Codex Beauty is not your usual Beauty Brand. Guided by bio-science the Silicon Valley-founded company aims to set new standards in skincare thanks to its team of scientists, technologists, botanists, cosmetic chemists and dermatologists.
The brand was founded by Barbara Paldus, a scientist with a PhD in electrical engineering and decades spent at the forefront of research and innovation at spectroscopy and biotechnology companies. Paldus founded two Silicon Valley companies that, among many breakthroughs, helped bring intelligent sensors and state-of-the-art control software to the market, paving the way for carbon cycle trading, food integrity testing, accessible vaccines, personalised medicine and cell therapy.
But now, this entrepreneur has found a new passion as she sets about to create a new wave of beauty products that go against all the rules. Realising the potential of natural ingredients, Paldus began to use unique extraction techniques that would enable natural ingredients to be used in ways never seen before. The result is Codex beauty. A beauty brand built on science, organic and vegan ingredients, plant-based preservatives, pharmaceutical-grade processes, safety and efficacy trials, innovative and sustainable packaging and third-party certification. All products are submitted to the kind of rigorous testing found in biotechnology and strict adherence to goods manufacturing practices that have never been seen before in the beauty industry. Paldus is on a mission to change the rules in the industry and is encouraging others to follow her lead. We find out more as the unique brand arrives in the Middle East for the first time.
What first inspired you to launch your company Codex Beauty?
I have a now 11-year-old son who had a severe allergy to phenoxyethanol, an ingredient used in baby products and this led me to try to ask questions to manufacturers, but I did not get very far as a consumer. After I sold my previous biotech company (Finesse Solutions), I decided that the beauty industry needed greater transparency, as well as quantitative answers. I started questioning every claim on my products and wondering – having spent most of my career developing measurement tools – how the beauty industry quantified anything. This experience led me to build Codex Beauty in order to demonstrate to the beauty industry that not only is quantitative data about all aspects of the products relevant, but it is essential for customers to make the best purchasing decisions and obtain truly functional products at the best possible price.
What makes Codex beauty different?
There are three key differences:
- We are not a beauty company: we are a high-tech, biotech-based skin solutions provider. I have assembled a technical team of experts in the fields of biotechnology, genetics, plant biology, ethnobotany, dermatology, cGMP manufacturing, pharmaceutical quality, cosmetic chemistry, and environmental science. Then added a team specialising in business process automation, logistics and digital infrastructure.
- We are a data-driven first company: if you can’t measure it, you can’t claim to understand it. The beauty industry has a lack of transparency, lack of science and is afraid of data. More recently, the “clean” beauty movement started a trend of fearmongering clients about chemicals, when in fact, even water is a chemical! By burying science and logical thought, they are doing a disservice to the consumer who cannot make rational decisions based on facts. Our mission is to lead the beauty industry in adopting a scientific and data-driven approach to ingredient sourcing, product safety and product performance in order to improve customer satisfaction and trust.
- We are totally obsessed with sustainability. Our airless, touchless tubes are plant-based and reduce greenhouse gas emissions—a major feat in the beauty industry. We went beyond the standard-issue containers to find ones made with green polyethylene, a plastic resin produced using sugarcane ethanol, which is a renewable raw material. By being plant-based, the production of green polyethylene captures and fixes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — actually helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
How do you think your background in science has influenced your choices in the business?
My background as a scientist has led me to question everything and to rely only on data that is generated by qualified specialists and can be reproduced. I don’t believe in storytelling. If I don’t see supporting data and scientific evidence, then I won’t believe it. I won’t allow marketing campaigns to make flowery claims on our products that we cannot support with efficacy trials overseen by trained technicians, measured with instruments that quantify (no before and after picture interpretation here!) and a statistically meaningful population sample.
As an engineer, my goal is to provide solutions that work. I’m not here to make money by selling a lifestyle or guesswork. I’m here to solve skin issues. That’s why we have our Bia collection that is optimised for hydration and Antu (launching in 2021) that addresses inflammation. And we are also very focused on creating microbiome-supporting products.
Tell us about some of the research that goes into each of your beauty products?
Science can teach us a lot about skincare. Here’s a sneak peek at how the different branches of science impact the lifecycle of our products…
- Ingredient Selection: We use botany and historical research to figure out what plant-based bioactive compounds to use and which parts of the plants to harvest.
