A special overview into Irene Forte Skincare secrets
Irene Forte Skincare is a luxurious brand with an ecological and sustainable soul, created by Irene Forte, founder and Wellness Director of the Forte Hotels group. The secret of its extraordinary products lies in the great quality of the organic raw materials, grown on the company’s Sicilian estate, and in the active ingredients exclusively of natural and biomimetic origin.
How and when did you become passionate about the world of skin care?
I was interested in wellness from a very young age. This started with sport and healthy eating and developed a little later into beauty/ skincare. It was in 2010 that I got into skincare; I went to work at Rocco Forte’s Verdura Resort (home to our organic farm). I was living in the resort, and didn’t have a car, so I spent evenings testing lots of different things in the spa with the Spa Manager, and from that point I was hooked.
After a number of years at Rocco Forte Hotels, I started overseeing their spa and wellness offering. During that time and through my experience working with the spas, I got more closely interested in skincare and saw the opportunity for natural formulations to be improved by scientific insight. I had the perfect base from which to start a natural line with our organic farm in Sicily, but I knew that I needed a brilliant scientific mind to help me formulate. After a lot of research in Italy, I came across my formulator in early 2014: Dr. Francesca Ferri, who had started formulating clean cosmetics and food supplements over 35 years ago. Her philosophy lined up with mine, and I thought that she was the perfect fit to help me bring a ‘natural skincare line made better by the guidance of science’ to life. After a number of years of development, as well as then trying and testing them with elite spa professionals at Rocco Forte Spas, we created natural, plant-based formulations inspired by the Mediterranean diet, using ingredients grown at our organic farm in Sicily. They are guided by science and clinically proven with outstanding fragrance and feel and low allergenic potential (and indeed clinically approved for sensitive skin).
Skin care and eco-sustainability … how can we be more aware in taking care of our skin?
In taking care of our skin, we should indeed look for ingredients that only benefit it and don’t harm it. Our philosophy is to only use what is necessary, and to use naturally derived alternatives to synthetic colourants, preservatives and harsh surfactants. We also strictly limit the use of ‘essential oils’ because they contain potentially irritating allergens like citral, linalool and farnesol. Avoiding these common sources of irritation in ‘natural’ products is a key objective of our product development process. That’s why our fragrances have been screened to trace levels for all of the 26 fragrance allergens that EU law regards as potentially harmful. Each of our 80, or so, active ingredients have been chosen to work in harmony with each other and to complement the body’s natural biochemistry. We look for active ingredients that are already naturally present in the skin or for biomimetic ingredients, which helps to ensure that they are biocompatible and exceptionally skin-friendly.
However, for me it’s not just about taking care of our skin because beauty is more than skin deep. I’m proud of the fact that we built sustainability into our company’s DNA from its inception; it was not simply an afterthought, and we consider environmental and social impact with every decision we take. Here are some of my favourite sustainable practises:
- Ingredients: we grow ingredients on our organic farm in Sicily. Where ingredients cannot come from our organic farm, they come from local farmers in neighbouring areas of Sicily or from reputable farmers in the Trentino region (where our lab is based). All of our ingredients are certified vegan; we have also integrated zero-waste upcycled ingredients, made from nutrient-rich plant-based leftovers.
- Packaging: all of our packaging is 100% made in Italy. Our boxes are made out of paper with 100% recycled fibres and we only use vegetable-based inks. We have no plastic wrapping or extra paper inserts. Our bottles and jars are recyclable glass; in the next month many will be refillable with biobased plastic components which can be recycled through our recycling programme. We have also recently launched olive wood spatulas, made by hand out of sustainable olive wood.
- Supporting local suppliers: just as we support local farmers, we also support local artisans who create our display materials, tools and special gift packaging. Sicilian ceramics are featured in all our luxury spas, as well as displayed in our retail stores. These ceramics are all created by hand in Sciacca, a coastal town in Sicily that is a 15-minute drive from our organic farm. We use hand-plaited Sicilian ‘coffe’ as gift packaging, made from sustainable palm wood fibres and recycled fabrics. Sicilian hand-made bells start and end our spa treatments. We also use volcanic stones gathered from Sicily’s Mount Etna in many of our treatments. The new spatulas for our products are made by a carpenter in Puglia, who uses sustainable local olive wood.
