A typical work day for Ms Aisha Alhadad has her whipping up ingredients such as shea butter with essential oil and course-grit shell, her two children playing with toys at her feet.
She watches over her sons - aged three years, and five months - as she makes facial mists and body scrubs for her beauty label WhiffLove.
The 28-year-old started the label in April last year after leaving her nursing job, selling natural bodycare and skincare products such as facial scrubs ($39) and hair tonic ($25) made with ingredients including aloe vera, rosemary, lavender and coconut oil.
She handmakes the items - with tools such as an electric mixer, glass beakers and pipettes - and packages them in the comfort of home, a landed house in the east.
A variety of such beauty and skincare labels, selling handmade products produced at home with natural ingredients, have popped up recently in Singapore.
At least five home-run brands - WhiffLove, Bottle Of Wellness, Ress, Shawn's Soaps and BalmBeBee - have launched in the last two years, selling items such as massage balms with essential oils for children, bar soaps without additives or artificial colouring for those with sensitive skin and scrubs made with pandan leaves.
Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon, a marketing expert at National University of Singapore's Business School, says these labels tap niche markets and attract customers with their unique and personalised edge.
Handmade products are something different from mass brands and customers appreciate the care and thought that have been put into making the products. With more exposure through travel and the Internet... we are more willing to try smaller niche labels.
MARKETING EXPERT AND ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR ANG SWEE HOON on the growing popularity of niche beauty and skincare labels
Create your own scrub and mask
Try your hand at making a natural beauty remedy with these two recipes.
COFFEE GROUND BODY SCRUB
• 1 cup coffee grounds
• 3 Tbs sea salt or brown sugar
• 6 Tbs coconut oil (solid or liquid)
1. Measure the dry ingredients and mix them in a large bowl. For solid coconut oil, melt it in a microwave for 10 seconds at a time, stirring after each time, until it melts to a smooth liquid. Add it to the dry mixture.
2. Stir well and store in a waterproof jar or container. Store in a cool place.
3. Use the scrub after a shower. Massage on wet skin in a circular motion to exfoliate and soften the skin. Rinse with warm water.
EGG WHITE AND HONEY FACE MASK
• 1 egg
• 1 Tbs honey
1. Separate the egg yolk from the white.
2. Mix the egg white with the honey and apply it on the face after cleansing. Leave the mixture on for 15 minutes and rinse off with warm water. The mask is said to help calm acne-prone skin, moisturise the skin as well as tighten pores.
"Singaporeans are more discerning now. They no longer want a one-size-fits-all product they can buy off the shelf. Handmade products are something different from mass brands and customers appreciate the care and thought that have been put into making the products," she says, adding that Singaporean shoppers are more confident in their decisions now.
"With more exposure through travel and the Internet, we don't have to always rely on big-name global brands. We are more willing to try smaller niche labels."
The made-in-Singapore stamp, she says, is also more highly regarded now with the success of local brands such as skincare label Skin Inc and eyebrow-grooming chain Browhaus.
"These new small local labels might not have survived 10 years ago, but as more Singapore brands make their mark and become successful globally, it helps consumers become more accepting of home- grown brands," says Dr Ang.
Founders of skincare labels say it also helps that consumers are now more inclined towards natural and organic products.
Ms Sara Soong, 40, founder of home-run skincare label Ress, says: "I have customers who are more discerning and socially conscious. They are deliberately looking for all-natural ingredients in their skincare products."
The former education officer at a school started Ress in April last year. The label's key ingredient is pandan and products include a pandan leaf scrub ($35), a body lotion with pandan and avocado ($35) and massage balms with pandan, rosemary and basil ($24).
Besides the personal touch, these made-at-home products tend to also be more affordable. Equivalent all- natural products from global brands typically cost 50 per cent more.
Being able to run their businesses from home also gives these entrepreneurs flexibility.
Founder of organic skincare label BalmBeBee Nur Hidayah Shahrudin, 30, says running the business from home means she can look after her twin four-year-old sons.
"I started BalmBeBee because I needed the flexibility to work from home so that I can care for my twins through their growing years. I can start and finish work whenever I am done with mummy duties," she says.
BalmBeBee was founded in August last year and carries products such as body scrubs ($15), all-in-one hair and body wash ($15) and lip balm ($5).
A check with the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) found that the making and selling of homemade cosmetic products is allowed and the onus falls on business owners to make sure the products are safe for use. However, the businesses have to comply with HSA regulations, including sticking to permissible ingredients and notifying the agency before selling any cosmetic products.
Brands must also label their products with an ingredient list, batch numbering as well as the name and address of the individual or company responsible for the product.
But consumers should still exercise caution, says an HSA spokesman. "Consumers should purchase such products from reliable and reputable sources, and check that the products have adequate information on their labels."
When contacted, the Consumers Association of Singapore says no complaints involving homemade beauty products have been made in the last two years. However, its executive director Loy York Jiun says customers "should do their homework before making any purchase".
"If in doubt, consumers should first apply the product on a small area of their skin to check for allergic reactions. If an allergic reaction occurs, consumers should stop use and seek medical attention," he says, adding that the outcomes from the use of such beauty products vary from individual to individual.
