream moisturisers? Or both?
BB: I tend to only use Balbec Moisturizing Oils. My skin is sensitive and tends to be dry, and I like the way the oils penetrate deeply and hydrate me. This is enough for me, although others might like to use both oils and creams. I did try and use many, many different creams for years before I created Balbec. I would like most of them at first, but then they ceased to be effective on my skin. The best one I found was one that Pratima Raichur gave me once in 2001. I don’t know if this formulation still exists in the line that she subsequently created. But it was lovely from beginning to end. She must have thought I needed it; it did make a difference.
It may take a while before I get to try the cleanser again since we have just recently moved to Singapore, however I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have tried it at all. If you love your pro-and prebiotic skincare that is made fresh to order then I would warmly recommend Balbec Beauty.
*Cleanser gifted to me for review consideration however decision to review is all my own after positive experience.