Formulating for Indie Beauty Special Newsletter

Formulating an indie beauty brand story with regional ingredients

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / (PatrickPoendl)
Getty Images / (PatrickPoendl)
In the beauty and wellness space, a well-constructed brand story can capture the attention of consumers, buyers, and media. To find out just how regional ingredients can effectively inform and inspire an indie brand and its story, Cosmetics Design checked in with 2 founders: Holly Harding of O’o Hawaii and Ikram Elharti of Sahara Rose.

For both brands, regional ingredients figure heavily in product formulations and brand story.

Holly Harding describes her brand like this: “O'o Hawaii features crystal infused, clean beauty formulas with plant based clinical level actives and high performance antioxidant super foods from Hawaii.”

And according to Elharti, “Sahara Rose is an authentic clean wellness-inspired beauty brand, for body and mind, powered by ancient beauty wisdom from the Mediterranean and the Sahara Desert.”

When considered side by side O’o Hawaii and Sahara Rose illustrate how valuable regional ingredients can be to establishing the identity of niche brands and beauty startups.

Sourced from Hawaii

All O’o Hawaii skin care products are formulated with at least one ingredient from the islands. “We believe it's important to share the nutrient rich ingredients grown in Hawaii with the rest of the world,” ​Harding tells Cosmetics Design. “We also believe in supporting local,” ​she says.

“Hawaii is a very unique and special place and evokes special memories, nostalgia and romanticism.  These three feelings are the essence of our brand and the incredible ingredients that are grown in Hawaii complete the dreamy story that transports our customers to paradise on so many levels,” ​explains Harding. The ingredients she’s referring to include red algae and spirulina, noni, coffeeberry, kukui nut oil, and macadamia nut oil, as well as strawberry guava—when it’s available. 

Explaining the importance of regional ingredients even further, Harding, says, “Ingredients from Hawaii played a major role in our formulation.  Our supplement for instance, is built on the groundwork of what Hawaiian noni and Hawaii spirulina have to offer in terms of results.  In addition, our eye cream is built around Kona coffeeberry, which helps to perk up the eye area with its caffeine rich antioxidant benefits.”

Inspired by the islands

Of course not all of the ingredients used in O’o Hawaii product formulations come from the islands. Some, it’s fair to say, are simply inspired by Hawaii.

“Pineapple, for instance is a quintessential crop in Hawaii,”​ acknowledges Harding. “However, Bromelain, which is a digestive enzyme from pineapple (used in our supplement) is not manufactured and distributed from Hawaii pineapple.  So, we have to source that ingredient elsewhere.  You might also think you could source coconut in Hawaii but it's just not available for manufacturing purposes.”

A personal connection

Understandably, Harding’s founder story and the O’o Hawaii brand story are closely intertwined. “I absolutely love my life in Hawaii and have tried to show my love for the land, the culture and everything that makes it such a special place in my brand,” ​Harding tells Cosmetics Design. “From the ingredients to the brand name to the more laid back approach of our branding, the island lifestyle is ever present.”

“I have lived in Hawaii for over 15 years and it's truly my home. I can't image living anywhere else and I've been all over the world.  I love everything about this place.  I learned to surf shortly after I moved here and got hooked.  The rest was history after that.  Hawaii has the best surfing in the world and it's so amazing to be immersed in a  life that revolves around the ocean.  In addition, it's consistently voted the healthy state in the union.  My own healthy lifestyle is reflected in the brand and it aligns so well with where I live and the people that surround me here on the North Shore.”

Asked if her brand could exist without a connection to Hawaii, she replies, “It could however, it probably wouldn't be as special.”

A link to the Sahara Desert

Not unlike Harding’s founder story, Ikram Elharti’s story is very neatly linked to the region that inspires and supplies her brand, Sahara Rose.

“I grew up close to the northwestern part of the Sahara, in Morocco, where I was introduced to the art of self-care and self-indulgence from an early age,”​ Elharti tells Cosmetics Design. “Very young, I used to spend my summers at my grandmother’s farm, making skincare and learning about ingredients. Most were sourced from healers from the Sahara, known for their ancient therapeutic wisdom.” ​Elharti emphasizes that “Sahara Rose is inspired by this ancient heritage, and powered by clean science.”

“Most of the ancient traditions of the Sahara, like most African medicinal traditions, were orally transmitted,” ​Elharti explains to Cosmetics Design. “At Sahara Rose, we do not only source our ingredients from the Sahara but we are truly connected to that part of the world. We built and continue building human connections with our suppliers, who are mostly women cooperatives and small-scale agriculture. We speak their language. We are connected and represent an extension of the beauty wisdom and spirit of this region.”

Treasures of the desert

Sahara Rose skin, bath, and body care products are formulated with ingredients from the Sahara Dessert and surrounding Mediterranean region.

According to Elharti, “Some of the purest and organic ingredients sourced include rare oils, antioxidants-rich rose water, mineral rich clays, and precious botanicals and essences like saffron.”

“An example of the oils we source is prickly pear seed oil. It is referred to as the ‘Green Gold’ and is extremely rich in vitamin E,” ​she says, going on to notes that, “We are introducing another remarkable ingredient to our formulations, the Phoenix dactylifera seed oil, a remarkable oxidative powerhouse.”

And, she says, “the saffron we source at the entrance of the Sahara, is one of the finest in the world. It is actually the fourth largest producing region on the globe.”

Informed by indigenous wisdom

“Sahara Rose is an authentic line. It is a faithful extension of the traditional Sahara beauty and wellness knowledge and customs that offer not only tangible benefits of healthy, young and fresh skin but also a self-care ritual of calm and balance,” ​Elharti tells Cosmetics Design.

Hers is certainly a brand that is only and entirely possible because of a close connection to the Sahara region. “Unlike the perception one might have of the desert being lifeless, it has some of the most breathtaking oases, with powerful plants that have to endure extreme temperatures and sometimes survive [for long] periods without water,” ​explains Elharti.  

And at the end of the day, that inspiration translates in to efficacy: At Sahara Rose “our formulation decisions were based on clinical studies that have shown that the phytochemical and antioxidant properties of these ingredients are superior and give tangible results,” ​emphasizes Elharti.



Deanna Utroske, Editor, covers beauty business news in the Americas region and publishes the weekly Indie Beauty Profile column, showcasing the inspiring work of entrepreneurs and innovative brands.

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