- Ingredient Processing: We use herbal science and biochemistry to determine the best process for extracting the bio-active compounds from the plants and how to combine these extracts when designing a product that delivers results. We also work with biotech companies who can create a fermented version of these ingredients.
- Ingredient Sourcing: Agriculture teaches us how to select organically and sustainably grown plants and manage wild harvesting of plants that cannot be grown in large quantities. We also work with commercial ingredient suppliers who can provide detailed data on performance, quality, sustainability, and certifications.
- Preservatives: Biochemistry teaches us what plant-based ingredients have protective capabilities and microbiology principles teach us how to design a preservative system to protect against potential contamination. This is how we developed our biotech-based, fermented PreservX system that is microbiome friendly. All of our products undergo preservative efficacy testing (PET).
- Allergy Testing: Chemical and medical knowledge, specifically toxicology, teaches us how to review for allergens and properly test for safety. All of our products undergo human repeat insult patch testing (HRIPT).
- Efficacy Testing: Dermatology teaches us how to design meaningful human efficacy tests and measure product benefits (such as hydration, firming, wrinkle depth reduction). All of our products are clinically tested for specific performance parameters by a third-party laboratory under the supervision of a toxicologist and dermatologist.
- Stability Testing: All of our products undergo accelerated and long-term stability testing to ensure their integrity on the shelf is not compromised. The test labs measure product parameters such as pH, colour and viscosity.
- Microbiome Testing: We work with MyMicrobiome group to test all of our products for microbiome friendliness. Sometimes we have to formulate more than once. There are still many things we don’t understand about the microbiome, especially the effects of surfactants (cleansers) so we are still doing research with them.
- Certification: this includes certification by the EWG, Vegan, Leaping Bunny and EcoCert (COSMOS) organizations.
- Sustainability: Environmental science teaches us to protect native species (plants and animals) when scaling up product production. Material science plays a role in developing new bio-based plastics and fabrics. And forestry determines how to produce sustainable packaging.
What can you tell us about the ingredients used in the products and what are some of the requirements and standards you set for them?
First of all, we require that all of our ingredients are vegan, alcohol- free, preservative-free, and cruelty-free. When we are doing our product development, we start by trying to understand the biological causes of a particular skin problem that we are trying to solve. We usually follow these steps to qualify ingredients:
- Overview of the research literature for that particular skin issue.
- We work with our team of ethnobotanists to identify a part of the world where there might be plants that have been used to solve this problem.
- We try to source these ingredients from high tech cosmetic suppliers, or if we can’t find them, we reach out to the local universities studying indigenous people in that area.
- We test the impact of these ingredients on skin cells through genetic expression.
- If we can’t source them from a supplier, we find a partner to develop the extraction and sourcing of the ingredient.
The top winners make it into our formulations where our expert cosmetic chemist creates synergistic formulations from this ingredient database. Our dermatologist then reviews them and helps us design the efficacy testing.
Are there any particular ingredients you love to work with?
Yes, I love to work with Microbiome – fermented ingredients. Recent studies have shown that the use of certain natural ingredients, including fermentation-based preservatives, not only has less of an impact on microbiome balance, but depending on the type of natural ingredient used can actually reinforce it. For example, biotech-based natural preservatives in the form of antimicrobial peptides derived from the fermentation of lactic acid (lactobacillus fermentation) have been found to effectively destroy pathogenic bacteria, while at the same time supporting bacteria balance. With their use, the microbiome remains properly balanced leaving the skin healthy and protected against harmful pathogenic bacteria. In short, fermented preservatives appear to be superior to their synthetic counterparts when it comes to maintaining a healthy, well-functioning skin microbiome.
The patented Codex Beauty PreservX system, found in all our water-based products, comprises of three fermented ingredients and two organic acids, which together, effectively preserve these formulations. PreservX also enhances both skin hydration and skin barrier function by supporting the microbiome. In fact, it is worth noting that all our products are MyMicrobiome certified. Those concerned with protecting and supporting their skin microbiome should look for this certification on fermented skincare products.
