In Conversation With: Imelda Burke
I'm honoured to be debuting the In Conversation With blog series with Imelda Burke, green beauty pioneer, fierce advocate of indie beauty brands from around the globe, and founder of Marylebone treasure trove Content Beauty & Wellbeing.
We spoke about the clean beauty revolution, Imelda's takes on greenwashing, and her advice on taking matters of the skin and self in to our own hands.
You set up Content in 2008 to address and fill what you viewed as a huge gap in the market for natural and organic beauty and wellbeing products. There’s been a revolution of sorts in the last few years, and since launching Isla Apothecary in 2015, I’m amazed by how many people I meet that are really savvy around natural and organic ingredients in their skin and self-care.
How far do you think that gap has been bridged, almost ten years on?
I think for those who look for the information it is now there in many forms from blogs to natural beauty books and many more retailers and brands - when before there were few. However, I think as with any trend there are also companies that are switching their message to natural to catch a trend, this is fine if you main reason for switching is to avoid some ingredients and I’m happy that larger brands have taken on the challenge of looking into their products and ingredients. But I’m more interested in the brands that have had naturals at the core of who they are and who have advocated for naturals from their inception.
Let’s talk about greenwashing. What advice would you give to people that want to make the switch but are overwhelmed by ingredients lists and perhaps even unaware of what greenwashing is? Is there some self-education involved?
The amount of green-washing has increased at the same rate as authentic information. It really depends why you are shopping natural – if it is just to avoid a few ingredients then it is much easier but for many Content customers it is about more – many people choose this sector to shop in because they want to support small companies or cruelty free – its often about where choose to put your money alongside avoiding synthetic ingredients.
I think those who are wishing to shop with a more planet conscious approach still need to largely educate themselves. The mere process of making anything will never be planet perfect. There will always be some compromise in the chain of production. But I appreciate a company who asks questions of their processes and ingredients along the way.
Is an all or nothing approach realistic? In your recently released book, The Nature of Beauty, you share your advice on how to get started with natural products. Can you share a few?
It’s really up to the individual – we have people find us who just want to switch everything at once and don’t want to spend anymore money with companies that don’t fit with their own personal ethos. But there are those who keep a few favourites (often mascara!) they don’t want to give up. I’m a bit of a fan of the 80% 20% rule often used by naturopaths and nutritionists – 80% of the time naturals and organics will do the job but if you are getting married and worried about having your mascara or make-up stay put you may need some help from silicones and long-wear ingredients.
I think becoming too rigid in your choices can actually be quite stressful – which isn’t great for skin! It’s also important to note that many independent certifications (EcoCert etc) do allow some what are considered safer synthetic ingredients – so even something with a kite-mark may not be 100% natural or organic – but they will have been thoroughly assessed.
How important to you is it that beyond tangible results that products offer therapeutic value?
The store was very much set up to prove that organics and natural ingredients could deliver the tangible ‘clinical trial’ results that the beauty industry have trained us to look for in products. I wanted to prove that there was an alternative to what are considered the premium or luxury results driven beauty brands. I think we have done that. However the other side of this is that you actually gain another whole dimension to your route – most brands will be using the aroma-therapeutic benefits of essential oils or promoting facial massage and inhalation of the scents to expand your skin routine into having a value beyond the ‘results’ written on the packaging – de Mamiel is a great example of this in skincare and your line for body. This is of equal if not greater value as it has a positive effect beyond the layers of the skin.
What are your favourite body care rituals?
I could have written a whole book on body rituals alone! It is my favourite way to relax or unwind. I visit a sauna about 3 – 4 times a week and use body scrubs, baths, cold / hot alternating showers, dry body brushing – the lot!
Do you have any favourite complementary therapies?
I have used both Herbal Medicine (prescribed by our amazing Herbalist Jennifer Derham) and Acupuncture regularly for years.
A big big thank you to Imelda for her time and generosity in sharing her thoughts and knowledge with us, which I hope offer useful and practical information on how to enjoy and navigate this beautiful and growing space for your wellbeing!
Lastly, I urge you to visit Content Beauty & Wellbeing at 14 Bulstrode Street, London W1U 2JG. It's the perfect place to start, or indeed continue on your clean beauty journey.
Please feel free to comment below with your thoughts!