Beauty entrepreneur Sarada Raghavan talks natural skincare, industry greenwashing, tips for combatting maskne and more.
Finding the right products for our skin can be challenging. Throw misleading marketing, continual fads and confusing ingredients into the mix, and it can make finding the right products, well, exhausting! It was these observations, along with a passion for wellness, nutrition and holistic health that motivated cell and molecular biologist, Dr Sarada Raghavan, to rethink what skincare could be.
Sarada created Iryasa with the goal of truly improving skin issues from deep within, rather than just masking them. A Singapore-based green beauty brand that is more sustainably made, the label harnesses the power of nature-derived ingredients while helping everyday women put their best face forward.
Hi Sarada! Tell us about your journey to founding Iryasa.
Our skin is our largest organ and is the first place to show signs that your health is suffering, from stress to sun exposure, to even dehydration. My experience has been that most cosmetic companies, especially big brands, choose ingredients that will only temporarily mask the problem. Coming from a science background, I’m naturally passionate about solutions and wellness, and believe we should be correcting the cause rather than concealing effects. Iryasa combines both interests through natural skincare that actually works. What’s more, we make it in the most sustainable way possible.
What’s the meaning behind the name?
The name ‘Iryasa’ is a blend of two words: ‘Irya,’ which means ‘Powerful’ in Sanskrit and ‘Asa’ which means ‘Healer’ in Hebrew. Together it means ‘Powerful Healer,’ which we think perfectly describes our products! Our natural skincare also celebrates the whole concept of ‘blending’; the formulations mix together a variety of clean, concentrated yet safe ingredients using ancient wisdom and modern technology.
How have your personal experiences shaped the brand?
If I fell sick growing up, my dad treated me with homeopathy and my mum made natural, homemade recipes with turmeric and other ingredients from the kitchen. Nutrition was always my medicine, rather than drugs. They usually solved the root cause of the sickness, fixed it and brought my “well-being” back to its optimal state. As a result, the symptoms faded away; they were never the focus.
Naturally, I incorporated these principles into Iryasa and the way I wanted our products to heal and nurture. Beyond short term effects, we aspire to create products that have long term benefits. My science background has also really informed the way I approach our skincare blends; I believe precision is key. Choosing exact measurements, using ingredients in the right order and in quantities that create a real effect on the skin is high priority.
My science background has also really informed the way I approach our skincare blends; I believe precision is key. Choosing exact measurements, using ingredients in the right order and in quantities that create a real effect on the skin is high priority.
How challenging did you find it to formulate the products you envisioned?
While I didn’t struggle with any particular ingredient, as a scientist, I’d say there is always room for improvement. While our current formulations are the best versions of what we’ve been able to achieve at the moment, we will continuously work to improve each formulation to make them more effective and therapeutic.
If I had to talk about one struggle, I’d say keeping formulations clean wasn’t as easy as I’d thought it would be while maintaining a 2-year shelf life. While staying true to our ethos of being clean, effective and safe was essential — the texture and sensorial aspects of the products is something I would like to improve on, without compromising on efficacy and quality.
I like that you make it a point to highlight ingredients you strictly don’t use.
While we believe there is definitely a list of ingredients that are “strictly no”, it’s essential to look at the complete ingredients list and do your own research. Not every natural ingredient is safe and not every chemical is toxic! Ultimately, it’s even more important to ask what is in the product, rather than what’s not.
For those wondering, how can natural skincare be effective without preservatives, parabens, synthetic fragrances etc?
We know it’s extremely important to preserve a product as more harm can be done by a one time use of an organic, preservative-free product that has gone bad compared to a commercial product containing parabens! We choose to preserve our products with food-grade, edible preservatives that are safe to ensure sufficient shelf life. They are fantastic alternatives to parabens.
Our oils don’t contain preservatives at all and can last safely for 2 years without overexposure to humidity and direct sunlight. All of our products contain 100% pure, therapeutic grade essential oils that smell divine. They don’t last as long as synthetic fragrances, but when you weigh the harm caused by synthetic fragrances in exchange for it’s long-lasting effect – I believe it’s worth it.
Some brands abuse terms like ‘green’ or ‘natural’ without sharing proper evidence. Do you feel this industry needs more regulation?
Greenwashing is certainly rampant at the moment. There is certainly an exponential growth in demand for natural products. While it’s important to communicate with evidence to back your claims on ‘natural’, ‘vegan’, ‘organic’ and ‘cruelty-free’…to name a few, current evidence involves expensive certifications that many small businesses that are doing good work are unable to afford.
What’s more, definitions of some claims such as ‘organic’ vary from country to country. We can generally obtain ‘organic’ ingredients from organic agricultural practices, and ‘natural’ ingredients from plants. In the case of ‘vegan’ ingredients, it excludes anything from animals or those with mineral or microbiological origin.
I think regulators, manufacturers, ingredient & packaging suppliers need to work together to create standards and a workflow which is accessible to big and small brands alike. This is so truly sustainable manufacturing can be carried out, without it costing a kidney! A clear, easy-to-follow global label standard should be created, thereby allowing inclusivity rather than exclusivity. In the meantime, education is key! To combat greenwashing, it’s important to educate consumers to look beyond just the packaging. We should all know how to read ingredients properly to differentiate between ‘natural’ and ‘synthetic’.
I think regulators, manufacturers, ingredient & packaging suppliers need to work together to create standards and a workflow which is accessible to big and small brands alike.
How has this crazy year affected you as a new business?
As a small business, we’ve been massively hit, financially and morally. In addition to sales being slow, we were unable to participate in local and international events due to cancellations in light of Covid-19. However, we decided to move our focus from the negatives and continued to work hard to try and help our community to the best of our ability. This has been our way forward. We donated over $26K worth of skincare to the frontline medical workers at TTSH/NCID. We also partnered with a few other brands to fundraise for the frontline healthcare staff in Indonesia.
Our community has also been really supportive; some customers have reached out to tell us how well the products have been working for them. It’s heartwarming as a new brand to feel this love and I hope we all can get through this phase together and come out stronger.
Given Covid-19, masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Could you share tips on how we can minimise maskne?
Breakouts due to excessive mask-wearing are undeniably real right now! A simple yet consistent routine of cleansing and moisturising will do the trick! For sensitive skin suffering from maskne, I highly recommend Iryasa’s Face Wash and Skin Absolute Gel or Cream (depending on the texture or scents that you prefer). This combination ensures your skin is nourished and kept healthy. I love it because I can prevent a breakout before it occurs with this combination. It’s super versatile and works for women, men and teens. I’ve also used it on my daughter since her birth for diaper rashes, itchiness and insect bites. It’s also her go-to product for any injury.
The beauty industry also creates a lot of packaging waste. How can it move towards reducing its impact?
No packaging is 100% perfect. However, most are often not feasible since the products need protection, preservation and legally mandatory product information. Secondly, we should explore refillable and innovative packaging ideas too! We don’t need to wrap every product with more single-use plastic! Creative seals on primary packaging can make secondary packaging obsolete. Thirdly, reusing or repurposing primary packaging should be encouraged and made easy. Fourth, the materials used must be recyclable. This is so that the materials can be used over and over again instead of filling up a landfill.
Susannah believes better design can help create a brighter future. A former magazine editor, she now runs ZERRIN and works at the intersection of consumers, brands and sustainability advocacy.