- We are accredited by Positive Luxury for sustainable excellence.
And, here are some tips when looking for a sustainable brand:
- Does the brand have a Corporate Social Responsibility policy? Does it highlight its sustainable practises anywhere?
- Is the packaging made out of sustainable materials? Is the brand trying to create a circular product/ minimise waste?
- Where are the ingredients sourced from? What ingredients are used? Is there an attempt by the brand to use vegan, organic
or upcycled ingredients?
- Does the brand promote the community, either by sourcing locally or supporting charities?
- Does the brand have any accreditations?
Irene Forte, nature and science. Do you think that scientific research and the natural resources of our planet represent the future for the world of skin care?
Yes, indeed. Natural on its own is no longer enough. We need science to bring out the best of nature.
In particular, has the collaboration with Dr. Ferri been decisive in the development of the products?
Yes, of course. She has been fundamental. Natural ingredients are a great place to start, but it’s our scientific approach and Dr. Ferri’s medical insight that drive our results. She brings over 35 years of skincare research and development expertise to our range. As a pioneer in the use of plant extracts in the treatment of dermatological conditions, she was the first to discover the benefit of Mahonia Aquifolium in the treatment of psoriasis, and she was the originator of a process to extract Resveratrol from red grapes to treat both psoriasis and dermatitis.
Your relationship with nature and with the territory. We know that you are very attached to Sicily, where the Rocco Forte Verdura Resort is based. What role did Sicily and its territory, rich in biodiversity, play in the development of your skincare line?
It played a very big role. As I mentioned above, I first got into beauty during my year out spent at Verdura Resort, but it was also then that I fell in love with the people, the culture, the food, and the breathtaking nature of the island. I realised that Sicily’s rich ingredients and the bounty of Verdura’s organic farm made for the perfect base for a skincare line. We have some amazing ingredients in Sicily that I researched and learnt could do wonders on the skin. There’s Prickly Pear Polysaccharides, considered a plant-origin Hyaluronic Acid and the latest super food; Hibiscus, known as the ‘botox plant’ for its ability to freeze lines; Pomegranate, rich in Vitamin C, flavonoids, and anthocyanins, which are strong antioxidants for the skin; and Olive Oil, rich in polyphenols and Vitamin E. I was also influenced by Sicilian handicrafts during my time spent at Verdura Resort and wanted to ensure that my products were hand-manufactured and that my treatments and rituals focused on the power of touch. My approach is synonymous with the very best that Sicily has to offer, distilling the benefits of Mediterranean wellness in every bottle.
Your products, synonymous with quality and respect for the environment and the ecosystem that surrounds us, are used in the Rocco Forte Hotels spas. Did the guests like it? Are they more careful to choose a product with particular characteristics?
Yes, our products are really popular with guests. We have seen a significant growth in guest consciousness; we’ve noticed that they have started to demand clean beauty in formula, pack and process. But most importantly, our guests want products that work, and ours are clinically proven to do so!
The future is and the planet is the biggest challenge for us all. How do you imagine the future of Irene Forte and your project?
In terms of Irene Forte Skincare, we launched the brand with Rocco Forte Spas just over two years ago. Our ‘bread and butter’ business was spas, and due to COVID we lost that business for more than a year. This made us switch our attention to retailers. We have signed with 26 new retailers over the last year and a bit, notably Nordstrom in the US, Liberty in London, the Frasers group across the UK, Niche Beauty in Germany, and Luisa Via Roma in Italy. We are also due to launch with Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Amazon Luxury Stores in the US, John Bell & Croyden in the UK, and a few more. Responding to new scientific insight, 2022 also sees the roll out of a series of new products. I also always say that sustainability is a journey, and we are constantly striving to find ways to do better. Effectively, I’m working to build a dominant market brand, and to be differentiated as a sustainable, skin-kind and clinically proven youth-enhancing brand. I want to be recognised as the ‘Natural Science’ skincare brand and the best Italian skincare brand in our key markets (UK, US and Italy).