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Tata Harper on Starting a Natural Skincare Line, Her Favourite Products and Best Skin Tips

The green beauty entrepreneur shares the inspiration behind her brand, how she sources clean ingredients, and more.

I'm fairly certain that part of the success of Tata Harper Skincare is because people actually want to BE Tata Harper.

The Colombian-born entrepreneur is a glowing advertisement for the green beauty lifestyle. Her complexion is absolutely luminous (even without a trace of foundation), she radiates with energy, and her rural Vermont lifestyle sounds positively idyllic.

Tata's farm is also the headquarters of her eponymous skincare line, launched in 2010. The 100 percent natural, EcoCert-certified products are all handmade on location, using many ingredients that are grown right in her backyard. They're also chicly packaged in recyclable green glass, proving that "organic" and "luxurious" can go hand-in-hand.

During her recent trip to Toronto, I got to meet Tata in person, and learned all about how she started her beauty empire, her approach to skincare, and what we'll be seeing from the brand next.

With Tata Harper at her press event in Toronto.

How would you describe your approach to skincare?

What we stand for is the highest grade of botanicals, mixed together in a complex formula—not simple formulas by any means. 

And our products are completely pure. So you don't need to be thinking "Oh, what is this weird chemical?" or "What is this going to be rated when it's studied 20 years from now because they haven't been using it for a long time?"

How did you first become interested in natural products?

I started this company because I was on a journey with my stepfather, who got diagnosed with cancer about 10 years ago. He got treated in the US, and at the time I was living in Miami. I went with him to so many doctors because he did a lot of Eastern and Western medicine. 

Now, he's a cancer survivor. But what I realized along the way is that lifestyle, and those little choices that you make every day, affect so much of your health and well-being. I didn't realize it before that. 

So I started re-thinking everything after this experience with him. We started changing our food, eating organic food, changing the way we cleaned the house, changing the shampoos, conditioners and products for the face. The whole thing.

How did that lead to creating your own skincare line?

Being a Latin woman, I love beauty. All Latin women love beauty. For us, it's not a luxury. It's not a chore that we don't have time for. It's a pampering experience. 

I was able to find replacements for pretty much everything except for skincare and makeup. Makeup is still a problem, by the way. 

For skincare, I'd go to the stores where I would always buy beauty, and they would be like, "Yes, Tata, this has algae." Or rose, or orchids, or that one natural ingredient. 

So you think everything's natural, but then you turn around the box, and it's like, "Wait! This has PEG-30." I would go home and Google. "PEG-30. A form of battery acid." Propylene glycol. "What is that? Oh, it's antifreeze added to cosmetic products."

So I'm like, "Why is it that I'm spending a fortune here?" Yes, they have algae or whatever. But then they mix it with the lowest common denominators—the most industrial, cheap chemicals. And I'm putting that on my face every day?

So I thought, "I can't be the only person who is looking high and low for good products."

Tata Harper's winter skincare products. (Photo: Tata Harper)

What didn't you like about the skincare products at the health food store?

I was never really the person who bought beauty products, like eye cream and stuff like that, at Whole Foods or in supermarkets. That's where natural products typically were found. Because natural beauty evolved that way, it has been overshadowed by so much skepticism. People always wonder "Does it work? Does it do what it's supposed to do?" 

The reality is, the natural products that were first introduced into the market were not the most high-end, were not the most luxurious, were not the most high-quality. So it's not a surprise that people were having bad experiences.

Is your brand focused on any specific ingredients?

I dedicated almost five years of my life to work with eight chemists who make these formulas from scratch. Not from a base, like the majority of companies do, but from scratch. 

Our line doesn't necessarily revolve around one active ingredient, like we're used to hearing. "Oh, this is all about vitamin C, or ferulic acid, or whatever." It's really about a combination of many actives. Why does it need to be just one?

Our serums, for example, have 30-something active ingredients. Our cleansers have 12 active ingredients. So that in one bottle, you're able to get benefits from multiple ingredients, not just one. 

And then you can also rest assured that the rest of the formula and the rest of the ingredients—that no one talks about or no one focuses on—are equally as good. Like the preservatives.

What do you use as preservatives?

We bring a lot of preservatives from Germany. They are one of the leaders in preservation technology. We preserve all of our products with things like radish root and anisic acid. Things that are sometimes 20 times more expensive than their synthetic alternatives, but they're better for you.

Have you found natural replacements for other common skincare ingredients?

It's the same with everything else. We don't use PEG-30 to emulsify. Emulsifiers bind water and oil ingredients together to create creams, so you can have an emulsion. 

