March 13, 2018
Today we’d like to introduce you to Kirsten Thomas.
Kirsten, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Ayr Skin Care was born out of necessity. From an early age, I suffered from many allergies, including strong reactions to cleansing products, perfumes, preservatives, and artificial colors. My mother had a tremendous task finding ways to wash my laundry and baby clothes, back in the days before there were “perfume free” detergents. Laundry for her was a tedious process involving vinegar and double rinses with water to try to remove any perfume or color residue from the sheets in particular. If any remained on the material, I would scratch myself all night in bed. Over the years, detergents did appear on the market for us to use, but things like hand soaps in bathrooms, and personal face care cleansers continued to cause rashes, itchiness and flaky skin.
By the time I was a mother myself, I was very much a “mother earth” type, cleansing with coconut based products and creating natural skin moisturizers with ingredients from the kitchen. Over the years, my laundry room looked like an apothecary with herbs, essential oils and ingredients for making my own detergents, house cleansers and personal care items like deodorant, mineral-based foundations and facial cleansers. The beauty items that I created were the only products that I could use without an allergic reaction. All of this was a lot of work, but it became a hobby that I loved. I also explored and fell in love with traditional soap making, and began giving out my homemade products, creams and soaps to friends as gifts.
Several items, a facial toner and a facial serum became so popular with my friends that they began asking if they could get it regularly, and began to ask what they could pay for me to “whip up a batch”. I had begun this journey out of my own needs, but quickly found that many other people had sensitive skin, and were in much the same boat as I was with their skin concerns. As I got older, I found that the coconut oils and basic ingredients I was working with were no longer being as effective. I was getting older, and my once oily skin was now getting dry. I decided to take classes so that I could formally educate myself inactive ingredients, like peptides, collagen, and extracts that would really feed my skin.
Once I began with online formulation schools and studying books, I became even more addicted to making products. I began to see real results with my own skin, and then the skin of my friends and family who were using the products. This company was never about making a huge profit, it was about finding a solution for my own skin and then was driven forward because of my friends demanding the products for themselves. Along with this journey, I discovered that I had many dietary allergies too. I have a severe allergy to gluten and dairy, and allergies to soy, corn and cheaper oils like canola or safflower oil. When I read the ingredients on most skin care lines, I was amazed to find that wheat extracts, barley and other grains, as well as soy, were rampant in their formulations.
By making my own, free of these ingredients, I was already seeing a tremendous difference in the calm quality of my skin. The adult acne I had suffered with disappeared, and I realized that it wasn’t just what I was eating, but what I was putting on my skin that was causing much of my skin problems. For the last five years I have avoided eating all of these ingredients, and have none of my skin care products, and the difference is night and day. In July of 2017, Ayr Skin Care opened its web store doors.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The road to where we are today has been a lifetime of learning, but nothing could have prepared our family for what it means to have an online business. I had a successful business years ago, but it was an education franchise, and much of the groundwork was laid down for me. The mystery of how to get people to our website and the marketing and understanding of coding for the site has been a whole new learning curve. We hired a great company to help us set up and optimize the web store.
It is constantly being updated and “tweaked” to help people find us. I had no idea just how much work went into the coding, design, photography and all details of running a website. I believe that the greatest struggle, other than educating ourselves on the web, and who to use to help us with it, was faith. I had to continue to have faith in my products. Designing products that are made from a place of love, that really are designed to help people’s skin is a daunting task. When you pour yourself into the formulation of the products, you are showing a part of yourself.
I sing and do stage performances, so this is very similar to being on stage. There is nowhere to hide. You go out, you do your best, and you cannot please everyone. When you get one critique like “I wish this was thinner”, it can throw you off your confidence. I have to continually remind myself that it was designed this way for a certain reason, and then just take a deep breath and know that there are many, many other people who buy it because it is that thick and concentrated. This is just an example, but when you create any kind of art, and I do think of the products as art, there will always be art critics.
Remembering who I am, and the years of work that went into the learning and making of these products is what I have to keep in the front of my mind. Fortunately, this does not happen often, and most days I feel genuinely rewarded and happy to be creating things that I love. I am very blessed to have the support of my husband, that allows my creativity to blossom.
Ayr Skin Care – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The initial line up of products for Ayr Skin Care was about basics. We have a Calm Facial bar, which is designed for cleansing the face and has ingredients like nettle, olive leaf, charcoal and turmeric in it, as well as oils that are perfect for the skin. There is another cleanser which is called Reveal. Reveal is an alpha hydroxy acid foam wash, which smells lightly of gogi berries. It was formulated to solve a problem.
Exfoliation is one of the most important steps in a skin care regime; by removing dead skin from the surface, active ingredients that feed the lower skin cells are able to penetrate and work more effectively. The only problem is that people who have sensitive skin cannot use harsh chemical or physical exfoliants. They just inflame the skin, and so many people avoid them. Reveal is used every other day, to gently remove the dead skin, and it does so without irritating the skin.
After cleansing, we have our Pure Moisture daily moisturizer, which is a thick, rich cream, but still penetrates quickly. It helps bring moisture to the layers of the skin, to help keep it feeling soft, hydrated and “fed” all day long. We also offer a Virgin Marula Oil for those that want to moisturize with a facial oil. It is one of the most nutrient-rich oils in the world. We work to ensure that it is fair trade and wild harvested, The oil is meant to absorb quickly and deeply into the skin, leaving long-lasting moisture and a layer of soothing protection. Awaken Eye Serum is one of our most popular products.
