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Interview :: My Two Hour Chat With Horst Rechelbacher - Founder Of Aveda And USDA Certified Organic Intelligent Nutrients Skin, Body, Hair & Home Care

Son of a herbalist and a true pioneer in the world of plant-based beauty, this Austrian-born trailblazer isn't done learning.  He is both student and teacher with philosophies richly steaped in Ayurvedic principles and sustainable business practices with an evolving passion for ethnobotany and phytochemistry; that continues 45 years after opening his first salon which he named "Horst", later named "Aveda Corporation".  He sold Aveda to Estee Lauder in '97 and while he consulted with them for several years after, his sole focus now is Intelligent Nutrients.

Fig+Sage was the first online outlet to announce the launch of his new organic beauty brand back in the summer of '08.  When I first used his I.N. skin care back in the summer of '09 I was an instant convert, which is one of the reasons why it was named Best All-Around Skin Care Line in our recent Best In Natural Beauty Awards.  Up until recently, I had only read and heard things about Horst; his commitment to sustainability, his solar-powered organic farm, his TED Talks and fascinating awareness and knowledge of plants. He's a very busy globe-trotter so I expected to get a minimal amount of his time, but instead he graciously spent two whole hours with me.  We talked about everything from plant stem cell research to how many dogs he has.  It was exciting and enlightening to say the least.

Interview With Horst Rechelbacher

F+S: Thank you so much for your time today, I know you must be very busy.

HR: Oh thank youYou must be very busy as well.  We are all busy these days!

F+S: I want to honor your time so please let me know how much time you are able to spend with me.

HR: As much time as you want!

F+S: Wonderful, thank you! As the New Year approaches do you have any New Year's Resolutions?

HR: I believe in daily reinvention, constantly evolving, not a one time thing.  I believe in forgiving yourself first and then asking other for forgiveness for mistakes.

F+S: Oh I like that!  I've been such a huge fan of your skin care since it launched - why did you feel a need to add another organic skin care line to the market? 

HR: There really wasn't any high end, certified organic line that produced results.  In order for consumers to transition to more natural, organic products, they must see results.  And as you know there is so much greenwashing going on, many don't know the true meaning of what organic really is.  I am concerned about health too - did you read Obama's cancer panel report back in May?

F+S: No, I haven't yet. 

HR: This is a 240 page Cancer Panel report that indicates the U.S. is using 800,000 chemical components.  This is a great concern because we are inundated from every direction - air, soil, water and products used on a daily basis.  We may not be able to control all pollution areas, but we can control what we put on and in our bodies.  Even our offspring are being born polluted, toxins found in umbilical cords.  A great organization is Campaign For Safe Cosmetics

F+S: I'm familiar with their work.  I know you say you're an environmental activist.  What do you think about those who say they don't certified their products because it's too political?

HR: If you're going to change things you can't avoid politics.  My goal is to get elected on USDA, I want to make change in the the cosmetic industry, get politically involved and make changes in an industry where petrochemical and plastic makers are very powerful.  I am concerned about the health of the planet and future generations.  Anna Wintour, you know, Editor-In-Chief of VOGUE, had a fundraiser for President Obama and I sat at the table with him, we talked about organics.  Obama gets it, you know.  He understands the importance. 

F+S: I've read about the organic garden at the White House, I think that's great!  Have you checked out their garden yet?   

HR: Not yet but I would like to.  I was invited to a dinner there but couldn't make it.  I hope to be invited back.  I know they eat from it. 

F+S: Why was it important for you to not only make organic products, but certified them USDA organic?

HR: No big companies have entered the field of USDA certified organic and I saw a need for a potent, active line.  If we want consumers to make the switch, they must know they are both healthy and produce results.

F+S: Why do you think big cosmetic companies aren't creating USDA Certified Organic products?

HR: Complication, cost, limitation of materials.

F+S: I've read and heard many say it's impossible for there to be enough organic crops to feed the world if demand keeps going. What do you think about that?

HR: It is definitely a concern. Even organic is polluted to a certain degree because we are still contending with polluted air and soil - that's very difficult to control obviously. I have been researching growing plants in the lab, which is the future of agriculture, where our food supply will come from in the future. You can control the elements in a lab more than you can in the ground. This method uses a minimal amount of water, which is another concern - our diminishing water supply. We can grow it in labs purely. This is high-tech nutrition delivery using a very limited amount of water.

F+S: You are doing this now, creating plants in a lab?

HR: Yes, it is the future of agriculture.  

F+S: Why was it important for you to become an organic farmer, instead of just a product formulator?

