Back in 2017, the brainchild of Melbourne based makeup artist Emma Davis was born. With a nod to the word ‘essential’ and stemming from a need to support an safe work environment and the lack of natural and nourishing antibacterial hand creams on the market, esst is now home to luxurious natural beauty essentials with a commitment to sustainability and sourcing only the best naturally derived botanical ingredients for overall wellbeing.
Recently Sunlighten had the pleasure of chatting with Emma about how it all began, her passion for health and vision behind the brand, as more people start to seek out multi-use products that are not only naturally nourishing and therapeutic but also kind to the planet.
Emma, we're massive fans of the esst brand and what it stands for. Can you tell us about how your journey started with a career in television and how you ended up creating the world's first clinically tested natural sanitising hand cream?
My career started in television production in the late 80s. When my son was starting school and I was looking at getting back into the workforce, I decided to formalise my love of makeup artistry and make a career out of it. This led to opening my makeup business Emma d Makeup in 2010.
As a makeup artist hygiene is non-negotiable. After all, I’m always touching people’s faces. I wash or sanitise my hands constantly. How could I turn this ritual into something to enjoy whilst benefiting from other skin-loving functions of moisturising and sanitising combined with a sensory journey all in one formula?
That night my google search began. I was so excited to look for this amazing product thinking it would be as simple as placing an order. Unbelievably, Google told me “there are no results for your search”. I didn’t believe it, so I kept searching using different words until I finally resigned to the fact, I’d have to formulate myself.
This search began in 2017 and not long after I partnered with a world-renowned Australian chemist which led to our hero product - esst antibacterial cream which launched in 2021 after 3 ½ years of development. Remember this was a world first which we were told couldn’t be done (killing bacteria in a cream formula) this is why the development stage took so long. My chemist said, “One of the greatest challenges was trying to create a stable formula with the criteria of killing 99.9% of germs and still have it validated by the government. This was incredibly difficult.”
Where did your passion for creating high-quality natural products stem from? What was the turning point for you?
esst is driven by health, instigated by beauty. After losing 4 friends to cancer in the space of a year and all from the Mornington Peninsula where I grew up, I became more conscious about the essential (‘esst’) products I was using.
I wanted products that provided quality, purpose, and function with minimal impact on our planet, our health, and our resources, whilst still providing beauty and luxury.
You use Australian locally sourced botanical oils throughout your esst products, what is the process behind choosing these key ingredients and can you tell us a bit about their therapeutic benefits?
Yes, we are blessed with oils from the gods in our country. We have partnered with a supplier who operates their own farms producing 100% pure, 100% natural, and 100% traceable Australian botanicals. Firstly, I had to be drawn to the scent, secondly, the scent had to be inclusive (liked by all genders), then they had to have antibacterial properties and finally the bonus aromatherapy benefits of calming and stabilising the mind, spirit and skin.
Anchoring this sublime combination is our hero ingredient Silver Citrate, a naturally occurring chemical element used medicinally to heal open wounds for more than 2000 years, and precursor to antibiotics.
With non-toxic and cruelty-free beauty growing in demand, why do you think it's important for beauty brands to be transparent when it comes to ingredients?
One word - ‘trust’ - Gone are the days of being broad with marketing claims. Consumers are increasingly aware of the direct link between health, nutrition, functional ingredients, beauty and personal care. It is important they get the right information and understand the what and why of ingredients to make mindful purchases.
Words like non-toxic are what consumers want to hear but that’s not to say every other product that doesn’t use this word is toxic. Many ingredients labelled ‘toxic’ in cyberland are safe to be used in cosmetic applications if they are intentionally and properly formulated for that intended purpose and included at or below the allowable safe percentage. Shaming ingredients because it doesn’t fit a company’s “ethos” is not the right way in our eyes to educate consumers.
esst embraces the philosophy of ‘informed beauty’; which is to value information and transparency around safe ingredients and science-backed research. Safety for the consumer is our priority and to be safe you need to look out for a strong preservative system to keep products free of bacteria and microbes causing contamination. Science doesn’t lie.
esst is a nod to the word ‘essential’, what are your self-care and wellness essentials you can’t live without?
Number one is sleep for me! I wake early like between 5 am and 6 am so I need to be asleep by 10 pm as much as possible, otherwise, I feel off balance. I like to make sure I drink lots of water. Psychologically water feels like I’m helping my body cleanse any toxins. I also love my yoga and Pilates and walking my dog (a 5-year-old Schnoodle) each day.
Meditation apps are my go-to for some quiet time. I’m currently into Down dog and Insight Timer. I take vitamins and minerals to support my nervous system and believe in laughing always. I’m looking forward to including Sunlighten infrared sauna sessions into my routine to support my body at a cellular level.
Sustainability is one of your core brand pillars, what are some simple ways we can be more environmentally conscious when purchasing and using self-care products?
For us, the word sustainability means sustainable sourcing, shorter formulation lists, recyclable packaging, clean ingredients and buying local to avoid shipping and flights which is still the most polluting means of transport. We chose plastic packaging for our large cream, wash and mist. Glass is better from an end-of-life standpoint, but plastic is better from a carbon emissions standpoint. So, it depends on what your goal is, what’s important to you as a brand and as a brand owner.
We chose sugar cane tubes for our small cream over aluminium because like plastic, even though aluminium is recyclable, it’s made from bauxite that’s mined. The mining process can leave environmental destruction in its wake, and heating bauxite to yield aluminium requires a large amount of energy. This simply didn’t sit with our brand ethos of reducing carbon footprint.
I always encourage people to be on the lookout for multi-functional products that are rich in concentrated ingredients requiring less on each use as they will last longer. This supports and does sit with our brand ethos of reducing carbon footprint - using less, buying less, wasting less. Also buy local as you’ll be supporting Australian businesses plus avoiding emitting carbon dioxide again for the reasons of shipping and flights. We purchase all our packaging from local Australian businesses and manufacture our formulas in Sydney. Our tube manufacturer operates one of the largest privately-owned solar farms in NSW. It can combine the carbon-neutral sugar cane PE with their own green energy production, resulting in tubes that have almost no carbon footprint.
In building esst, I heavily researched where my packaging might end up so I could provide solutions for circularity. I found out that beauty packaging if put in your curb side bin will most likely end up in landfill even if it’s recyclable. This is because the recycling plants that are sorting the packaging don’t have a machine that sorts small packaging such as beauty packaging therefore it falls through the sorter and goes to one pile that ends up in landfill. I know Mecca for example has partnered with TerraCycle so you can take all your empties and drop them there no matter if you purchased the product from Mecca or not.
Everything collected is sent to TerraCycle to be sorted and processed into raw materials that can be reused instead of being sent to landfill. Plastics are separated by number, melted down, and turned into pellets that can be moulded and extruded to produce new products. Metals are separated by type and smelted into ingots for reuse. The glass is cleaned and sorted by colour for processing, then crushed and melted to be used in new glass products. Never think that you can’t make a difference even in the smallest way, it all adds up.
What is your vision for esst and what can we look forward to seeing from the brand this year?
To be the brand you can turn to and trust. We will only ever develop products that can become an essential part of your everyday. Whilst they will be premium, they won’t be wasteful or frivolous. This applies to our packaging, ingredients and the way we do business.
We only do what is really needed. As mentioned, our mission is not to keep popping up with new products like most brands do – and our vision is that more people will seek out products that have multiple uses and they’ll do this because they want to save money and they want to heal the planet.