Following the release of her first book, The Nature of Beauty, Judy Johnson caught up with Imelda Burke to talk organic beauty, sensitive skin and beyond
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the years of writing this sensitive skin column, it’s that knowledge is everything. If I could somehow download the know-how of every skin expert I’ve been lucky enough to talk to into my own memory, I’m certain I’d never have a bad skin day again; because knowing formulas, ingredients and, most of all, your own skin inside and out is a surefire way to avoid reactions for good.
Founder of Content Beauty & Wellbeing, Imelda Burke is one such expert whose brain I’d put on my list of downloads. Living with her own skin problems and then opening her Marylebone boutique of natural and organic beauty means she’s been there, tried that in terms of most sensitive skincare - and her understanding of natural ingredients is unparalleled and something I call on time and again when researching the latest products to hit my desk.
As of earlier this month, Imelda’s expertise was officially purchasable in the form of her first book, The Nature of Beauty - a trove of skincare geekery and an invaluable point of reference for anyone who wants a better understanding of their skin. I caught up with the debut author to find out about the book, her beauty regime and why she thinks we all need a bit more perspective…
GTG: When did you decide to write the book and why?
IB: I was approached by the Commissioning Editor, Laura Higginson at Ebury Press a couple of years ago about the idea of putting Content and what we are about into words – an extension of what we have always had on our blog.
At the time there did seem to be a lack of beauty books that focused on a more natural ethos. One of my favourite books ‘ No More Dirty Looks ’ had been published in 2010 but not a lot since that combines a look at the industry with tips and brand recommendations.
Over the years I have personally answered tens of thousands of questions from customers and beauty editors about natural skincare and spent nearly 10 years explaining why it is just as good (I think better!) than mainstream products. I thought it would be great to have all the research and experience in one easy to read place - as a starting point for people wanting to make the switch. It’s really the book I wished was around when I first started reading labels.
I’ve had the pleasure of learning so much from our customers and brand founders that it is in essence a collection of all the best experience from around the world of natural beauty. I also wanted it to be a book that is treasured and handed down or gifted to people you love, so we tried to make it pretty too – the cover is by an artist who makes beautiful images of plants via x-ray.
Image: Imelda Burke, copyright Content Beauty 2016
GTG: You talk about photo editing tools and social media in the book - is this something that frustrates you in the beauty industry?
IB: It’s always been a part of the beauty industry and advertising – but what has changed with the advent of apps and mobile devices is that editing tools are held in the palm of our hands. It’s not so much frustrating but interesting that we now can all edit the way we or our skin looks - at the touch of a finger.
With the rise of visual based social apps like Instagram it’s good to note that a tool that was devised to give an instant snapshot of a person or place may actually be an edited image. This increases the number of ‘perfect’ or edited images you are seeing daily. People's skin and lives are rarely as perfect as they appear on screen – we need to keep a little perspective.
GTG: Can you remember what the first natural beauty brand you used was?
IB: Yes. Weleda Lavender Body Lotion. I remember it vividly.
GTG: Where did you do your research and study natural beauty prior to opening the shop (in the absence of a natural beauty bible like yours)?
IB: I really had to hunt out information actually. I spent A LOT of time looking up ingredients in medical databases as I was studying Naturopathy and taking biomedicine papers at the time. The Environmental Working Group and Soil Association are useful resources also.
We have largely been conditioned to reach for products first, but you only get lasting results for skin issues when you look at the health of the whole body
GTG: What do you use now to keep your skin condition under control?
IB: The Pai Comfrey and Calendula Body Cream , £22 is a godsend. I also take about 2 grams of omega 3 a day as a supplement. I’ve removed foaming body washes too as they seem to exacerbate the dryness.
GTG: What’s in your current skincare routine?
IB: I switch around a lot as I am always trying new brands but the ones I most often come back to are the below. I think cleansing is the most important step in your routine, so I tend to have several on the go.
Cleanser (morning): I like using something gently exfoliating in the morning. I really like the de Mamiel Brightening and Exfoliating Powder , £41 which can be mixed with a little water in the shower.
Cleanser (night): Depending on my mood or the mood of my skin I either use the Tata Harper Nourishing Oil Cleanser , £54 followed by the Tata Harper Purifying Cleanser , £49, which has a gentle tingling effect due to the ginger in it. Or if I’m short on time I use the Kypris Cleanser Concentrate , £54 which removes makeup and cleanses - it’s one of my all time favourite cream cleansers.
Toner: My skin tends towards dehydration so I always use a hydrating tonic with hyaluronic acid next – most often the Tata Harper Hydrating Floral Essence , £54, but I keep the Amly No. 1 Radiance Boost , £42, on my desk to spray throughout the day as heating really dehydrates my skin.
Serum: Years of NZ summers have left me prone to pigmentation so I use the Amala Brightening Concentrate , £175. I also have the Kypris Antioxidant Dew , £56, and Tata Harper Boosted Contouring Serum , £156 to hand.
Moisturiser: Tata Harper Repairative Moisturiser , £84. My skin is prone to dryness and dehydration, but it doesn't like heavy creams, so this is the perfect consistency.
Oils: I always have a couple to hand. My skin loves the RMS Beauty Oil , £60 and the May Lindstrom The Youth Dew , £96.
Makeup is another whole story!
Image: Ebury Press
GTG: You talk of the food and wellness industry a lot and recommend using dietary references to pinpoint skin types - is this something you feel strongly about and why you adopted an organic lifestyle?
IB: From when I first opened Content we have always had naturopaths and herbalists on the team, and offer nutrition consultations with a focus on women’s and skin issues. Prior to opening Content both had helped me immensely with my own health issues.
The skin is an organ so it stands to reason that its health is inherently linked to the health of the rest of our body. We have largely been conditioned to reach for products first, but you only get lasting results for skin issues when you look at the health of the whole body – this links back to what we eat and do on a daily basis. But it takes time.
We are generally conditioned to want quick fixes but often it takes years for a problem to present itself in the skin or body – so it often can’t be fixed or reversed overnight!
GTG: Natural and organic beauty sales are on the rise - why do you think this is?
IB: I think in the past couple of years with the rise of the awareness around ‘clean’ eating and food, people have progressed to consider what they are putting on their body as they would consider what they are putting in their body.
The launch of new results-focused brands have helped too – where once natural skincare might have seemed a bit of a compromise, you may be avoiding lots of ingredients but you might not necessarily get the results-focused ones. Now it has all the lovely packaging and clinical trials on results that mainstream brands have.
GTG: Do you believe there is a place for non-natural skincare, e.g. with skin conditions such as acne? Or is there always an effective, natural alternative?
IB: There is a place for everything. Skin conditions are strongly linked to confidence and self-esteem so if something works by all means don’t deny yourself the fix. There are natural alternatives to most topical products on the market, though.
Skin conditions are often resolved best for the long term with a dual approach. Something like acne and hormonal (adult) acne often react very well to herbal medicine and lifestyle changes.
We have had people that avoid looking at themselves in the mirror due to their skin, come back after a course of herbal medicine excited about how amazing they look and had a complete shift in confidence.
GTG: If you could send one message to all beauty consumers, what would it be?
IB: Learn how to read a label . Once you know this you and only you can decide for yourself what to use. An informed choice should be the only choice.
The Nature of Beauty: Organic Skincare, Botanical Beauty Rituals and Clean Cosmetics by Imelda Burke is published by Ebury Press in hardback, £20. Buy it now on Amazon here
Read our review of the book and an extract here
Visit Imelda's shop online here