HR: I want to preserve the farming industry. It's not necessarily a passion, but a necessity for me to understand soil.  Our bodies do not make nutrients, we need soil for minerals, iron, calcium.  We have to eat it from plants.  I wanted to learn every step in the agricultural process.  Soil is where it begins, it has to be alive and healthy.  Most soil that food is grown in today is like sand, void of nutrients.  It has been treated so much with pesticides and insecticides, benefits are removed and what's left is basically sand.  In order to have food that is nutritious and alive, the soil must be rich and fertile. 

F+S: So after you sold Aveda to Estee Lauder in '97, is that when you decided to become a farmer?

HR: I had a non-compete agreement with them and couldn't sell cosmetics for eight years, so I became a student.  I hire University of Minnesota professors to come to my farm and teach me.  

F+S: Your farm is in Wisconsin, correct? 

HR: I have 600 acres of land, like a nature preserve, 300 acres of wooded area on St. Croix River, on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota.  

F+S: On the Intelligent Nutrients website, there are pictures of The IN Retreat?  It looks beautiful and so peaceful, is that on your property? 

HR: That is where I live.  At one time it used to the Aveda Spa, now we do Intelligent Nutrients.   

F+S: Are all your products created there or off site?

HR: We make everything in house.  It's the same building I started Aveda in.   

F+S: What percentage of ingredients in your products are grown on your own farm?

HR: Very little, I am still learning.  To get a kilogram of peppermint, I have to use a lot of peppermint leaves!  I have a lot of plant water ,or hydrosols, and some of that is used in my products.  We do a lot of distillation at the field, CO2 extractions, of plants native to the Midwest - peppermint, thyme, holy basil, majoram. 

F+S: How do you preserve your products?

HR: I love spices, they are highly active.  Organic cumin for example, has five times more antioxidants than conventional.  More potent, more beneficial.  It is a key ingredient in my serum, there is 65% organic cumin in serum.  I believe in oils, only from seeds, not nuts. Nut oils spoil more easily. You crush the seeds, cold-press with no heat or friction. The mitochondria is the energy in the seed. I don't like to package in plastic, you lose potency. This is why my serum is packaged in glass.

F+S: Your cleanser and moisturizer are packaged in plastic, are they less potent or active than the serum?

HR: Yes, the serum is very concentrated, that is why it's in glass.

"Here's the secret: If we could re-create the packaging of seeds - oh my!" 
- Horst Rechelbacher

F+S: I'm a huge fan of your serum.  It's my favorite of your products.

HR: It is so healing, I've been using it for years all over my body, even before I launched it with Intelligent Nutrients - it was my own personal recipe.

Horst in his Intelligent Nutrients Lab

"I'm the cook! I just want to make original recipes." - Horst Rechelbacher

F+S: Are you sourcing your ingredients from all over the world?

HR: Yes, I travel all over to find the best.  I've lived in the rainforest and the Himalayas....I travel a lot.

F+S: Some say the fewer ingredients the better.  What's your take on that?

HR: You'll notice my products are loaded with many ingredients.  Each one with purpose. If I make an aroma, I have a minimum of 20 plant ingredients.  If you look at the ingredients of my serum, it is packed with ingredients.  Fewer is not necessarily better.  More ingredients may mean more beneficial.

F+S: Are you involved in the formulation of every one of the Intelligent Nutrients products?

HR: Oh yes, everything. From formulation, product names, packaging.  I'm very hands-on.

F+S: You lecture at cosmetic events and conventions - what is the difference between the philosophy of most cosmetic chemists and what you are doing?

HR: Cosmetic chemists don't know how to work with food.  I work with some cosmetic chemists but mostly food chemists. 

"Just because it's called organic chemistry doesn't mean organic food chemistry." - Horst Rechelbacher

HR: Food chemists know how to work with food ingredients and many don't know the meaning of organic. By definition, crude oil is organic, it comes from the earth, but I'm talking about organic food.  Just like yogurt or a dessert is an emulsion, like a moisturizer.  And cosmetic chemists don't have to test for toxicology, they only test eye and skin irritation only.
F+S: Really? I didn't know that.
HR: Yes, food chemists are required to test for toxicology - cosmetic chemists are not.  The cosmetic industry regulates itself.  Sometimes people are well-educated, but narrow-minded. They have been using women to test on for years.  I say in my lectures to cosmetic formulators that women are human canaries. 

"Miners put canaries in the mine to see if they die and if they did they would know it was unsafe. Women are cosmetic company's canaries. The FDA does not regulate cosmetic industry, no one does." - Horst Rechelbacher

F+S: Sometimes it takes getting angry to take action.

