ELLE Exclusive: This French Skincare Brand Is Talking About Switching Skin Genes With Natural Ingredients


I am sure many of you wonder how to trust a person for skincare recommendations if she writes beauty for money and gets free products on her desk almost every day. Well, here’s the answer, if she confesses spending money on a product, trust that it is definitely true to its claims and worth it. For me, Caudalie products fall under that category. I have colleagues taking Vinoerfect Radiance serum from me as soon as I get in my package and I have finished two jars of Vinosource Hydra Gel moisturiser and Vinosource Thirst Quenching serum. Case in point: the product delivers what they claim.

Let’s take the example of Vinosource Hydra Gel moisturiser which has Grape water and promises to deliver intense hydration. In the last six months of using it, I never had to replace it even though I travelled extensively from hot & humid to dry and cold places during this time. It’s lightweight, gets absorbed quickly and is suitable for all skin types. However, the most important selling point for me is that it’s non-comedogenic which means it won’t clog pores and my acne-prone skin can take it easy while I slather it on in my AM and (at times) PM routine. The beauty of Caudalie products is that each product fits perfectly in your existing routine elevating the end result. Therefore, when I got a chance to speak to its co-founder, Bertrand Thomas, I took the opportunity to scratch below the surface and talk about brand’s practices and future projects.

ELLE: Almost three decades old, tell us about the journey of Caudalie.

Bertrand Thomas: Our family owns a beautiful vineyard in Bordeaux, which is the world famous wine region in France. My wife and I helped our parents touring the chateau with tourists. Once, in 1993, actually, a team of searchers from the Medical School of Bordeaux had visited the vineyard and one of them told us that we were not using the best part of the grapes, grape seeds which contain the most powerful antioxidant. My wife, Mathilde wanted to create sustainable products recycling grape seeds. She wanted to be as natural, organic, and effective as possible.

We met a doctor who helped us in extracting, protecting and stabilising the antioxidants for which we filed a patent. It gave us a unique selling proposition that we didn’t have at the beginning. However, when we started, no one believed in the project but we were committed. We started in pharmacies in ‘95 in Bordeaux and by September of that year, we were available at 20 pharmacies followed by starting in Paris in 1996. We struggled for a few years when finally in 2000, we got us a team and got into a concept spa. There was no looking back after that. My family and I moved to New York in 2010 to expand our business and to Hong Kong in 2015. There have been great learning from these places which we used to the benefit of our business. In 2018, we moved back to France; that was good timing because we were wiser people, we had the vision and we knew what we wanted with the brand. This is when we started to go one step further in terms of sustainability and clean formulas.

ELLE: How did the products and packaging changed over the years?

BT: We moved to lighter textures and more natural and clean ingredients. We also worked on a strategy to focus on a handful of iconic products of the brand and to build the brand reputation instead of trying to push all the products at the same time. We also moved in a new lab in the south of Paris. It’s the lab of natural formulation with a new team, and a library of 1000 natural ingredients that we studied. We hired engineers for packaging in 2019. Our packaging was bit crowded and the logo was not ‘clean’. The hardest part was to select the paper and glass for bottles and jars. We selected some recycled paper and glass. We reduce the carbon footprint by 80% of each packaging. After 2020, all our products are either recyclable or recycled or refillable.

ELLE: Tell us more about the sustainability practices that the brand focuses on?

BT: First of all, we started by upcycling grape seeds. We recycle thousands tons of grape seeds every year. In 2011, we joined the 1% for the planet created by Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. It means we have to give 1% to our global revenue to the organisation every year. We have also planted 10 million trees in ten years. According to me, the beauty industry has two issues, the carbon footprint and packaging. You know, we’re not an airline company. We have a collection which is completely refillable. We created 100% plastic collect initiative, which means we want to collect as much plastic as what we use as a brand.

ELLE: Is it a mindful decision to expand gradually to foreign markets?

BT: We have 25 branches around the world–we are in 12 countries in Europe, four in Asia, four in America, and five countries through distributors. Any brand that’s the same size as us is usually present in 100 countries. However, the way we grow matters more to us than the growth itself. We are a family owned company and one of the reasons we survived storms and crises is that we’ve always favoured long term solutions, and sustainable business models. It’s more interesting way to do business. More countries mean less control over distribution and brand image. We are not in a hurry.

ELLE: How do you create skincare that’s suitable for everyone?

BT: We don’t trap people into the system. You can use Caudalie Vinoperfect serum with any other moisturiser. The system is to make you try the best product but it doesn’t stop you from using another moisturiser or cleanser. Another thing is that because of our ethics and natural formulation, our products are non-sensitizing and non-photosensitising. They’re not harmful for the skin. This is why we have the same hero products everywhere. When you have a skincare product that is effective with a lightweight texture, everybody wants to use it. We try to create the best product which suits everyone. We run 30 tests or more till we get the formula right. It takes time but then we create a product that fits in everyone’s routine regardless of their geographical status.

ELLE: Tell us about a few French skincare secrets that you think the world doesn’t know about.

BT: French women are more balanced when it comes to skincare. They have a reputation of treating the issue instead of covering it which, I think, is a great philosophy. They are also concerned about knowing what is good for the skin, knowing the ingredients, and having the information. I must say, in Europe, we have independent pharmacies that offer a great experience with beauty because these pharmacists know the ingredients, they can tell what skin type you have and they have skin analysis. To summarise, it’s about knowing your skin, the ingredients, listening to your mother, staying away from the sun, and eating good food and drinking a lot of water.

ELLE: Lastly, what next?

BT: When we partnered with Harvard, we learned that the skin has youth proteins and genes that do the job of building collagen, elastin and self-defence mechanisms. These proteins, when we age, become less productive. For example, by the age of 40, you lose 40% of the collagen that you had at 20 years old. These are processes that we can reverse. We believe we can switch on the genes that used to do the job 20 years ago. So we believe the skin can do a lot of work by itself. We believe that’s the future, understanding the skin mechanisms and trying to reverse them is what we’re going to do but in the most natural and clean formula we can have.

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