Interview With Professor Richard Blackburn, Founder Of Dr. Craft

Professor Richard Blackburn

Created by Professor Richard Blackburn and Professor Chris Rayner, both academics in Green Chemistry at Leeds University, Dr. Craft combines nature and science to create sustainable, results-driven skincare that is proven to work. 

Their mission is to give light to natural active ingredients that are currently underused and underestimated in the world of beauty, to offer you unique and effective products that'll improve your skin's health. Want to know more? Read our exclusive interview with Co-Founder Professor Richard Blackburn for everything you need to know about the story behind the sustainable and natural beauty brand...

1. Tell us about your career so far and the key steps that led to you becoming Professor of Sustainable Materials at The University of Leeds?

After completing my PhD in 2000 I managed to get a full-time academic position as a lecturer at The University of Leeds. At this time people weren't really concerned with sustainability - most people didn't even know the word, in both academia and the public. However, it was an area that was incredibly important to me as I knew the consumer products industry was increasingly becoming less sustainable, more wasteful and more polluting - something had to change. At that time my research focused on green chemistry within the textiles and coloration industries, and it was around this time I met Chris Rayner at The University and we realised we had a relatively rare common interest in green chemistry and sustainability, and we started collaborating - and we have been working together ever since. Around 15 years ago Chris and I started working on hair dyes, as we recognised many sustainability and toxicity issues in these compounds that we could address with new research, this evolved into us realising that natural products offered chemistry that could solve many sustainability issues in hair care and skin care as well. 

Throughout the last 22 years I have supervised PhD students, taught undergraduates, written research proposals, secured research funding, conducted research, produced publications, working closely with industry and other academics at Leeds and around the world. All of this culminated in me being recognised by the University as achieving levels of international excellence in research in sustainability and being promoted to the post of Professor of Sustainable Materials.

2. How did the genesis of Dr Craft come about?

Chris Rayner and I realised that the research we were doing into sustainable and natural cosmetics could be commercially applicable, so in 2011 we formed a company, Keracol Limited, to turn our research into products. However, after a few years of talking to potential industry partners, we thought that most of our potential partners did not have the same fundamental beliefs in sustainability that we did, we wanted to make products that were completely sustainable, not just token ingredients, so we thought the best way to achieve this was with our own brand. But, this wasn't easy! This changed when we met Freddy Furber at Ellipsis and we quickly realised that the combination of Ellipsis branding, marketing and production expertise, combined with our scientific research, invention, and sustainability expertise could be a perfect collaboration to make a new brand. After a quick discussion over lunch on a brand name, Dr. Craft was born!

3. Tell us about Dr Craft’s formulations and why they’re so unique?

We invent amazing active ingredients sourced from natural products and consider sustainability in the sourcing, extraction, and production of these ingredients. Our raw materials are from sustainable sources, such as food waste, we conduct extraction using water or other clean solvents using green chemistry principles, such as saving energy and recycling solvents, and characterise all our extracts, so that we know what natural chemicals are contained in our extracts. This is incredibly important because nature makes many interesting compounds that we want to extract, purify, and include in our products, but nature also makes many undesirable compounds that you would definitely not want to have in your extract! This is one area where we are significantly different to other people working with natural ingredients - we use world-class analytical chemistry to understand exactly what is in our ingredients - most other 'naturals' brands don't do this.

But we don't stop at the active ingredients - these comprise perhaps 1-5% of the total cosmetic formulation, but what about the rest. We build our own formulations using these same principles of sustainability, so that as close as we can get to 100% of the formulation is sustainable, based on renewable and naturally derived ingredients, that we understand scientifically in terms of their performance and impact. Again, this is where we are different - many other natural brands have a sustainability story around an active ingredient, but then the formulation (the bulk of the product) is the same petrochemically-derived ingredients the industry has been using for decades - this does not represent a sustainable product.

4. Why is sustainability in skincare so important to you?

Because I think so many other brands use sustainability as a label to sell products, rather than basing it on scientific principles, experiments, and evidence. We must think about everything that we use on our bodies and what happens to them when we wash them down the drain - water companies cannot clean up everything and cosmetic ingredients will enter the environment. When disposing ingredients down our sinks we must consider their impact on the environment. So many products claim to be kind to animals in terms of not being tested on them, and this is 100% right - we shouldn't be testing formulations on animals. But what about after use? Are products kind to animals if they have a detrimental impact in the environment when we wash them away? These issues are so often focused on the up-front product in the bottle, and most people never consider what happens to the stuff in the bottle after they've used it.

5. Is your Bio-Bakuchiol just as effective as Retinol?

Bakuchiol has powerful anti-ageing benefits, as well as improving the appearance of UV related skin damage. Clinical trials have shown that bakuchiol performs just as well as retinol in significantly decreasing wrinkles and hyperpigmentation in the skin. But I would argue that bakuchiol is more effective as a product because it causes less skin irritation and less side effects when compared to retinol, which I think means you're more likely to use it and keep using it. Also, it is advised that retinol isn't to be used in the sun, this is not a problem for bakuchiol. And pregnant women are advised not to use retinol, whereas there is no evidence of problems in using bakuchiol whilst pregnant.

6. Why did you decide to formulate with Mandarin?

Two reasons: because the raw material - mandarin peels - is a food waste issue (the mandarin canning industry in China produces up to 10 million tonnes of peel waste annually) where we have an opportunity to convert a problematic waste into an ingredient; and because mandarin peel contains natural compounds with amazing benefits for the skin. The Dr. Craft Mandarin Extract is created using an inventive and sustainable extraction process to draw out two fantastic skincare actives, Hesperidin and Narirutin, which have powerful free radical scavenging and anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as skin brightening, soothing, and UVB-induced skin damage resisting properties. 

Dr. Craft Mandarin Range

7. What has been your proudest moment so far since launching Dr Craft?

I have to say two. The first is friends and family telling me after using the Dr. Craft Bio-Bakuchiol products for a few weeks how impressed they were with the performance and how amazing it made their skin feel and look. The second is when recently the Dr. Craft Mandarin Antioxidant Rescue Serum won the GOLD medal for Best Sustainable Product at the 2022 Global Green Beauty Awards.

8. If you could only take three Dr Craft products with you to a desert island, which three would you choose?

  1. Bio-Bakuchiol Face Cream - I use this every day and couldn't be without it.
  2. Mandarin Gentle Brightening Exfoliator - my face feels amazingly clean and fresh after using this.
  3. Mandarin Antioxidant Rescue Serum - I imagine on the desert island I might get a lot of sun, so this product would help me with intensive treatment.

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