Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Interview with A Modern Girl: Grace Culhaci

Grace Culhaci
Welcome back to Interview with A Modern Girl!  Last time I introduced you to my beautiful friend, Jess Williams from I Died and went to Vintage, who gave us lots of tips on how to find the perfect vintage outfit without trudging through the op shops. You can revisit that interview here. 

Today I have the absolute pleasure of introducing you to the CEO and founder of
Pure & Green Organics, Grace Culhaci.  
Pure & Green Organics is a beautiful range of organic, vegan, palm-oil free skin care that is packaged in eco-friendly packaging endorsed by Planet Ark.  Quite a mouthful and quite an achievement!  It is the only company in the world to have every product Australian Certified Organic - the highest standard of organic certification in Australia.  

Grace has an inspiring story
which led her down this path and motivated her to develop real organic skin care, without compromise.  It is touching to hear how she has turned her own health problems into something so positive for the world.  As you all know, it was my own health problems that caused me to make massive changes in my own life, so I always get pretty excited to hear about how other women have gone through a similar 'a-ha!' moment.  

Check out my Q&A with her where she shares
her story, her knowledge and her wonderful products...

AMGL: What lead you down the path of developing your own range of organic beauty products?
GC: After I developed a skin condition during my pregnancy I started to pay more attention to the beauty products I was using.  I made the switch to products labelled ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ but upon further inspection I realised that there was nothing, or not much, that was natural about these products. It wasn’t until I real Professor Peter Dingle’s book, 'Dangerous Beauty,' that I discovered many of my organic products contained toxic ingredients.

After having lost faith and trust in these so-called natural products, I started to make my own hand-made organic products and noticed my skin condition cleared.  But during my second pregnancy I was dealt with another blow to my health, the doctors told me I had an inoperable tumour growing in my right eye.  Left with no other choice, I converted to a completely certified organic diet as I realised that what you eat and what you put on your body has the power to affect your well-being.

This journey, and my newly acquired knowledge into organic skin care products, inspired me to create
Pure & Green Organics so I could give everyone a truly certified organic beauty product that lived up to its claim.  My aim is to create the world’s most sustainable beauty brands.  I have already achieved what most natural and organic brands couldn’t.

Pure & Green Organics
 is the first beauty brand to have all its products ACO certified organic with a minimum of 95% certified organic ingredients. We are also the first beauty brand to have our products endorsed by environmental group Planet Ark for their safety to the planet. We were also the first beauty brand to use 100% post-consumer recycled caps and BIOpack bottles made with plant sugars. We are also 100% vegan, we do not use palm oil and 60% of raw materials come from local Australian farmers.

AMGL: Do you think that the toxins present in many of the beauty products on the market today are causing real health problems?
GC:  Absolutely, as I mentioned earlier just flick through Professor Dingle’s book and every chemical and toxin listed on beauty products is linked to one or more serious health issues.  Most toxins in our beauty products are known carcinogens – science has found them to cause cancer - you can’t get any more real than that.

Most beauty products are littered with harzardous chemicals that are affecting our health in many serious ways. For instance the top five I would look out for and try to avoid include:

  • Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives: (FRPs) release small amounts of formaldehyde to prevent bacteria from growing in water-based products. This is commonly found in shampoo, liquid body washes and creams. FRPs can trigger allergies and are linked to skin sensitivities and eye irritation. For more information check out Safe Cosmetics.  The European Union restricts the use of formaldehyde & FRPs in personal care products and requires a label to say “contains formaldehyde."  Canada restricts the use of formaldehyde and it is banned from use in cosmetics in Japan and Sweden. 
  • Dioxane: is a petrochemical that results from using ethoxylation, a chemical process that renders harsh cleaning ingredients more gentle. It is found in shampoos, body washes, lotions and other personal care products.   According to Professor Dingle in his book, 'Dangerous Beauty,' 1,4 Dioxane is created during the production of sodium laureth sulphate.  It is a confirmed carcinogen.  Its effects in humans are cumulative and may result in eye, nose and throat irritation and kidney and liver disease.
  • Mineral oil is produced as a by-product of the distillation of gasoline from crude oil. It has absolutely no nutrient value for the skin. Depending on its state, mineral oil has three official names (1) mineral oil – for liquid state, (2) petrolatum – for jelly state and (3) paraffin wax – for solid state.  However, manufacturers often opt for a common synonym – like liquid paraffin. Mineral oil acts as an oil film on the skin that blocks the pores and the skin’s natural respiration. It can trap dirt and bacteria and stop the absorption of vitamins, minerals and botanicals. It can also cause skin itching or rashes. 
  • PEGs are petroleum-based compounds that are used in cream bases for cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners and moisture-carriers. Small amounts of 1,4-dioxane, a by-product of ethoxylation and a known carcinogen, may be found in polyethylene glycol ingredients including, PEG-6, PEG-8, PEG-32, PEG-75, PEG-150, PEG-14M and PEG-20M.  According to Professor Dingle, Triclosan (also known as 2,4,4 Trichloro-2- Hydroxydiphenylether) is an antibacterial, anti-microbial agent. It is used mainly in toothpaste to prevent it from breaking down.  This chemical is moderately toxic by ingestion. It is also a skin irritant. 
AMGL:  From what I understand, many of the products that claim to be 'organic' and 'natural' are, in fact, just using these words as a marketing tool. What should we look out for when trying to determine which products are actually good for us and organic?
GC:  Basically beauty products can shout their green claims from the rooftops but, unless they have an organic certifiers logo on the front of their packs, don’t listen!  Beauty brands can say whatever they like.   Just one stroll past the beauty counter and we are pounded with a flood of natural and organic claims - "organic"; "certified organic"; "certified natural"; "100% natural"; "made with organic ingredients."

