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The Interview: Dr Anna Persaud, CEO and Biochemist, This Works

Sadiyah Ismailjee
07 July 2020

This Works was created in 2003 by the former Beauty Director of Vogue UK, Kathy Phillips, who is an expert in beauty and fitness. The company is based on a 24-hour skincare period with products suited for the day and night.

The skincare brand has been investing in the science of sleep since 2011 with award-winning, natural sleep solutions that have been through six independent user trials with over 900 participants, as well as clinical and fMRI brain-imaging studies.

At the heart of This Works' product is a Superblend; a three-element ingredient system made up of naturally derived and scientifically proven ingredients at therapeutic levels. All ingredients are expertly blended to create clean, targeted skincare which deliver results.

The brand believes that customers are the ultimate judge: only they decide ‘This Works’. Since launch, there has been a This Works Panel - a dedicated testing system of over 750 women, to ensure all its products deliver on their promise, every time. At least 70% of its chosen panelists must agree 'This Works' before a product is launched. CEO and Biochemist of This Works, Dr Anna Persaud tells’s The Beauty Edit more:

How did you transition from biochemistry to beauty?

My PhD was in the field of parasite biochemistry during which time I studied detoxification mechanisms and oxidative stress in parasites. I already had an obsession with skincare and was using all kinds of products and couldn’t understand why beauty companies weren’t trying to protect skin from UV and free radicals.

I took this understanding and inspiration into the pharmaceutical industry and I worked in medical writing and specialising in acne and dermatitis.

The opportunity to work in the beauty industry came through a chance meeting with a fellow chemist who at that time was the Marketing Director at Dior. I never looked back.

You launched back in 2005, what was the response like and what has changed since?

The brand was founded and originally launched by Kathy Phillips who at the time was Beauty Director at Vogue. As both a yoga teacher and beauty expert Kathy understood the link between lifestyle and skin health and also saw that women wanted cleaner skincare that cut out unnecessary chemicals without compromising on performance. It had to be as good as the hi-tech ranges out there, if not better.

It's hard to believe but at the time natural beauty was considered ‘niche’ with limited expectations around its efficacy. Well received by the industry, This Works was one of the first challenger brands to bring to the market efficacious natural skincare with an aesthetic that didn’t look out of place on the pages of Vogue or shelves of Harvey Nichols.

One of my first priorities when I joined in 2009 was to look at how we could develop high-tech skincare that strives to be 98% natural which performs at the same level as our bath and body products - keeping to our natural ethos but delivering on its promise.

And my scientific background meant I was focussed on backing our product claims with user and clinical trials so that any product launched we could have confidence ‘This Works’. That’s why to date our pillow sprays have gone through 6 trials with over 900 users and also why we now develop functional fragrances to meet specific needs using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure which areas of the brain are activated by the fragrance, such as focus or relaxation.

Today the world of natural skincare has come on a long way, but our brand principles and ethos have remained the same.

What is your current route to market?

We operate a multi-channel distribution model across multiple markets.

In the UK that means we’re available across traditional bricks stores such as Boots, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, luxury beauty such as Space N.K, online third-party retailers including Amazon and The Hut Group, travel retail and also TV with QVC.

In addition to which our website This continues to be a major revenue driver for the brand, in fact it’s relaunched on Monday 6th of July complete with a CBD microsite.

What is the brand’s core philosophy?

We develop clean, targeted skincare and wellness solutions that work in harmony with your body clock, 24hrs a day – rooted in science and proven to work.

What sets you apart from other skincare brands?

Our vision is to solve problems that our customers face which means we’re always looking ahead, for example we were one of the first beauty brands to focus on the importance of sleep and its link to skin health & wellbeing.

We’re also rigorous in our focus on ensuring our products are backed by science; going through multiple trials during the R&D stage of development.

For example, clinical trials on our skincare are standard across all launches and our fragrance blends are developed using independent neuro-imaging studies looking at the impact of essential oils on the brain so that we can be sure they do what we say they do. In 2019 we saw the first of these studies published in peer review journal Chemosensory Perception.

How do you come up with ideas for new products?

Beauty products should create feelings of pleasure and deliver on their promise – this shouldn’t be a compromise. We talk a lot about functional wellness by which we mean products that target specific concerns and needs.

For example, over and above our sleep solutions our fMRI brain imaging research has inspired innovative launches to help manage stress (Stress Check) improve alertness (Morning Expert) and encourage intimacy (Love Sleep).

What do you think have been the most important skincare trends of 2020 so far?

The demand for hand sanitisers and cleansing products is an obvious trend but as we emerge from lockdown we’re also seeing a new trend which is protective skincare and not just skincare that protects from pollution and environmental aggressors but also products to help correct and protect from the problems such as congestion and irritation caused by daily wearing of face masks.

