Like many Kiwis, Jessie Gurunathan has had a varied career, following a number of employment paths simultaneously while also exploring the various different countries she’s called home over the past 10 years.
A reflection of her numerous abilities, she’s had success working as a TV presenter, actress, singer and writer among other things. She’s also an active presence on social media where she shares elements of her daily life including her strive for a health and wellness balance as well as shining a spotlight on some of New Zealand’s more challenging social issues including racism and representation.
But it’s a long-term love of beauty products and a search to find ones that would meet her requirements for ethical production and considered, proven ingredients that led Jessie to launching her own brand, Two Birds Beauty this year.
In her own words Jessie explains how she came to form her brand and its first product, a five-ingredient oil-serum designed to repair and renew skin and protect against moisture loss.
What inspired you to start your own brand and what did you think you could add to an already cluttered beauty landscape?
For as long as I can remember I have been in love with all things beauty. As I got older and was diagnosed with stage four Endometriosis, I began my journey learning about a more alternative holistic approach to health. I became increasingly aware of the disconnect between beauty and wellness.
The beauty industry is incredibly unregulated and as I began to learn about how many of my favourite products in my bathroom cabinet could potentially contain endocrine disruptors I became frustrated at how much work I had to do in order to determine whether or not a product could contribute to my existing hormonal imbalance problems. It felt like I needed a degree in biochemistry!
About four years ago I also embarked on a journey to become predominantly plant based and I began to care about how my choices as a consumer needed to be more considerate. I didn’t want to support any companies that tested on animals and I wanted to buy products from brands that had a commitment to reducing their waste. One that cared about making products that were honest and safe for women like me that still delivered real results. A brand committed not only to being more environmentally responsible but socially responsible too.
As a woman of colour, I was also tired of the lack of representation within the beauty industry and even more tired of waiting for that visibility and inclusion to happen. I realised I needed to stop waiting around and do it myself. Two Birds Beauty was literally born out of the frustration of not being able to find a brand whose values truly resonated with me. Accessibility, simplicity, social and environmental responsibility, inclusivity and efficacy equals Two Birds Beauty.
What do you think are the biggest differences between the earlier generation of skin oils and more effective, active current options are?
The earlier generation oils were generally made up of a blend of different plant oils with a varied fatty acid make-up to target specific needs. Current oils still do this, but utilise more exotic plant oils along with the addition of scientifically proven actives to get proven results.
Where did you begin, finding which ingredients and oils you liked?
I am very lucky that one of my mum’s oldest friends happens to also be an incredibly talented cosmetic chemist responsible for formulating award-winning products from some well-known brands in the clean and green beauty space. She has a degree in Environmental Science and a diploma in Cosmetic Chemistry, so I knew she was the perfect person to work with to create the kind of skincare brand I wanted.
It was a long process. It all started with researching possible ingredients to achieve the desired results. Not only did the oil need to have the correct fatty acid make-up and desired skin feel, it also needed to meet our criteria for being ethically sourced, sustainable and eco-friendly.
Cacay oil was one of the only plant oils that offered it all. From wild harvesting and generating income for hundreds of people on small farms and supporting indigenous families, to the fact that all of the fruit can be utilised making it a ‘’zero waste” crop. Nothing goes to waste. The peel can be used for compost or animal food. The shells slow combustion properties make it a great source of biofuel, or can be ground into flour. Milk can be extracted from the nut as a dairy replacement and the fruit can be used as a food supplement due to its high levels of protein, essential fatty acids and fiber.
I am really proud of the fact we use 100% organic Cacay oil. Yes, it’s way more expensive than many more well-known oils on the market but I believe it’s worth it as it really is superior for so many reasons.
Not only is it sustainable but it has three times more vitamin A than Rosehip oil and a higher vitamin E and F content than Argan oil. It’s a superstar honestly.
What other discoveries excited you?
We started formulating our serum in 2019 and Bakuchiol definitely was an exciting ingredient. It has long been appreciated in Ayurveda and so it was incredible to see the western world catch on and have the science to back it.
I have really sensitive skin and developed bad acne rosacea when I returned to New Zealand after living in Bali. I refused to go on antibiotics and steroid creams, and I couldn’t use retinol anymore as my skin would go crazy!
I am in my late thirties now and I wanted the incredible anti-ageing benefits of retinol, so when new scientific evidence showed that Bakuchiol behaved in the same way that retinol did that was a major point for me.
How important was your serum’s texture?
Really important. When it comes to oil-based skincare products and face oils it’s often the texture that puts people off. The texture and the way the product would sit on my skin used to personally put me off using oils. I loathed the way they’d feel thick and heavy, sitting on the surface of my skin.
I wanted something that felt lightweight and that was easily absorbed so that my skin was actually soaking up all the good stuff. That’s why Cacay oil is incredible as it’s a dry oil, it feels so beautiful on the skin and is deeply nourishing as well as fast absorbing.
How did you ensure the serum was going to be effective?
We only used ingredients that are scientifically backed with proven results. Also, over the period of a year we got as many people as possible to trial the product for us. With our aim of creating products that are accessible we made sure our serum was trialed on people of different ages, genders and with a range of skin concerns and needs. We closely observed the way their skin responded over the course of three to six months and we were very pleased with the results
What are some common misconceptions people still have about using face oils?
The biggest misconception is that using an oil on oily or acne prone skin is bad. Our skin is primarily made up of lipids such as essential fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol, which play a crucial role in our skin’s barrier function.
People with acne-prone skin have been shown to have low levels of linoleic acid in their skin surface lipids, and when linoleic acid is lacking in the skin, it overcompensates by producing more oleic acid which increases sebum production and acne. Our serum contains Cacay oil which is high in Linoleic Acid (Omega 6). Due to its high level of Linoleic Acid, it makes it a very good oil for all skin types including blemish or acne prone skin.
Application is also important. Because our oil is a serum/oil hybrid, it’s highly active so it’s not like a traditional face oil where you can be gung-ho and slather yourself in it. Less is more. We suggest placing 2-3 drops into the palms of clean dry hands and rubbing them together before applying. Gently pat the oil onto the skin rather than massaging it in.
Sustainability is a key aspect of your brand. What issues or roadbumps did you encounter while committing to this approach?
I had no idea that my vision of creating a brand encompassing our four pillars of being ethical, sustainable, eco-friendly and effective, would be so challenging. We initially found what we thought was the perfect ingredient, only to learn that it didn’t meet all of our criteria. It was very frustrating, but I wasn’t prepared to compromise.
Packaging was another challenge, and we’re not perfect – yet, as we are still having to use plastic components for the lid of the dropper bottle, but until we can find a suitable replacement that doesn’t compromise the integrity of the serum, we have no other choice.
Overall it is definitely more challenging, time consuming and often more expensive to do business the way we do – especially when we are committed to trying to create products that tick all the boxes whilst still being as accessible and affordable as possible but we are passionate about creating a business model that puts people and planet before profit.
Skin oil essentials and summer beauty
Beauty editor Megan Bedford rounds up the latest and greatest skincare oils in MiNDFOOD Jan-Feb 2021.
And for more summer beauty essentials and fresh skincare finds, check out STYLE Summer 2021.