Secondly, comes anti-inflammation ingredients. Once the skin has become inflamed, it is very important to calm the inflammation as quickly as possible, otherwise, the skin’s health and appearance will begin to suffer. Since inflamed skin is inherently compromised, its barrier function is diminished making it more vulnerable to pathogens that can cause infection. The skin’s barrier function is highly correlated to its degree of hydration. If not properly hydrated, the skin’s ability to protect itself will suffer.
Our Antu line that fights inflammation will be launching in early 2021. The patent-pending Codex Beauty AntuComplex is made from three Patagonian plants traditionally used to treat inflammatory conditions that contain powerful antioxidants such as flavonoids (that help soothe irritated skin), polyphenols with a high anthocyanin content that can help inhibit cellular damage. The AntüComplex is supplemented by other plant or fruit extracts from South America that are known for their immuno-stimulant and analgesic properties.
With everything that’s happened in the last year, can switching to non-toxic beauty products help our immune system?
Quarantine has made us rethink not only our skincare but our lifestyles. Makeup can help give you a temporary glow, but nothing can really replace the beauty of naturally glowing skin. Exfoliating regularly, a simple daily skincare regime and leading a healthy lifestyle are the best ways to keep your skin smooth and radiant. With the stress of the lockdown, it is even more important to have a healthy lifestyle that leads to radiant skin. Plenty of water, no smoking and eating a healthy diet are important. Equally important is getting enough exercise and sleep. No skincare routine will replace these. In terms of skincare products, people are turning more and more to products that support the natural skin microbiome or that reduce inflammation (or both).
We know you travelled the world looking for the perfect ingredients – where is your favourite place to find them?
I realised that the ethnobotany of herbal medicine around the world is a common human thread that has never been broken. I realised that no one has undertaken a systematic study of how these plants affect human skin cells to prove or refute the lore of plant healers. Ireland has sustained a long history of herbal medicine which was the inspiration behind our hydration line. Until the mid-1900s, Irish people harvested wild herbs for medicine as part of everyday life and passed local cures down through generations. Many of these cures can be traced back to the ancient Celtic tribes that inhabited Ireland and were documented in Roman times by historians. Herbal medicine in Ireland is currently being invigorated with new knowledge, learning and rigorous scientific research. Based on this knowledge, we were able to invent the BiaComplexTM, a nourishing and hydrating formula made from a blend of oil infusions that are combined with aqueous counterparts using food-grade emulsifiers. It is the base of our hydration products.
Another favourite place for ingredients is Chile. Our 2021 Antu collection focuses on managing reactive oxidative stress (ROS) with a blend of ancient Mapuche herbal knowledge, genetic analysis of the extracts, partnerships with local Mapuche wild harvesters, organic producers, and a high-tech cGMP manufacturing facility. The AntuComplex is designed to soothe irritation and reduce inflammation, especially from sun exposure and pollution. Our Brightening products harness the power of bio-actives from Patagonian plants long valued by the Mapuche people for their protecting and healing properties. We are now scouring the Arctic for anti-ageing plants for our anti-ageing line for 2023 and we are reaching out to tribal peoples in Siberia, Scandinavia, Alaska and Canada.
What advice would you give to women thinking about making the switch to all-natural beauty products?
I have three pieces of advice:
- Natural beauty products won’t do everything that you may be used to from your regular products. For example, you won’t have the instantaneous and strong effects from retinol or chemical peels. You should expect more gradual results and be patient. You need to give your skin time to adjust to the new routine. You also can mix and match products. You don’t have to go ALL natural!
- Test for allergies early! The disadvantage of natural beauty products is that they can uncover allergies. So do a patch test on your arm, or behind your ear before putting a new product on your face.
- Don’t switch over everything at once! We recommend switching products one at a time every two weeks. You can start with your cleanser or facewash, then add a moisturiser, eye gel, serum, and maybe a toner.
If we were to invest in one product from Codex Beauty what would it be and why?
It would be the Skin Superfood. It is a go-to product for face, hands, and body. It is especially great right now when dealing with “maskne” and over-sanitised hands. It moisturises deeply, protects the skin barrier and microbiome, and provides a light protective film to trap the moisture, leaving your skin looking hydrated, healthy and happy. Based on our extensive efficacy testing, we know that our Skin Superfood can provide comfort and protection. Our efficacy trials have shown that: after 28 days of use, it provided a 42.5% hydration increase in 90% of subjects tested, a highly significant improvement in skin barrier function as evidenced by a 13.4% reduction in trans- epidermal water-loss in 77% of subjects tested, and a 40.5% decrease in skin flakiness in 100% of subjects.
