When probiotics are mentioned, a healthy digestive system is usually what comes to mind. What Nur Syaza Mohd Rosli thinks of, however, is skincare. “Probiotics are good bacteria that help take care of our gut. As unconventional as it sounds, these bacteria are not only for the digestive system but actually good for our skin too,” she says.
Syaza grew up in a family of staunch believers in natural remedies. “We’re big users of rice water. My mum used to keep the water after washing rice and use it to cleanse our face or as a mask for our hair. It is actually really rich in vitamins. Remember bedak sejuk? Our grandmothers used it, and it’s made from rice water as well,” she explains.
Syaza noticed that natural ingredients such as Greek yogurt were often recommended as effective face masks. “Actually, yogurt is high in probiotics, so by experimenting with this at home, I realised I could develop products that are convenient for people to use, without going through the hassle of using yogurt or rice water, which sometimes can be very messy,” she says.
Syaza’s background wasn’t in beauty. In fact, after completing her degree in business management, she worked in the oil and gas industry, but she believed in paying forward what she had learnt. “I would like to share the knowledge and experience from the people around me. I would also like to do something more meaningful for myself,” she says. She hoped to create a product that would encapsulate her family’s natural skincare regimens.
Fortunately, Syaza did not have to rely solely on her own research. She approached her mother-in-law, Faridah Ahmad Fadzil, a co-founder of natural spa and skincare business Tanamera. Faridah’s advice helped shape her brand mission. “The main thing she always says to me is our skin will look beautiful when it is healthy. That’s what inspired me to use ingredients in my products that are already part of our natural make-up,” she says.
In 2013, Syaza’s mission was to create skincare with probiotics and other ingredients that worked towards replenishing the skin’s needs by introducing nutrients it has lost. Working and experimenting with R&D labs, Syaza coined the name Oryzalac — a probiotic that includes the whole rice plant (known as Oryza sativa). From there, the challenge was to mask the sour smell of the probiotic microorganisms, and only after multiple prototypes was she able to overcome this problem with the right mix of essential oils.
Syaza launched Essens as the first probiotic skincare business in Malaysia in 2017, and released its first product: the Oryzalac Skin Activating Serum. This serum is anti-aging and helps reduce acne and inflammation. “Another challenge was to educate the public on the use of probiotics for the skin and convincing them to understand their amazing benefits … To me, probiotics are such an amazing ingredient because they give back what you need and help balance the good bacteria on your skin. Our skin is always exposed to the sun and [pollutants], so it’s really important to have a balanced ecosystem. If you use too-harsh products, it might interfere with your natural skin barrier,” she explains.
In Essens’ products, the other ingredients that complement Oryzalac are natural. “We also use environmentally friendly ingredients. For example, the green coffee extract, which is rich in antioxidants, Canadian willow herb, which is anti-inflammatory, and resveratrol, a super antioxidant that helps give your skin a youthful texture,” Syaza says.
A year later, Essens released the Oryzalac Purifying Facial Foaming Cleanser. While the serum is a more concentrated formula, the cleanser works towards purifying the skin. Syaza says, “The cleanser cleans your skin, while the serum protects it.” Essens’ products are available online and the business has grown to include independent sellers and pharmacies. Now, Essens produces and sells about 1,000 bottles a month. With the rise of Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown, Syaza realised how important digital marketing was, and invested more in teaching customers about skincare. “On social media, we always educate our customers about what the ingredients do and how probiotics are good bacteria. We also explain how important it is to do a patch test when you use a new product, to make sure you’re not allergic to the ingredients,” she says.
Syaza hopes that Essens will expand to markets outside of Malaysia, spreading the benefits of her probiotic technology. She also plans to release a new moisturiser by the year-end.
This article first appeared on July 27, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.