Daughter Earth’s Skincare Solutions Are Rooted In Traditional Wisdom And Scientific Innovation | Verve Magazine
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December 17, 2020

Daughter Earth’s Skincare Solutions Are Rooted In Traditional Wisdom And Scientific Innovation

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

How does a conscious beauty brand carve a niche for itself in the current landscape, when the industry is inundated with new sustainable offerings on a daily basis? Prasanthy Gurugubelli, founder of Daughter Earth, talks to us about garnering a cult following on the back of robust R&D and stringent sourcing processes



Welcome to the age of the micro beauty influencer. A far cry from their wildly popular counterparts with legions of followers hanging on their every word, this new crop of influencers has cultivated a smaller, closely knit circle of discerning loyalists who are wary of the dazzling charms of the billion-dollar beauty industry. These individuals, who have been impressively persistent in their quest to take dodgy brands to task, have ushered in a new era of “influencing” wherein they have frank, open conversations with their followers about the pros and cons of celebrated products and decline paid partnerships with brands so that they can provide unbiased reviews. Some of them have even started turning down attractive PR kits in a bid to minimise packaging waste and to avoid situations where they have to ingratiate themselves with the brand because they’ve accepted freebies.

While making consumers smarter, these niche influencers are also nudging quality home-grown brands towards the limelight. Founded by ISB and NIT (Warangal) alumnus Prasanthy Gurugubelli in 2018, Daughter Earth is one such brand. It has swiftly climbed up the popularity charts to emerge as a fresh, authentic player harnessing the traditional wisdom of herbs while also being grounded in cutting-edge scientific innovation. The brand was born out of Gurugubelli’s own battles with super-sensitive, acne-prone skin in her adult years but what the founder is most proud of is how her labour of love supports women and communities at a grassroots level and sources the purest ingredients using the most efficacious methods.

We had an honest conversation with the 33-year-old who shared some eye-opening insights about the beauty industry in India while delving into her brand’s emphasis on R&D, sustainable packaging techniques and tried-and-trusted sourcing operations.

What prompted your decision to launch a green brand in a market that is saturated with conscious beauty products, thanks to sustainability having become the industry’s favourite buzzword?
The rest of the world has always looked to India when it comes to plant-based medicine, and while I was aware that we could harness the power of plants and bottle them into sublime formulas, my experience of working with some of the finest formulators led me to realise that the domestic skincare industry has not effectively utilised the developments made by modern green biochemistry in Ayurveda. In the name of authenticity, conservative vaidyas never quite embraced modern science, and our scientists refrained from taking Ayurveda to the next level.

My team and I took it upon ourselves to create formulas from scratch, combining Ayurveda and modern science. On any given day, our formulators could be combining taila paka vidhi (a process used to prepare ancient essential oils), sneha kalpana (a pharmaceutical procedure through which oleaginous medicines are concocted) or kashayas (Ayurvedic beverages) with supercritical extractions and cryogenic processes. In fact, this is what led to the birth of our recently launched Serum Absolut, where natural retinol (a plant-based alternative) and blue-light rescue actives have been bottled into a multi-correctional formula with 46 high-performance ingredients for the first time in the world. It took us four R&D agencies and three years to get it right.

Many beauty experts opine that Ayurvedic skincare is dubious to invest in, especially in a country like India where home-grown brands often forego stringent R&D processes. As an Ayurvedic brand, how do you hold yourself to strict quality standards?
I think that’s a misconception. If you want to legally sell skincare in India, the government needs to approve it. Every formula we develop goes through a rigorous approval process by the FDA or the Ministry of AYUSH which involves several rounds of testing and quality control. These bodies are in charge of approving every ingredient and formulation that is available in the market. At our end, we create small batches and never mass-produce so we can control the quality. My team and I travel to some of the remotest regions in search of the finest ingredients and the operations are quite expensive besides being effort- and time-intensive. Young brands – and I’m not speaking about just Daughter Earth here – are disrupting the industry and traditional models of consumer businesses and we are witnessing unprecedented growth in the beauty sector. Traditional businesses, for example, focused solely on reaping profits or building value for their shareholders but newer brands have made sustainability a priority which cannot be overshadowed by monetary success. Another difference is in the way companies support communities – earlier, it was through specialised CSR efforts; now it is woven into the very DNA of the brand. I’ve always loved how the apparel label Patagonia created a sustainable business model that is purpose-driven. In the future, that’s how we see ourselves.

What are some common mistakes home-grown natural beauty brands tend to make?
While it’s great that the clean beauty segment is growing and a lot of brands are supporting local communities, green beauty isn’t just about the ingredients. It is also about effective formulas and sustainable supply chains. And I do think that brands need to invest more in R&D because it’s risky to build a lasting business based on trending ingredients or fads. But that’s a problem not just limited to India – a lot of start-ups internationally are also guilty of this. Fortunately, we don’t see as many instances of greenwashing here, compared to other countries. I think it would be criminal if a foreign brand were to come to India and trash the traditional wisdom in an attempt to greenwash the consumer. That’s something we need to be especially cognisant of, given that we are a busy generation with very little time to dissect and separate the truth from a marketing gimmick.