As an entrepreneur what advice would you give to those who are afraid to chase their dreams?
Being an entrepreneur is by definition risky and difficult. Failure is frequent and challenges come in abundance. Surprises lurk around every corner and it is not for the faint-hearted! Some people say you need to have a degree of insanity to do it! To me – it is a matter of will. And in some cases, it is a matter of necessity to solve problems other refuse to acknowledge. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “We must become the change we want to see in the world.” My advice is: Pursue your passion, but be honest and do your research. Don’t tell stories; get factual data. And figure out how you will give back to the world from your business idea.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face currently with your business?
Our biggest challenge this last year has been COVID-19 and maintaining our new product development and clinical testing plans. Logistics and supply chain were also a huge challenge as countries would shut down or our suppliers would face waves of employee infection and stop producing ingredients or packaging. Finally, many retailers had to shut their stores and go digital which was a painful transition in some cases. We expect these same challenges to continue well into 2021 as it will take time for the vaccines to be distributed and administered globally, and the COVID-19 virus will keep mutating and creating new issues. But we are up for the challenge! We have now evolved into a much more flexible, digital organisation with a full disaster recovery plan that will allow us to operate despite pandemics, natural disasters, and social upheaval. We are now a better organisation because of these extreme challenges!
What is something you would still like to achieve with the brand that you haven’t done yet?
I want to set a new standard in the beauty industry and see its adoption by other brands over the next five years. The most important aspect of Codex Beauty for me is its exceptionally effective and sustainable skincare. For this reason, we have developed our own Beauty Code, a set of core principles, guidelines and ethical codes of practice that have been orienting the beauty brand since the beginning. All products are submitted to the kind of rigorous testing found in biotechnology and strict adherence to good manufacturing practices. This means that we do preservative efficacy, stability, and performance (clinical) testing on every single product. And we have tried to make the pricing as affordable as possible.
I want to solve more skin problems. In two to three years, I would like to see us have a successful solution for other skin problems like inflammation (that leads to premature ageing and loss of collagen), collagen-loss and wrinkle formation, as well as drive Codex into more pharmacies with innovative solutions for acne, dermatitis, SPF, and after-sun care. I would also love to develop products focused on skin problems of athletes and people with active lifestyles, as well as feminine hygiene where inflammation, infections and microbiome protection are still unresolved.
What is the professional motto that you live by?
I have three guiding principles that have never failed me:
Never give up. No matter how hard it is, no matter how many people say it’s impossible, no matter how many people laugh at you along the way, never give up your dreams. Focus on solving problems. Sometimes, you have the break the problem down to bite-size chunks.
If the technology doesn’t exist, go invent it. If you can’t do it by yourself, go find the right partners who are smarter than you.
Treat people right. We hear about so many great entrepreneurs who were hateful people, who used others, who had huge egos. Every human, irrespective of age, race, orientation, or religion deserves respect. People are smarter than you think and will surprise you. If you treat people right, they will be there for you when the going gets rough. What you put in is what you get out.
Do the right thing. It’s the hardest path, but the only way to keep you soul, ethics and integrity. Shortcuts are tempting but lead to a slippery slope, so be uncompromising if you really want to change the world.
What can you tell us about Codex Beauty in the Middle East?
We are very excited to be entering the Middle East through a partnership with Al Futtaim. To me, having travelled through the world, Middle Eastern women are not only incredibly beautiful with great skin and thick lustrous hair, but they have a rich tradition of self-care. I was amazed at the hammam baths, Dead Sea salt scrubs and muds, oils such as camellia, argan, olive or frankincense, as well as incredible exfoliating tools such as “rooshor”. Plant-based ingredients such as mint, lemon, figs, and roses have fantastic properties when naturally used. While not vegan, camel milk has incredible brightening and skin-soothing properties. So, we were very nervous about bringing our products to such a sophisticated consumer base!
As Codex Beauty, we humbly hope to bring some additional, high- tech tools from other parts of the world for specific skin issues: specifically, hydration, inflammation, and exposure to pollution. Our goal is to complement a skincare regimen, in an effort to help preserve beauty and slow down the ageing process. While beauty always comes from within, a little extra help never hurts!