HR: Yes, but anger is also unhealthy.  The minute I get angry, I forgive myself and then ask forgiveness of others. 

F+S: That's a good philosophy!  Many use the term "plant-based", but even pharmaceuticals were at one time "plant based", but maybe not all entirely healthy for us now.  What are your thoughts?

HR: 90% of medicine is synthesized plant ingredients.  Original aspirin comes from willowbark.  The difference is how much it has been processed and adulterated.  Aspirin is now a long way from the bark on the back of a willow tree. 

F+S: Your skin care products have "Anti-Aging" on the labels, but many younger people think anti-aging products are for older people and maybe they struggle with acne instead.  Are your products for all skin types?

HR: Oh yes, all types!  I didn't realize that, thank you for bringing that to my attention, perhaps we will need to re-do our packaging!

F+S: What's next for Intelligent Nutrients?  Do you have any new products coming out?

HR: I am launching my "plant stem cell science" product this year.  There is a topical product and supplement.  The science is about ten years old in Italy and Switzerland.  It heals skin disorders, great for acne, it's extremely anti-aging.  The base is organic glycerin.  If you put glycerin on skin it temporarily plumps it. Plant stem cells are the way of the future. 

F+S: What else is in this plant stem cell science product? 

HR: Edelweiss, a white, furry plant with bioactivity that grows in extremely high altitudes.  Very expensive because it is only found at very high altitude, difficult to harvest.  It never changes in aesthetic. 

F+S: Sounds amazing.  I only know of it from the song in Sound of Music.   

HR: Yes, it is popular in songs because you are considered lucky if you find one and people will stick the flower behind their ear when hiking in the Alps. 

F+S: What else is in this new product?

HR: Lilac, echinacea and geranium. 

F+S: All of your products seem to have an aroma-therapeutic quality to them. I bet it smells amazing.

HR: No smell, because I worry it may interfere with the actives.  I will send you some. 

F+S: Do I just wash my face and use the product and that's it? 

HR: That's it, don't use anything else while you're using it.

F+S: How much should I use?

HR: Use the whole bottle and then call me. 

F+S: I can't wait to try it!  Many of your products are known for their amazing aromas.  Why are they important? 

"Products must work but they must smell good, look good, feel good and taste good - it's the whole experience". - Horst Rechelbacher

F+S: Many people say that perfumes or fragrances are more potent when housed in alcohol as opposed to oil, yet a lot of your products are oil-based. 

HR: {dogs barking in background}  Sorry about that, I have twelve dogs here and they all bark at the same time.

F+S: Oh, no problem. I'm a huge dog lover, what kind do you have?

HR: My father was a dog trainer and had German Shepherds.  I have German Shephards, Yorkies, Dauschunds, a Japanese Shitzu, Rat Terrier, Poodle and Sheep dog.  You know, someone who works at one of our counters in New York at ABC Home told me that her dog had some lumps and the only thing that worked on them was my serum

F+S: Wow, my Golden Retriever developed some bumps a few months back, that's great to know!

HR: Spray a bit of my Mist on the area and then some serum.  Lump may be gone next day. 

F+S: I will definitely try that! You know, I should probably let you go, your dogs probably need some dinner.

HR: To answer your question, aromas or perfumes are in alcohol because it increases all top notes. But too much alcohol blows it all to pieces.

F+S: I really love your Jasminas aroma.

HR: I like working with two species of jasmine, 300 different chemical components, a great anti-inflammatory substance.

"Many people think they know what jasmine smells like, but most only know what fake jasmine smells like." 
- Horst Rechelbacher

F+S: Are you working on any other products right now? 

HR: I'm working on a sex product, an organic lubricant, which is so important because our skin down there is very absorbent so it's important to use safe ingredients.  I use castor oil from Africa in place of silicones, I don't use silicones in any of my products.  They don't biodegrade or break down in the body.  These products will be safe and edible. I'm also making a colored Lip Delivered Nutrition product.  It's a lip liquid, not a stick, with subtle color.  Most lip colors are made of the same ingredients, whether Chanel, Estee Lauder or Mabelline - they all use iron oxides, they are not natural, they're mined and then chemically altered. The USDA won't certify those colors. The color of my product comes from fruit seeds.

F+S: They both sound great, I can't wait to try them!  Thank you for spending all this time on the phone with me today, I really appreciate you carving time out of your busy schedule.

HR: Well, I am happy to do it.  Thank you!!

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Image credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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