Beauty journalist and Awards judge Sara Niven talks to Niamh Hogan, CEO of 2021 Free From Skincare Awards Champions Holos Skincare, about her commitment to active natural ingredients, her support for up-and-coming Irish skincare brands — and some new formulations she has in the pipeline …
Holos translates as ‘entire’, or ‘whole’, in Greek. It’s a word that immediately stood out for holistic therapist Niamh Hogan when she came across it in a massage textbook back in 2003. More than a decade later, it sprang to mind again when she launched her own skincare range.
“I felt it perfectly summed up the ethos behind my products,” Niamh explains. “Whereas people used to have to choose between skincare focused on sustainability or driven by science, I wanted to provide plant-based products that are also high performance — the ‘whole’ package.”
Testers and judges at the Free From Skincare Awards have long been impressed with her formulations, resulting in numerous awards over the four years she has been entering, including a Gold in 2020 for the Super Natural Activity Pre and Probiotic Spritz.
But this year, Get Better Butter from the Holos ‘This is More’ range, beat all the competition — well over 300 other entries — to scoop the top prize. The rich, multi-purpose shea and cocoa butter blend won Gold in the Problem Skin Category — as well as being named Overall Champion.
It “worked miracles from the very first application, calming skin and alleviating itching” enthused one tester, while another cited it as her luxury item if she were to ever get shipwrecked! (You can read more feedback here.)
“There are many awards out there but the Free From Skincare Awards are definitely the most important to us,” Niamh confirms. “The extensive feedback all entrants receive is so valuable, as is knowing that every product is properly trialled over a full month by a panel of four testers. To receive a Silver brand award is wonderful too, and sales of Get Better Butter have rocketed as a direct result of our win!”
While Niamh didn’t originally set out to create a skincare range, she has always had a keen interest in wellbeing. After successfully managing Nude, Dublin’s first juice bar, she returned to college to study holistic health. It was while working as a therapist that she began blending her own massage oils, eventually moving on to other products. The Holos range now consists of 23 products (with more in the pipeline) and in addition to retail sales, the company supplies qualified therapists throughout Ireland.
Niamh had clear ideas from the outset when it came to what she did and didn’t want her range to contain.
“I divide the ingredients I use predominantly into two camps — core and active,” she says. “The former would include argan oil and shea butter; products which rather than just sit on the skin, are absorbed well and protect and plump it up. Then there are the active ingredients — scientifically researched smaller extracts such as Octyldodecyl PCA which encourage and stimulate our skin to produce more of their own lipids. These lock in water and help towards reducing fine lines. Some companies use synthetic ingredients to boost lipids — ours are derived from beetroot.”
She adds: “I search out ingredients I want to include for their beneficial properties, then work to locate a plant-derived version. At the moment we are exploring a natural alternative to retinol called bakuchiol which is from the psoralea corylifolia plant.”
In terms of what Holos products don’t contain, you won’t find animal by-products, parabens, mineral oils, sulphates or SLS.
“I see the EU as being very stringent on safety and the ingredients it allows but am aware many people are keen to avoid certain ingredients and my view is, why include them if you don’t have to?” argues Niamh. “Even though deemed safe, I’m aware that some, such as SLS, may be more likely to cause irritation, so I substitute a coconut-derived foaming agent.”
In the seven years since the brand was set up, Niamh has noticed consumer expectations rising dramatically: “Back then, having natural credentials was seen as enough, but that isn’t the case today. The flipside is that natural brands are now taken far more seriously as effective skincare ranges that can rival their ‘scientific’ counterparts in terms of results. I see Holos as occupying a unique position in the Irish skincare market as a brand that blends eco credentials and cosmeceuticals.”
Other Irish beauty brands often approach her for advice, something she takes a generous attitude towards providing.
“I love the skincare industry and I love supporting new brands,” she says. “The way I see it, there’s room for all of us to be successful and supportive. If I’m advising someone who is promoting their products as organic or natural, I will say that’s great but tell me how your ingredients will improve people’s skin. For me it is really important that a product doesn’t only tick ‘natural’ and ‘free from’ boxes — it needs to have a beneficial effect, or what’s the point?”
Niamh is currently busy working with a cosmetic formulator on new products for 2022. These include three new face serums with active plant extracts in addition to fragrance-free products.
“The serums are intended to close the gap I see in the range for customers willing to invest in a more elaborate skincare regimes,” she explains. “And my aim with the fragrance-free range is to provide a choice for people with extremely sensitive skin or concerns about sustainability.”
It’s clear Niamh is unlikely to run out of products to enter in the Free From Skincare Awards any time soon and nor does a big win mean she is about to stop doing so.
“The support we get as a brand from the awards organisers is deeply appreciated,” she says. “There is a community there that can learn and help each other and for me that is what the awards represent the best of.”