Thirteen judges judging!

For this year’s judging for the FreeFrom Skincare Awards – the fourth! – we swapped things around. Previously, our expert judging panels would gather for several days to judge all the entries – and decide on a shortlist of products to be sent out to our Ultimate Natural Beauty Bible testers.

But this year, we sent all entries out to those testers, drew up a provisional shortlist, and then held our judging panel sessions knowing that all those provisionally shortlisted products we were scrutinising had performed well enough – having being put through their paces by the experienced Beauty Biblers – to at least potentially deserve a medal!

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“Are you sure this is foundation?”

I chaired the three day-long sessions. At this point, a little wicked part of me would like to play the poor-old-me, solitary-male card, struggling to cope with an exclusive panel of women experts – a dozen in total – let loose before a table of cosmetics, but, of course, I wasn’t teased at all, and all our judges were a joy to welcome to Skins Matter towers and were just brilliant – deciphering strange terms on ingredients labels, unpicking unpenetrable usage instructions, sniffing out possibly dodgy essential oil blends, commenting with fierce expertise on product formulations – that only once or twice did I have to enable my Speaker of the House function and call ‘order! order!’ – such as when the face-mask craze (see Michelle, right) took hold around the table. (And for further pictures, see Michelle’s blog too!)

Because the products had all been tested in-depth already, our round-table judging panels were asked to assess products for other attributes – quality of ingredients, quality of labelling, ‘free from’ attributes, value for money, presentation and packaging, originality of formulation, awareness of sensitive skin issues, and many others – and when combined roughly 50:50 with the Beauty Bible scores, this allowed us to draw up category winners and runners-up.

I say ‘roughly’ because it is impossible to score products on every attribute we look for, and the ‘weighting’ we give to certain issues varies between category: for the Problem Skin category, allergy / sensitivity issues carry greater weight, skin-healthy ingredients are more important in ‘Leave On’ categories than on ‘Take Off’, and the ‘gentleness’ of a formulation is a key feature in Family Skincare.

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“My Bic can have your Bic in a scrap any day of the week!”

There is also variation in the significance individual judges apportion to different concerns and attributes – and we find this helps us, not hinders us. We need different voices and opinions around the table. Decisions are reached after viewpoints are aired and shared and discussed. Here are Micki and I (above), great friends, but not above pointing our biros at one another to make our points, which sometimes fall at opposite ends of the spectrum!

Deep discussions often concern ingredients. We saw several instances of the word ‘parfum’ appearing on labels, without further clarification – but which fragrances were they? Some, with sensitivities, may want to know; others may not be concerned. And what about ‘vegetable oil’? This is a fat, of course, and unlikely to trigger reactions in those with allergies, but nevertheless, which vegetable? For transparency, many would like to know, even if no labelling rule has been broken. Arguably these may be more minor issues, but there are more significant ones – lack of INCI labelling, absent fragrance allergens – that we might penalise more heavily.

To balance the ‘penalties’, we give products ‘credits’ too – for example for good ‘free from’ signposting, for using a wholly natural preservation system, and for showing awareness for allergies – like one of the Toulou Organics products did, in warning about possible cross-reactions to shea butter in those with latex allergy, and as a few did, in highlighting the presence of nut oils.

"HOW did you think it was pronounced?"

“HOW did you think it was pronounced?”

If all this sounds too serious – and we do take the work seriously, as we have to be confident of coming to the right and fairest decisions – sessions are always fun too. Previous years’ judging comedy highlights have included my being harangued by fellow judges into unbuttoning my shirt a notch and testing out a ‘décolletage oil’ (my chest has only just recovered… ), but this year’s hoots were provided by a misbehaving tube of cleanser about which Ruth cracked an unpublishably rude gag (I’m still blushing) and a product shortlisted in our Face Care (Leave On) category, called Niterenu, which a few of us had been confidently pronouncing “Nita Ren You” – in my own head, delivered with a deeply alluring Mediterranean / Eastern accent – until the wise owl that is Sarah Stacey declared confidently, “Oh! It’s ‘night renew’!” and we were all rendered incapable with laughter at our not having seen it sooner, not least Lorraine from Formula Botanica (left).

We’re all still chuckling about it now …

The Shortlist for the 2015 FreeFrom Skincare Awards can be seen here. The results will be announced on the afternoon of 3rd July, at the Love Natural Love Organic Show, co-located with the Allergy and FreeFrom Show, at Olympia, London. 

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