With her background in pharmaceuticals combined with her passion for plants and botanicals, Karen Cheah set out to create all-natural, plant-based skincare products to alleviate skin problems for children and adults. Here she talks about launching her business, Botanical Chemist, and the challenges she has overcome along the way.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
I have always had a passion for plants and botanicals, and loved learning about how they work in our bodies to produce an effect. It just resonated with me that plants had powerful phytochemicals that worked like drugs do in our bodies, but in a gentler way, without all the nasty side-effects that man-made pharmaceuticals seem to have. I was always looking for a way to integrate plants and botanicals into my everyday line of work. When we installed a compounding room in the pharmacy, I realised that creating a natural skincare range to alleviate the skin problems I saw every day at the pharmacy was a great way to combine what I loved with what I do every day.
The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
We had built a two-room compounding room last October. I thought I should look at what could be made that we didn’t need a prescription for while waiting for the local doctors to write compounded prescriptions.
I did a lot of research and found a lot of clinical papers and trials which had investigated the therapeutic effects of natural essential oils and botanical extracts. As we had all the equipment in the compounding room, it was easy to make blends and to give them out as samples for my patients to try. Soon I was seeing the results first-hand of how effective some of the actives were. I tried and tested a lot of different formulations with friends and family to find out which ones worked the best. In the end, the results speak for themselves.
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
The biggest breakthrough happened when I saw how the Wound Healing Ointment worked to decrease inflammation, increase skin regeneration and speed up healing. These days there are so many factors affecting wound healing, anything to help speed it up to prevent sepsis, or antibiotic resistance is beneficial. The WHO has listed resistance to anti-microbials as number 5 in their list of top 10 threats to global health for 2019. I see so many people still having a difficult time managing their flare-ups from eczema, developing thin, red skin from prolonged and regular use of strong steroids, and having to resort to taking oral antibiotics regularly to control the Staph infection on the skin. This then affects their gut flora and can cause more damage as a healthy gut microbiome works to maintain the intestinal barrier against allergens that can get into the body and cause the immune system to flare up. It’s a vicious cycle I hope to break. I’ve also formulated a Healing Balm that can be used for those that are allergic to pollen, as propolis contains pollen and those with eczema or dermatitis often have allergies to pollen too. This uses the healing properties of manuka oil, lavender and wild thyme oil. It’s vegan, pollen-free and daisy-family free.