Neve’s Bees make their bee-autiful skin products using only pure beeswax and plant ingredients. Frank talks to their founder Julie Macken about the myths surrounding some ‘natural’ skincare and why her range is the bees’ knees.
We love the name Neve’s Bees. Where did the inspiration for the name come from?
Julie Macken: When my daughter, Neve, was 9 years old she decided we should keep bees. She asked her grandad Jim to buy her some bees for her 10th birthday, which he duly did. So they really are Neve’s Bees!
What inspired you to start making your own skincare products?
Julie Macken: Neve and I both are prone to eczema. Whilst the causes are often dietary or stress-related, I believe the symptoms can be treated with a good skincare regime. With a background in chemistry, I became obsessed with the ingredients in skincare.
When I started studying for a qualification in herbal medicine, I realised how much of our skincare was damaging our skin still further. I simply could not find any skincare that was truly made from natural ingredients – so we started making our own!
Julie Macken: We love beeswax for many reasons! Its natural barrier properties help keep skin hydrated and protect it from environmental damage. Because it doesn’t block the pores, it allows the skin to breathe.
It’s a humectant – which means it draws water into the skin. It actually works in a very similar way to the fashionable (and normally synthetic!) hyaluronic acid. It contains vitamin A, which has been proven in multiple studies to reduce wrinkles and age spots while re-hydrating and reconstructing damaged skin cells.
It’s been used for thousands of years so its safety is well proven – I don’t put ‘on’ my skin anything that I wouldn’t put ‘in’ my skin – beeswax is definitely edible!
The products are made with a lot of thought. How do you make them? What is your elaboration process?
Julie Macken: Thank you! We start with the end product in mind, for example, is it for daily face cleansing, or to keep lips soft, or to make nails strong and healthy? Then we research traditional plants, flowers, infusions, oils, and butters, and start to make some recipes. We have many great old books of remedies and therapeutic plants, plus my degree in chemistry and training as a herbalist have also helped. We then make up recipes and give them to friends and family to try out – we have a lot of samples in our house and workshop!
We love your colourful and recyclable packaging! Tell us more about the sustainability of your products.
Julie Macken: When we first starting searching for natural products, the majority seemed very ‘beige’. Mother nature is rarely beige so we wanted to create a brand that was bright and joyful. Our lovely Designer Bee, Nikki, creates all the packaging using inspiration from plants and flowers.
We use recyclable tins, jars, bottles and labels, and recycled and recyclable (or compostable) board for our gift packs. Our plant oils and butters are ethically sourced and our tin supplier is part of ‘One Tree Planted’ – growing trees to offset any unavoidable carbon footprint.
We also use only local beeswax harvested by us and local beekeeping friends, so the environmental footprint is very low.
As a chemist, can you tell us a bit more about some of the chemicals we normally find in skincare – even some so-called natural products?
Julie Macken: Ointments and salves made from beeswax, plant oils, and plant infusions have been traced back thousands of years. It’s only in the last 100 years that petroleum-based salves have been used, and even more recently that water has been the main component of many skin care products.
To stabilise and preserve the water, compounds called biocides (such as parabens and other preservatives) are added.
Not only do these kill bugs that grow in water, but they kill the natural flora on your skin, leaving it open to the elements – causing dryness, irritation…and possibly worse. Have a look at the ingredients in your skincare – if they contain ‘aqua’ followed by other ingredients, at least one of these will be a preservative.
Many of the chemicals used frequently have only recently been extracted or synthesised, so we just don’t know the long-term damage they could do to us and our environment. For example, one of the main foaming agents used in much shampoo, toothpaste, bathing products, is SLS (Sodium Laureth Sulphate). Even brands who claim to be ‘green’ often use this chemical but there are fears that it is accumulating in our watercourses and damaging aquatic life, and also building up in the organs of humans.
Parabens are a preservative often cited as one of the ‘baddies’ – however the preservatives used to replace parabens are also starting to be questioned – we just don’t know the long-term effects of these molecules.
Many products contain ‘nature-inspired’ ingredients, where an assumed ‘active molecule’ is synthesised or extracted from all the other goodies in the plant, leaving it stripped of the symbiotic elements present in the whole plant.
We’re read how the wildflower meadows are in danger (especially in the UK). How are Neve’s Bees helping them thrive?
Julie Macken: Yes, it’s estimated that around 97% of our wildflower meadows have been destroyed since the 1970s. These wildflower meadows are vital to keep our pollinators and other insects safe.
With each order over £12 on our website, we include a pack of pollinator-friendly wildflower seeds (enough to plant a square metre ‘mini-meadow’). We donate 10% of our profits to wildlife charities such as PlantLife and we frequently post hints and tips to bring back the wildflowers and the pollinators they support.
Why is it so important to you to be a brand that does good as well as creating lovely products?
Julie Macken: Having worked for large corporations for many years, where the overriding objective is to sell more, make money, and maximise shareholder profits, I realised I’d had enough and wanted to do something that felt more useful.
I truly and passionately believe that we need to save our beautiful wildflower meadows and countryside and it feels fab that our little business is not only creating products that people love, but we’re also leaving a lasting legacy.