We’ve also seen a rise in customers using fragrance to help them manage stress and sleep; looking for a sense of comfort and security.

Who is the This Works customer?

The This Works customer is someone who is looking for clean and natural skincare and wellness products that they trust and support their lifestyle choices – they are exacting on this last point and quick to tell us their opinions both good and bad.

We are lucky in that our sleep range has given us a universal appeal as sleep is a global problem (regardless of age or gender) and our products are proven to work.

Sustainability is becoming a crucial focus for the skincare and beauty industry, in what ways is This Works incorporating sustainability into its business model and brand identity?

Sustainability has always been a core pillar of the brand.

Our formulas are blended without unnecessary synthetic chemicals to create plant-based, targeted skincare that delivers results with integrity. We strive for our products to be 98% natural and all are free from phthalates, sulphates, synthetic colour and fragrance, parabens, GMOs, mineral oils, petrolatum and propylene glycol.

83% of our products are suitable for vegans and without exception our products are not tested on animals – neither by us nor our third-party suppliers and we have a 100% cruelty free PETA accreditation.

Our products come minimally packaged in FSC certified, simple boxes and are free from plastic cellophane a.nd wrapping. As we are launching products, we are now striving for 100% recyclable packaging and also reviewing our existing packaging to upgrade and update it as necessary.

What are your top 3 This Works product recommendations?

My wrinkles CBD booster + Granactive Retinoid keeps wrinkles at bay and pigmentation in check, so I wake up with a glow. Skin deep dry leg oil; I use it everywhere and it’s my antidote to lockdown body dryness! Sleep plus pillow spray; so, I get my full eight hours.

Sleep is one of your brand focuses, what are the benefits of sleep for the skin?

Skin cells have their own body clock, that manages not just cell regeneration and growth but also how our skin ages.

During the night, this clock is set to ‘repair and renew’ mode when stem cells begin to replace old cells with new fully functioning ones. Which is why, on the whole, you’ll notice skin tends to appear more attractive or refreshed in the morning.

Your skin’s water content has a daily rhythm as well, with water loss peaking overnight due to the skin barrier being more permeable. This does mean that skin sensitivity is at its highest nocturnally but on the flipside,  it is also the best time to apply topical skincare as it is better absorbed through the skin barrier.

Sleep is important because within just 24hrs, signs of disrupted sleep are visible on our skin as it disrupts our skin’s natural repair and regeneration – a process that can only happen when we sleep.

Some of the impact of disrupted sleep include:

  • Dark circles, which are intensified during periods of poor-quality sleep due to increased build-up of toxins caused by the breakdown of natural detoxification
  • Significantly higher levels of trans-epidermal water loss which can kick-start a number of unwanted skin conditions, from morning redness and sensitivity right through to definition of fine lines and wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

What are your top tips for healthy and glowing skin?

Sleep well, stay out of the sun, always wear an SPF and thoroughly cleanse your skin before bedtime and apply your anti-ageing products at night.

How has This Works been adjusting to such uncertain and challenging times?

This Works has always had an entrepreneurial spirit - as a smaller brand you can’t compete with the bigger names in terms of marketing or advertising spend but you have the competitive advantage of being able to think on your feet, identify trends and turn products around in months vs. years and crucially hunt and respond to new business opportunities with far more dexterity than your larger competitors.

That mentality has really helped us pull together over the last six months. Like so many businesses by mid-March we realised that we were going to have to completely reconfigure our business roadmap both in terms of distribution and also product development.

Within six weeks of the office closing we had developed our hand gel – stress check clean hands – delivered a completely new brand marketing campaign Helping Hands and secured new distribution channels. We also increased our online marketing spend to maximise our online revenue which has been very effective – currently the business is growing at 56% since the beginning of March.

Where is the skincare market heading?

I’m sure that we’ll continue to see a demand for natural and vegan skincare products that deliver both on skincare and wellness.

But I also think a fundamental shift has happened this year where more than ever consumers are looking for brands they trust, with values they recognise. Quite rightly brands are being held accountable for not just the efficacy or our products but also for how we operate and conduct our businesses.

What are your greatest achievements to date?

Raising two children whilst running a busy and growing business – it’s not always easy but it’s what I’m most proud of.

What is next for This Works?

Our ambition as a business has always been to become the benchmark for wellbeing beauty both in the UK and abroad.

As part of Canopy Growth (one of the world’s largest Cannabis companies) we are committed to developing the CBD skincare market, we have made significant investment in R&D to understand how best to utilise the power of CBD and we will be launching CBD infused stress and sleep products within the next six months.

What advice would you give to anyone starting up a beauty/skincare brand?

Ensure you have a product that is genuinely differentiated from others on the market.  Engage your target consumer from the onset and maximise the potential of social media.  Protect your intellectual property. Spend time creating a business plan you can deliver against and make sure you have sufficient funds.

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