But in reality what most of us don’t know is that the word ‘organic’ is used loosely.  It’s designed to give the ‘impression’ that a product is certified organic but usually there is very little, if anything, natural or organic about it.  In the recent Organic Monitor report, it was found that ‘Australia currently has low levels of certification for its beauty and personal care products, with less than 10 per cent of these products certified to Australian standards. This figure is far lower than the US and Europe with over 70 per cent of beauty and personal care products certified in these markets.”

If you want a beauty product that has the ultimate high-ranking status of a ‘commissioner’, then look out for the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) bud logo, NASAA or Organic Food Chain (OFC) logo. When you see the ACO bud logo, NASAA or OFC logo it means your beauty products contain 95 percent or higher organic ingredients.  No artificial fragrances or petrochemicals are allowed.

Minimum 95% organic ingredients. Remaining 5% must be naturally derived and/or non-toxic. Disallows synthetics.
Minimum 95% organic ingredients. Remaining 5% must be of agricultural origin.
If this logo is on the front of the product then it has 95% certified organic ingredients.
Any time you see these logos on the front of a product you can be assured it contains a minimum of 95 percent certified organic ingredients with the remainder 5 percent naturally sourced.  

Check out this cute video to see Grace explain exactly what organic means:

AMGL:  Your entire product range is certified organic, vegan, palm-oil free and presented in compostable packaging; what a feat!  As a vegan, I've come across many brands that say all of these things, but when I take a closer look at the ingredients there are always a few products that are not vegan or organic.  How difficult was it to source the right ingredients and develop all of these products to adhere to such high standards? 
GC:  Sometimes it does feel like we are trying to operate with one hand tied behind our back and we laugh about that, particularly with our no palm oil stance as this ingredient is in just about everything! But that is just part of the challenge and makes it all the more exciting when I finally solve a research and development dilemma when I'm working a new formula!

While it has required extra research to develop vegan products, there is a plant based alternative for just about everything, so definitely the palm oil was the hardest in terms of formulating.  Developing the eco packaging actually took longer than product formulation.  Beauty products are traditionally classed as luxury packaging offenders (product inside a box wrapped in plastic, i.e. three layers of packaging) so we wanted to break away from this and show it was possible for a beauty brand to be environmentally conscious.

We have a strict no outer box policy unless the box is required to protect the product in transit (e.g. our cleansing moisture bars). This presented challenges as we needed to source bottles that were wide enough to hold all our product info and barcode, ingredient listing, etc, while still looking attractive. We also took this stance to encourage consumers to become more aware of ingredients, as generally all the product info is contained on the box, which gets thrown in the bin, leaving consumers in the dark as to product contents.  I want consumers to be ingredient savvy and the best way to do that is to ensure ingredients are placed on product labels so they can be referenced with ease.

My passion is health so once you start out with an ethical framework choosing ingredients becomes very easy, almost like a tick box system - if it doesn't meet those set criteria I don't waste time wishing I could use something that fails the test, I just keep on searching and eventually I always find what I'm looking for.  Having a background in legal research definitely has helped in this regard, the best ingredients I find in obscure university libraries that I would never find elsewhere.

AMGL: As you mentioned earlier,
Pure and Green Organics is also the first beauty brand to have all of the products endorsed by Planet Ark for their eco-friendliness.  Congratulations on doing what you can to tread lightly on our beautiful planet!   I've only ever known beauty products to come in plastic bottles - what are yours made of?

GC:  Our cream and lotions are packaged into airless pumps (made from recyclable PP) but the over-caps are made from 100% post consumer recycle cardboard. 

These beautifully designed, 100% recycled caps can even be used as seedling planters once the product is used!
For our toothpaste we developed a concentrate which is equal in strength to 6 x 110g tubes of toothpaste and equates to 300 brushes. We still use a LDPE tube but we have, in effect, saved 5 tubes of toothpaste packaging from ending up in landfill by designing our product as a concentrate.

Our liquid bottles are made with NatureWorks™ BIOpack bottles which use 100% annually renewable plant resources NOT oil and offer a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional petroleum based plastics.

AMGL: You've mentioned that all of your products are free from palm oil.  What's the deal with palm oil?
The biggest problem with palm oil is that rainforests are cleared to grow palm oil plants.  This is a huge problem, especially in Indonesia, where most of our palm oil comes from because when we clear rainforests we also destroy the habitat of orang-utans.

AMGL:  Thanks so much Grace for joining us on A Modern Girl's Life!  

If you are as inspired as I am to learn more about this company or purchase the products,
Pure & Green Organics is available in health and organic stores Australia-wide and you can also purchase the products online.  


  1. What a fab post, i have skim read it all and will be re reading it in detail tonight when my kids are in bed. I am a conscious consumer yet i learned so much, will be checking every single one of my products.

  2. Hi Rockmelon,

    Yes I know it's a long post but Grace is just such a wealth of knowledge! Glad you learnt as much as I did from her. I'm looking forward to trying her products too - I'll make sure I post about it when I do.

    Mandy x

  3. Enjoyed your post so much I got straight onto Pure & Green's website and ordered some products - they are beautiful! Congratulations Grace.
    Many thanks Mandy for the introduction to this fabulous range,

  4. Oh Heddy you are very welcome!! I'm so pleased to hear you headed straight to the site to support Graces work. Isn't it just so much nicer to buy something when you hear the story behind the products? Please let me know how you like the products when you get them!
    Mandy x

  5. "Get beauty care products, like perfumes, makeup, and lotions, totally free at


Thanks for taking the time to comment - you are wonderful! xxx

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