Interview With Karen Sinclair Drake

I spoke to Sophyto Founder Karen Sinclair Drake about skin, ethical business and what keeps her in rhythm. Karen is the founder of Sophyto Organics.  Karen and her team aimed as high as anyone can go in their desire to produce the first professional grade, sustainable skin care line on the market which has caught the attention of renowned dermatologists, plastic surgeons and even neurologists and most recently by ELLE Magazine who named the company’s famous Polyphenol Skin Drops “the best anti aging treatment.”

Frank Lipman: Why did you start Sophyto?

Karen Sinclair Drake: Many moons ago I met a very talented chemist who opened my eyes to the principles of green chemistry, which focuses on creatively reducing, recycling, or eliminating the use of toxic chemicals and minimizing the human and environmental impact without stifling scientific progress. I started studying the adverse effects of toxin build up in the body particularly from the products we apply to our skin; think HRT and nicotine patches right there you’ve got strong enough evidence to support the fact that a high percentage of what you apply topically ends up in your body.

I wanted to create a unique brand that bridged the gap between professional and organic skincare where we could unite cleaner, safer formulas and dermatological results. Several years later we achieved the unachievable and SOPHYTO became the first professional company carrying the bees’s knees of organic certification – UK Soil Association licensing. The line was launched at the American Academy of Dermatologists early 2008 to a great reception. The range is now available globally and is used by doctors and spas and is designed to recognize the holistic integrity of every individual person.

FL: I always talk about not just treating symptoms but the underlying imbalance and so what do you do when it comes to skin problems. Can you explain?

KSD: I actually got my inspiration from complementary and alternative medicine, taking this very concept to healthy skincare maintenance made total sense to our research team, where the products themselves recognize the whole person rather than just a part of them.

As with a lot of modern medicines, conventional chemical-based cosmetics work by suppressing symptoms without actually dealing with the cause of the skin problem. For example, if someone has acne, they will generally use a chemical drying and antibacterial agent to kill the bacteria in the pimples. Instead, I would recommend a course of topical Prebiotic Actives which help support skin-friendly flora whilst suppressing the p.acnes bacteria (the bad guys) – similar to what you do when treating digestive problems. So as you are doing, I am treating the cause not the symptoms. Symptoms are the body’s reaction to the cause of a health problem and simply stopping the symptoms does not cure the problem, it just masks its presence.

FL: You talk a lot about “Actives” in your products, can you explain what they are?

KSD: SOPHYTO formulas contain literally hundreds of naturally occurring actives from complete, whole-food nutrients. Whole foods contain an interwoven “complex” of naturally balanced nutrients and helper-nutrients which act in complete harmony with our body; the body recognizes a whole food complex straight away and is better able to absorb its nutrients and benefit from them. For example, when applied topically, blackcurrants support the skin’s friendly flora, helping to benefit acne-prone skin and other skin ailments. And they also show impressive anti-ageing effects, too.

FL: I know you have a passion for ethical business practices, tell me about that?

KSD: Ethical business practices are central to everything that we do – all the way along the supply chain:

FAIR TRADE – SOPHYTO’s agricultural raw materials all come from certified suppliers who support a number of community projects in a variety of countries, including Bulgaria, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nepal, South Africa, Italy, India and Somalia. They work closely with local famers and producers, offering financial support, as well as managing their exports. This support empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by investing in their farms and communities, protecting the environment, and developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace. And since SOPHYTO formulas average 95% organic ingredients, we can truly support farming communities as opposed to the petrochemical industry.

CRUELTY FREE – We support organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and the Vegan Society to let our customers understand that by purchasing cruelty-free products, they can help save the hundreds of thousands of animals that are poisoned, blinded, and killed every year in outdated and ineffective product tests for cosmetics. Although more than 600 companies have banned all animal tests forever, some corporations still force substances into animals’ stomachs and drip chemicals into rabbits’ eyes. These tests often produce inaccurate and misleading results anyway – even if a product has blinded an animal, it can still be marketed to you!

LOCAL & SMALL BUSINESS – Our social principles help develop ecologically responsible production, processing and distribution chains that emphasize local systems. We are often led to believe that big business is more efficient, but actually it’s the opposite because smaller businesses – especially in agriculture, food processing and textiles – use more labor and fewer material resources. Many local and traditional crafts are being lost and the only way to preserve them – and the planet’s resources – is to consciously build an economy and a culture that can sustain us into the future. Local businesses are our starting point.

FL: How do you see the future of the cosmetics industry?

KSD: With my positive hat on, I see the cosmetics industry showing everyone that it is about more than just picture perfection, by leaning in the direction of brands with strong messages. I think manufacturers will increasingly look to purchase their raw materials from fair trade/community project suppliers and more attention will be focused on reducing excess packaging and carbon footprint. They’ll have to, because more and more caring consumers know how to identify these goods from their green endorsements so manufacturers will no longer be able to get away with making their own claims. That’s a positive result for the consumer.

FL: How do you keep in rhythm?

KSD: Well, I have your books which have literally been a life-saver! I take frequent breaks from my pc and walk in our gardens barefoot so I can feel connected to the earth. This connection with nature really grounds me and pulls me back to a place of natural rhythm. I also visit an energy healer twice a week and her work helps bring all of those fragments back into place. I also love dancing. We play music really loud as we work so it’s not uncommon for us to dance around the lab! Music truly is the rhythm of life.

Environmental Working Group on Sunscreen