Instead of using the typical PEGs, we use waxes from olives that come from Milan, or gums that we bring from trees in Senegal. 

So you're able to have that same luxurious texture and the same preservation and everything else, but without having any synthetic chemicals.

Tata Harper's 1,200-acre farm in Vermont. (Photo: Tata Harper)

Where are your products made?

The other thing that is really unique about our line is that we actually make our products. We don't outsource production like the majority of the cosmetic lines that just outsource everything to the same five contract manufacturers, whether in LA or outside of New York.

I actually live on my farm in Vermont, and we converted three dairy barns. We gutted them out and that's where we have our offices and our manufacturing facility.

On the farm, we also grow ingredients that go into the line. We grow calendula, we grow arnica, we grow meadowsweet, we grow borage and alfalfa. We actually make a complex. It's called the "Estate-Grown Beauty Complex," and that ingredient goes into all of our products. 

It gets mixed in with ingredients that we bring in from every corner of the globe. Right now, we bring in ingredients from 48 different countries. 

Sometimes, it's invisible to customers. But for us, it's so important to be able to do it so that when customers get them, the products are fresh. And they've been made just a few weeks ago instead of six months ago and being stored in a warehouse.

The Tata Harper Estate-Grown Beauty Complex. (Photo: Tata Harper)

What's your daily skincare routine?

I can't live without the Regenerating Cleanser. It's a great way of cleansing your skin without putting soap on it, or depleting your skin of moisture. 

Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser

Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser

Soap is a cheap way of cleansing the skin because it brings the pH really, really high. It opens the barrier and you lose all your hydration. So this cleanser keeps your hydration levels intact.

After that, I apply the Hydrating Floral Essence, which is a hydrating toner. It helps boost your hyaluronic acid.

Tata Harper Hydrating Floral Essence

Tata Harper Hydrating Floral Essence

And then I put the Rejuvenating Serum on, which is my top, top product. That one is all about improving your collagen fibres by repairing and stimulating collagen. It has 29 actives.

Tata Harper Rejuvenating Serum

Tata Harper Rejuvenating Serum

After that, the Replenishing Nutrient Complex would be the next thing. It's basically a complete multivitamin supplement, but topically applied. 

Tata Harper Replenishing Nutrient Complex

Tata Harper Replenishing Nutrient Complex

So it replenishes vitamins, minerals, Omegas, amino acids and antioxidants. It's all for environmental aging and it's a great protectant for the skin.

Do you do any skin treatments?

I love doing the whole multi-masking thing. I love putting the Resurfacing Mask all over. 

Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask

Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask

Then I put the Purifying Mask in the T-zone.

Tata Harper Purifying Mask

Tata Harper Purifying Mask

It's not something I do every day, but you should put masks on once a week, at least. 

What's the biggest mistake you think women make with their skin?

I think a lot of people are abusing acid peels. Oh my God. There's obviously a time for peels. You know, if you have a lot of acne, if you have a lot of rough skin, or if you want to bring that glow back. But I feel that women now are over-using them to the point where they use them daily. 

If you think about it, it's an acid. Usually the goal of anti-aging is to make your skin thicker, to make your skin more supple, to make it more resistant. Basically, with all these peels, you're just making it thinner and more fragile.

Imagine if you are driving a car always in first gear. You burn the engine. That's exactly what's happening. There is a certain life span to the amount of cellular renewal that you have, the stem cells, so you really need to be careful with that.

Tata Harper at Neiman Marcus. (Photo: Tata Harper)

What would you suggest instead of acids?

I think that you should try a regimen that replenishes your skin, that helps make it more supple and builds up resistance instead of trying to thin it out, which is what acid would do with long-term use.

People should try to buy products that are more replenishing, to help enhance moisture in the dermis and to replenish the collagen fibres that make the foundation of your skin more resistant and strong. 

That's the ultimate strategy, to do real anti-aging that has to do with improving the structural support of your skin, instead of trying to peel off the surface so much.

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From The Skincare Edit Archives

Are there any exfoliating products your the line?

The Regenerating Cleanser gives you both chemical and physical exfoliation, because it has apricot seed powder that removes all that dead skin we're accumulating every day. So the skin is constantly being decongested. And then it's cleansing with pink French clay and pomegranate enzymes and grapefruit and neroli. It's really uplifting.

The Resurfacing Mask is an exfoliating, hydroxy treatment mask. It has a lot of enzymes and clay to purge and detoxify the skin. It really helps bring that instant glow to the face and immediately brightens up the skin. It also helps minimize pores and even out tone. It's great for pimples, and as a spot treatment at night because of the salicylic acid content of the willow bark.