Catherine Turner meets the original organic beauty man Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda and pioneer of Intelligent Nutrients
Hairdresser turned global beauty magnate turned organic campaigner, Horst Rechelbacher is perhaps most well known for his beauty brand, Aveda. Having burned out as a session stylist on the fashion circuit in the late 60s, he turned to his mother’s herbal remedies to feel better. She helped him create his first shampoo in his kitchen and when he launched the brand in 1978, he named it Aveda having been inspired by the ancient Indian system of medicine, Ayurveda.
When I first met Horst in the mid 90s at the then Aveda training HQ in Osceola, in the depths of the Wisconsin countryside, I had not heard the words ‘wellbeing’ and ‘organic’ used often before, nor had I really connected that beauty could mean top to toe, inside out. He’d come up with the first natural ‘lifestyle’ brand: from natural washing up liquid, to peppermint-y lipstick (no petro-chemicals), all with beautiful essential oil aromas. It was ahead of its time.
Last week, I joined a throng of well-heeled natural bunnies at the Natural and Organic Product trade fair at Olympia, London crowding round Horst as he made a magnetic speech about happenings with his new baby, Intelligent Nutrients . He’s been growing this new company since the early ’00s having sold Aveda to Estee Lauder in 1998. Getting to interview him was a little tricky; the natural guru was being mobbed afterwards.
No wonder. He’s a pioneering beauty spirit, a radical champion of organics, he’s walking the talk. The Osceola HQ is now an organic farm, IN products are all certified organic to further his dream of ridding the beauty world of toxins and he is making it his mission to make beauty products that are good enough to eat (he’s been known to drink his own hairspray at teaching sessions). Luckily, we escaped the trade fair for the interview over lunch - organic of course (Saf at Wholefoods, Kensington).
How have natural/organic beauty products changed since the Aveda days?
Organic is a relatively new agriculture, so Aveda products were never certified organic. We used some organic ingredients but not to a high level. It was a reflection of the time. A lot has changed since then. Organic raw materials are now more available. And we have a difference in delivery because we have small particle technology which can reach the cells more quickly, and plant silicones and glycerines which make products silky smooth on the skin. These were never available before - it was like putting granola on your face. People still have that image. But is has really evolved.
Why are you so passionate about organics?
There is no alternative. Insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides are pollutants, they are killing agents. These pollutants penetrate plant cells and enter human cells and interfere with the structure. Did you know the roots of non-organically grown plants are one third shorter than the roots of organic plants, that’s why organic plants have more bio-availability? The largest US Government Study on Cancer, published in 2010 was a 240 page document which talks about why we are in trouble because we are using so many chemicals on a daily basis. It’s near crisis. The way to cut down exposure is to eat organic foods and choose products made with non-toxic substances or environmentally safe chemicals.
Doesn’t our skin act as a barrier?
Anything you put on your skin is being ingested. Skin is our largest organ, it assimilates as well as it eliminates. Biology teaches us this. Larger molecules might not go in, but the smaller ones do. They go into the pores.
Which chemicals in beauty products do you think we should avoid the most?
Synthetic aromatics are top of my list, because the molecules are toxic - we can’t replicate nature. Then preservatives. Both preservatives and fragrance penetrate the skin immediately, they go into the bloodstream and into the liver - even though credible doctors would argue they don’t end up in the liver. If it’s sublingual, a lipstick applied to the lips and taken into the mouth [since Aveda days Horst has talked about the amount of lipstick a woman ‘eats’ over a lifetime and why it’s doubly important that it be as safe as possible], it goes directly into the bloodstream and then the liver. And I almost forgot; a lot of anti-ageing products work by creating a swelling of skin tissues - puffy skin. They’re designed to ‘plump’, but in doing so, they actually irritate. The body is always out to heal itself, so its response to these chemicals - such as retinols and fruit acids - is swelling, until eventually the body shuts off.
Does what we eat affect our skin more that what we put on it?
It’s both. You have to feed yourself equally on the outside and inside.
Seed oils were in one of your first IN products - ahead of the chia trend...
Seeds are embryonic foods - they’re whole and loaded with nutrients, that’s why I wanted to use them. I chose cranberry, raspberry, black cumin, red grape and pumpkin for their high antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory effect in Intellimune Oil which you can ingest or use on the skin.
You love working with natural aromas, don’t you?
Yes, organic essential oils - they are much better quality because synthetic chemistry can’t duplicate the complexity found in nature. Finding a scent you love is like love in the moment because the body releases endorphins. It’s instant stress reduction, but you need to love the smell for it to work. We have a biofeedback stress test in the new store which shows this. I’m now including flavours to get new experience with aromas. I want to be able to taste it. Cosmetics by nature are bitter and my new objective is to make products which taste good. If we’re intimate, we definitely taste each other.
There are other therapeutic benefits too...
Yes. Essential oils have therapeutic properties - anti-bacterial, antiseptic for example. I’ve used citronella, lemongrass, thyme, cedarwood, geranium in the Bug Repellant Perfume Spray and Serum as well as creating a range of Aroma Therapeutic Remedies such as First Degree for burns, Recover when you’re feeling under the weather. In-store we’ll have an aroma oxygen treatment - you’ll be able to inhale essential oils for quick recovery.
What perfume are you wearing today? It smells amazing!
It’s pure rose oil and very expensive - $500 a kilo. More expensive than jasmine. I’ll wear different pure essential oils depending on how I feel. Some days it’ll be more floral, other days citrus or woody base notes, or frankincense, myrrh.
What other innovations are you excited about?
Stem cells. I am using them in our Renewal Complex serum. They’re the future because they are above and beyond organic. They are grown in labs - a bit like wheatgrass, there is no GM involved, very little water, and we don’t need to endanger plant species because we don’t kill the host. And they work! I’m using them at 11% in the serum - a really high dose - and have seen a big difference in my skin. We have a new Eye Gel too with the same technology, and I’m also planning one for the whole body. Not just the face - hello - my body is ageing too! It works as a hair thickener too. [Indeed, Horst’s hair is much thicker since I last saw him]. We are planning to have a scalp stem cell treatment. Stem cells will change beauty - we will soon be able to use our own human stem cells to maintain the natural colour of our hair. We’ll never have to go grey. There’s still a lot to learn, but in medicine, we are already renewing organs and there is good work happening to regrow cartilage in the spine.
The Intelligent Nutrients store will open in New York this Autumn. Shop online at intelligentnutrients.co.uk or at Wholefoods.