Why have you described Daughter Earth as the confluence of advanced science and ancient Ayurveda on your website?
At Daughter Earth, when we decide to formulate a product, we go through ancient Ayurvedic texts to understand the properties of each herb as well as study the classical formulations to discern how the medicinal properties come to life and how each botanical element interacts with the other. Then, we do extensive research of peer-reviewed scientific publications about not just the ingredients, but also newer ways of formulating. Our recently launched Probiotic Eye Serum uses a micro-emulsion which was earlier only employed by pharma drug delivery systems. We assess several parameters such as critical surface tension of the skin and properties that would ensure speedy delivery of the active ingredients in order to arrive at a formula that we are absolutely convinced about.

We use supercritical extractions wherever we can, which means we produce zero solvent waste. It’s a clean manufacturing process where we use carbon dioxide as the solvent, which evaporates once the extraction is done. Some of our products are entirely made using cold processing where no heat is involved.

For every product Daughter Earth launches, there are about 90+ prototypes made with around 18 to 20 successful formulas that don’t make the cut. Tell us about your R&D processes.
Creating a formula is hard work. Our R&D team works on new formulas almost every day and that’s also where most of my time goes. At any given time, you will find us simultaneously poring over science-heavy research papers in peer-reviewed journals and Ayurvedic texts. Then, we collaborate with chemists, cosmetologists and researchers to create formula blueprints. Next, we prototype these until we find one that we are absolutely proud of. There have been instances where we’ve prototyped a single product more than 50 times because we weren’t satisfied with the result. Different variables like the composition, process and packaging come into play along with factors such as comfortable textures, sensorial feel and pH balance. If you change even one of these components, the entire formulae changes.

Can you talk about a few products that required extensive R&D efforts?
The most challenging – and also extremely satisfying – products among our latest launches have been the Serum Absolut and our precious lip and cheek tints. With Serum Absolut, we were doing something that has never been done before – combining a retinol alternative and blue-light rescue actives at clinical percentages while maintaining a clean formula. My team and I researched hundreds of active complexes as well as several classical formulations involving dhanvantari taila (Ayurvedic herbal oil), mahanarayana taila (medicated Ayurvedic oil) and malatyadi taila (Ayurvedic hair oil) to understand the impact of modern-day stressors on the skin. Our arduous end goal was to bottle the goodness of various medicinal plants at potent levels without compromising on the clean and simple base formula.

The lip and cheek tints also underwent multiple rounds of testing because we had to ensure that the consistency and texture were perfect in addition to achieving a great colour pay-off while staying true to our vegan philosophy. We enlisted the help of several make-up artists who gave us inputs on how the product could be made better: Zarin Nissar, a 75-year-old veteran makeover artiste, played an important role in this whole process. Creating a tiny tub of beeswax-free product is very difficult because it’s impossible to stabilise the product at the desired consistency with just one plant-based wax.

Our proprietary Eternal Youth Rejuvenating Serum with 21 active botanicals was the first formula we developed when I was battling hormonal acne and perioral dermatitis. It took us four weeks to infuse medicinal herbs and completely transfer the botanical footprint into this concoction and it remains one of the most intense formulations that we’ve ever created.

So, tell us how you source your ingredients.
On an average, just on our ingredients, we spend five to six times the amount that other beauty brands do. We go straight to the source, sometimes travelling to some of the wildest and remotest habitats in search of potent botanicals, but we make it a point to source 99 per cent of them from India. For example, we wild harvest berries at 12,000-plus-foot altitudes from the cold deserts of the Himalayas. After hand-picking them at 3 a.m., we extract them supercritically while they are still frozen, using green processes that do not leave any solvent behind.

We source the world’s purest Bakuchiol extracted from certified, organic babchi seeds grown in Hyderabad. We also source the world’s most potent wild seaberries from the cold deserts of Lahaul and Spiti. We hand-pick nutrient-dense Arabica coffee from Araku (in my native city of Visakhapatnam) which also happens to be the world’s largest certified, organic and biodynamic coffee plantation.

Packaging innovation is known to be one of the biggest pain points for a boutique sustainable beauty brand….
We are currently working with glass and aluminium and are trying to avoid plastic as much as we can. We’ve recently launched a face wash with a special refill pack as well as body butters and body scrubs in recyclable packaging. The refill packs are made from recycled and biodegradable kraft paper. The idea is to facilitate source reduction. All materials – whether it is plastic, non-plastic, recyclable or non-recyclable – need to be consumed consciously. Somehow, people have gotten it into their heads that all will be well if they buy products which come in glass or aluminium bottles instead of plastic bottles. It takes tonnes of energy to create glass and aluminium and a lot more to recycle them. So we thought, why not do a refill pack? We use eco-friendly industrial paper waste and post-consumer corrugated board waste instead of plastic fillers for shipping purposes.

Packaging innovation takes at least two years to come to some level of fruition; the team is working on a couple of projects revolving around this aspect currently.

For more information, go to https://daughter.earth/

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