It is amazing under eye serum that is highly condensed. Just about the size of a grain of rice under each eye, twice a day, is enough to reduce the appearance of fine lines and puffiness, even skin tone and hydrate the delicate under eye area without using heavy oils which can cause problems for many skin types. This wonderful product is in an airtight pump and includes ingredients like marine algae, pomegranate, probiotics, peptides and power-packed extracts to really feed the skin. Ayr Skin Care is also about taking care of the skin on the rest of the body too!
Our body line up includes the Dead Sea Spa Body Bar, which has a cult-like following. Once used, this body bar will change the way you view your bath or shower time forever! Designed to soften the skin, it includes Dead Sea Mud, and Cambrian Blue Clay, both of which are packed with minerals found nowhere else in the world. The bar contains an essential oil blend that reminds one of entering a spa, and is very soothing for the mind. Like the Calm Facial bar, this is also handmade and poured in a unique marbled swirl pattern. No two bars look alike! Along with our body bar, we are very excited to have our Tranquility line.
This includes our amazing Tranquility Hand Cream, which is super thick, more like a body butter, and is ideal for dry areas like the elbows and heels, and hands. I use mine every night as I am watching TV, and have friends that coat their hands with the cream and put gloves on to use it all night like a hand treatment. It is loaded with a trio of rich butters and Argan oil. The Tranquility Dry Body Oil is another unique product. It is best applied to damp or freshly cleansed skin after the bath or shower, and a small amount is used to rub over the entire body.
Due to it’s unique formula, the oils soak in very quickly, and it becomes dry to the touch within a minute or two, allowing you to get dressed. So many oils for the skin take forever to soak in, but this one really uses drier oils, like macadamia nut, and is richly moisturizing. Both Tranquility body products are scented with some of the most relaxing and expensive essential oils in the world: Neroli, Lavender and Sandalwood, for a truly relaxing aromatherapy escape. After our initial launch of these 8 products, we introduced our “mini” travel bars, in both the Dead Sea and Calm Facial.
These just came out in December of 2017, in time for gift giving, and fill a particular need. Our bars last so long, and are a good size, so people were excited to see them in a travel size. Even the travel size still lasts approximately 3 months with daily use. There are already many products that have passed lab testing and test groups in the field and are ready for launching in the next year or two. A night cream, facial serum, facial toner, and mask are eagerly waiting for the right time for being revealed, and many more products are in the creative stage in the lab.
This is the part that I enjoy the most… coming up with the initial product idea, playing in the lab until it is just right, and then putting it out for testing in our “guinea pig” test groups!
Getting feedback, adjusting the formula if needed, and getting it just right is very rewarding. I think what we are best known for is this attention to detail. When people buy our products, they know that they are free of most allergens and ingredients that are harmful to the skin. Parabens, paraffin waxes, synthetic perfumes and colors, and the list goes on and on. (a full list of what is and what is not in our products is on the website).
All of our products do have a light scent, usually from the extracts, fruit juices or essential oils that we use. The scent is natural and disappears quickly after the product is absorbed. The other thing that I am known for in my formulations is quality. When most companies create skin care, they are first of all creating something that will make money. This was never our driving force in creating products. To this day, the products are designed for my skin, and I only use top of the line active ingredients. I concentrate the formulas, with no inexpensive fillers, to create products that work. If I create what I would use myself (and do) then everyone who buys them reaps the benefit of this concentrated, high-quality line of products.
Who else deserves credit – have you had mentors, supporters, cheerleaders, advocates, clients or teammates that have played a big role in your success or the success of the business? If so – who are they and what role did they plan / how did they help.
This first year in business has been a whirlwind, but so many people were responsible for the startup and continued running of our company. The company is very much a family affair. My eldest daughter, Fiona Briggs, left her job at NBC to come work as our Vice President of marketing and operations, and she has been wonderful.
She has experience working behind the scenes in many of the areas that we know nothing about, and it is a joy to have a family business where we can both work together. My second daughter, Isla helps out when we are busy, and as we grow may end up working in the lab, since she is a wonderful baker, and baking and the chemistry of skincare are not dissimilar. My son Ian helps us with some packing and shipping and warehouse inventory system management when he has windows in his college schedule.
My husband, Peter, is a wonderful support and was really the brains and brawn behind our initial setup. He has designed and built homes before, so he was in charge of setup and build out of our lab and warehouse facility, and the establishment of our corporation and any ongoing business matters. I am involved in daily business management, but I am also the one who is in the lab every day, which is where I am the happiest! There is nothing more rewarding than creating batches of product, and thinking about other people enjoying them. Everything is still made in small batches, by hand, by me and my lab assistant, who happens to be one of my dear friends, and is a joy to work with.
Along the way, there were teachers and mentors that showed up in the online world of formulating, and in authoring the books that I read. I found wonderful online schools, and also online forums where like-minded people met to talk about ingredients. It takes about 6 months to a year to develop, test, and design containers and then advertises on the web for a new product to launch. There is a lot that goes into it. In addition to in-house testing, we also send each product out to two separate labs for external testing of preservation, shelf life and stability of each product.
The people that tested my products over the last few years were really the reason that I decided to start the online business. They were so supportive, but gave really concrete feedback in the formulation of the products, from viscosity to scent, and made my job so much easier. I owe a great thank you to all of the people who showed up to help during this process, and who continue to volunteer to test products as I develop them.
I started this business later in life and didn’t need to do it. There was a creative urge in me that wanted to be free, and that is what started the entire journey. I ended up with a family run company, with friends helping me, and I have the joy of creating things for people to enjoy. I made the decision to surround myself with people that I love, doing something that I love. It doesn’t get much better than that!