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Q&A: Geraldine Howard

Ruth Styles

19th October, 2011

Aromatherapy Associates founder, Geraldine Howard, discusses naturals, synthetics and why certification schemes need an overhaul with Ruth Styles

Along with Neal’s Yard Remedies, Aromatherapy Associates is one of the UK’s best-known aromatherapy-based beauty brands. Founded by Geraldine Howard and Sue Beechey almost 30 years ago, Aromatherapy Associates was among the first to show that natural essential oils not only worked, but that they worked well. Combining luxe formulations with an encylopaedic knowledge of botanicals, the brand has gone from strength to strength, branching out into spa treatments along the way but never losing sight of its agrarian roots. So what’s next for the brand? Green Living editor, Ruth Styles, caught up with Geraldine Howard to find out.

Ruth Styles: You’ve been in the beauty business since the 1980s. How have things changed since then? Do you think people today are more conscious of what they put on their skin?
Geraldine Howard:
‘Absolutely: consumers have a far greater appreciation nowadays about what they are putting onto their skin and where it has come from. I think that’s a good thing. I think there’s also a far greater appreciation of the dramatic effect natural ingredients can have within skincare – the results really are staggering.’
 
RS: You and co-founder Sue Beechey are regarded as been part of the pioneering group who were at the forefront of the green beauty movement. Why are you so passionate about naturals?
GH:
‘We both trained with Micheline Arcier, an absolute [beauty] guru, and she had the most incredible skin I’ve ever seen. She really inspired me to work with essential oils and natural ingredients.’
 
RS: You have previously said that every ingredient used in your products has a defined role to play. Do you think consumers are finally starting to realise the benefits of plant-based skincare?
GH:
‘Absolutely. I think there was a time when natural skincare wasn’t taken as seriously in terms of delivering real results. But we’ve proved that this is not the case. I think most people would rather put naturals on their skin but they do want to see results. There is no place for natural products that don’t deliver really noticeable benefits.’
 
RS: Do you think synthetics have a role to play in beauty?
GH:
‘Sadly, we have not yet found good alternatives to some synthetics used in cosmetics such as hair conditioner. So, for now, they have a role but I would hope they will be superseded by natural alternatives in time.’

RS: Labelling is a big issue in beauty at the moment. Do you think the current certification system is up to standard?
GH:
‘I don’t think the system is up to standard and firmly believe that there needs to be more unified agreement within the varying bodies, so there is totally clarity. We don’t have plans to become certified.’
 
RS: Packaging is another key issue. Would you consider reducing yours?
GH:
'95 per cent of our packaging is recyclable.  We always pay a great deal of consideration to packaging and make sure not to use materials that are not necessary, for example, on the interior of a box.’
 
RS: Essential oils are a big part of your business. Is there anything people should look out for when buying them?
GH:
‘Always purchase the oils from a reputable brand so you can be sure that you are buying a quality product. My favourite oil is frankincense – it has a truly dramatic effect at helping to centre my thoughts and calm me down.’
 
RS: This month sees the launch of the first standalone Aromatherapy Associates boutique and spa. Why have you waited so long to have one?
GH: ‘When we first started Aromatherapy Associates in the early 1980s, we had treatment rooms in south-west London and it was the heart of our business. Due to new investment, we are now in a position to go back to our roots, which gives us the opportunity to have our own platform to shout about, and demonstrate, the real power of aromatherapy.’
 
RS: Which of your achievements are you proudest of?
GH:
‘One of the things I am very proud of is having the courage to train as an aromatherapist at a time when it was seen as a little ‘hippie’.  I knew the amazing results essential oils could deliver so I followed my heart, and now, many people get to enjoy the benefits of naturals and essential oils.’
 
RS: What are your hopes for the future of natural beauty in general and Aromatherapy Associates in particular?
GH:
‘I hope and am confident that there will be further advances in the results natural beauty can deliver. I hope that Aromatherapy Associates goes from strength to strength and there will be more global store launches.  I also believe there is potential to combine naturals [products] with non-invasive machines to achieve fabulous results without going under the knife.’

 

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