For Ms Aisha, the idea for WhiffLove came from her experience with using natural beauty products. She turned to such items when her skin dulled and she started losing hair in 2014 - the result of the stress she felt doing shift work at the hospital.
"My late mother was enthusiastic about natural remedies and always encouraged me to use natural solutions. So when I started losing hair and getting bad skin, I tried using things from the kitchen to help."
She also tried off-the-counter skincare and went to a hair treatment clinic, but to no avail.
"When I tried making my own natural remedies, like using apple cider vinegar to rinse my hair or an egg white-and-honey mask for my skin, I found that they worked for me," she says. She makes about $3,000 a month from selling her products online (madewhifflove.com).
"My hair did not fall as much and my skin improved. So I just got really into it."
Soaps with herbs and fruit
Mr Shawn Ray started making his own natural soaps when he realised that commercial soaps, with perfumes and additives, made his sensitive skin dry and itchy.
The 42-year-old American artist, a permanent resident here who is married to a Singaporean, also wanted to supplement his family income. His wife is an assistant manager at an airline company. They have no children.
Earlier this year, he started tinkering with recipes, making soaps with ingredients that he and his wife liked, such as coffee and oats.
He started Shawn's Soaps in May this year and sells his products on peer-to-peer e-commerce website Etsy and on www.shawnssoaps.com. He has sold 50 to 60 bars monthly so far, mostly to Singaporeans.
The soaps contain ingredients such as herbs, minerals, salts, essential oils as well as plant and fruit components. Unique combinations include coffee and coconut, which is said to help exfoliate and moisturise the skin; black rice and avocado, which helps to improve skin tone and softness; and Himalayan sea salt and citronella, which helps to balance the skin and is a natural insect repellent.
The 110g bars cost $16 each while a pack of three 33g bars cost $10.
The production process is relatively simple. A plain soap base with no perfumes, additives, synthetics or artificial colouring is melted in a pot. Then, the natural ingredients and essential oils are added and the liquid mixture is poured into silicone moulds and left to cool.
The moulds are later transferred to a fridge so that the soap hardens completely.
"I'm always experimenting with new recipes and combinations," says Mr Ray, who has also tried his hand at wood work, metal work and pottery. "Recipes don't always work out.
"When I started, I made a coffee and coconut bar. My wife likes using a coffee ground body scrub. I decided to make a soap with coffee so that she could use the soap and exfoliate at the same time," he says.
But his first batch felt too rough on the skin. "It was too scratchy so I had to adjust my recipe."
Some ingredient pairings have also not worked out. "I had a rosemary and citronella bar. The ingredients smell great individually, but when I put them together, they just didn't match. So I discontinued that."
The process, however, is enjoyable.
"I like trying out the different scents and textures. I love making products that I know are healthy for the skin and that people will also love using."
Mum's home remedies now for sale
Mother of two Nur Wahidah Abdul Wahap started making chest rubs and body oil blends for her firstborn son when she realised that natural remedies helped with his coughing and mild eczema.
In particular, coconut oil with spearmint helped her son breathe more easily when he had the flu. It also helped him sleep better.
"When you have kids, you become more particular about the products you use," says the 29-year-old. "You don't want to use too many chemicals on them when they are young. So I started to search for organic and natural solutions."
Now, her two sons, aged 21/2 years and nine months old, regularly use her balms and massage oils. And what was once a mother's remedy has become a full-fledged business.
She launched Bottle Of Wellness in February last year, with $3,000 drawn from her savings to buy ingredients and packaging such as bottles and printed labels. She broke even in a few months.
The label offers skincare products for babies and adults such as a chest rub ($19) with spearmint and lemon that it says can help ease respiratory congestion; a balm ($19) with clove and rosemary to relieve minor skin irritations; and a tummy rub ($19) with ginger and fennel to relieve indigestion, stomach wind and colic.
The products are available online (bottleofwellness.com) and she sells about 500 items a month.
"My sons love them. Sometimes, my older child will take the oils and use them on his brother. Whenever he has a rash or feels any discomfort, he also knows how to ask me for the balms and rubs."
Caring for two active boys and running the business is a balancing act, says Ms Wahidah, who left her receptionist job last year to care for her children full time.
Her husband is a police officer and her mother chips in to help out from time to time.
Her days are spent cooking, cleaning and caring for her children. It is only after midnight, when the boys have gone to sleep, that her other job begins.
She spends about four hours making her balms at a time. This includes washing and sterilising the bottles, melting the beeswax to use as a base, mixing in coconut oil and essential oils, as well as bottling and labelling the mixture.
On a good night, when neither of her sons wakes up, she can make about 100 bottles from midnight to 4am.
The businesswoman plans to expand her range from 11 to 25 products next month. She is also taking an online course in aromatherapy and wants to apply her new knowledge to the brand.
"I will be releasing new formulations with vitamin E and some with rose oil because I found out that these ingredients are very healthy for the skin," she says.
"I'm already testing the new recipes on my sons. My children have to bear with my experiments."
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'Beauty starts at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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