Karen Cheah and her team are on a mission to raise awareness on Topical Steroid Withdrawal symptoms and to continue to develop products that nourish and heal the skin barrier, as opposed to thinning it, ultimately reducing the reliance on topical steroids and helping to prevent the side-effects from over-use of these products. As both a mother and chemist, and with a love and appreciation for all things botanical, she set out to change the way the symptoms of eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis are currently managed. The Dermagen by Botanical Chemist range not only soothes and hydrates the skin, but nourishes and strengthens the skin barrier, promotes skin regeneration and prevents minor skin infections by supporting skin healing. Here, Karen talks about the passion behind her business, the breakthroughs they have made along the way, and her hopes and dreams for the future.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
I just had a deep love and appreciation of all things botanical and the science behind how plants have medicinal and healing properties. Margaret River, WA is a great place to be, raise a family, and serve a community for the last 16 years. Being immersed and surrounded by nature, you gain so much appreciation and love for it. Manuka Oil and Bee Propolis were two ingredients that I have read a lot of papers on, the key discussion being about how they can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria that colonises open wounds, help support skin healing, and reduce pain and inflammation of the affected area. When we installed a compounding room at our pharmacy a few years ago, I could combine a few ingredients to try out on our patients and family members who were suffering from eczema. The results were so fantastic, I had to take the big risk of setting up a new brand of skincare products and launching it in Australia in the middle of a pandemic.
The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
We introduced the brand and products at the end of 2020. Initially it was hard to get traction as we faced the uncertainties of lockdowns, reduced walk-in customers and pharmacy staff being very busy with dealing with Covid. Last winter was the worse time for us, as many places over East were in lockdown. Now that restrictions have eased and case numbers have started to drop, people are more confident about stocking the range, and staff have more time to chat to customers about it. The range is stocked in over 500 stockists Australia-wide and growing.
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
The biggest breakthrough was getting people to try the products in the first place, especially those who have suffered for a long time and have spent thousands on doctors’ appointments and skincare products. They are so surprised that these products work to heal, calm and regenerate broken skin. We’re also big on education and raising awareness on the long-term use of topical steroids which can lead to the condition called Topical Steroid Withdrawal symptoms or TSW symptoms, a condition that is not often acknowledged by the pharmaceutical or medical field, but recently has been gaining a lot more awareness and acknowledgement due to support groups such as ITSAN.
We also won 4 awards in the Clean and Conscious Awards recently, with our Manuka Balm (Gold for Insect Repellent/Salve), Propolis Balm (Multi-purpose balm and Editor’s Choice) and Active 8 Serum (Gold for Sensitive Skin). They had some amazing things to say about our products, and we had huge acknowledgement for the work we do with education and for investing profits back into businesses that come up with solutions for making our environment cleaner and business practices more sustainable.
Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family?
I have a very supportive husband and 4 wonderful boys. It’s not that easy but we try and appreciate the times we have together, and I talk about my work a lot, so they understand why I need to work the hours I work. The 3 older boys have also started helping out at the pharmacy, which has been a great help, and they get to be involved in my life as we are also a very busy community pharmacy, with our state borders just opening up after 2 years of having hard borders in place.