Gold Coast’s own skincare brands take on the world

The Australian skincare market is worth billions annually and is dominated by giant multinational brands, such as Olay, L’Oreal Paris and Neutrogena. Now, manufacturers on the Gold Coast are taking their products global.

May 23, 2023, updated May 25, 2023
Skin O2's Alison Atia with Queensland Trade Commissioner for India Abhinav Bhatia

Skin O2's Alison Atia with Queensland Trade Commissioner for India Abhinav Bhatia

The last twenty years have seen an explosion in new skincare brands globally, including Australian-grown formulations produced by plastic and cosmetic surgeons.

The Gold Coast is emerging as a serious cosmeceutical, skincare and beauty hub, producing not just for the domestic market, but for export too. This drive has in part been driven by concerns around protecting against and reversing sun damage.

We look at three skincare brands that are seeing serious growth from their base on the Gold Coast.

Skin O2

COVID lockdowns and maskne were the driving forces behind Skin O2 launching a retail website to sell direct to consumers.

Until then the company, founded in 2005 by cosmetic surgeon Dr Aaron Atia and his life partner and CEO Alison Atia, had been focused on meeting the surging demand from the professional market – doctors, medical clinics, aesthetic clinics and pharmacies.

The cosmeceutical range arose from formulations and protocols Dr Atia developed to treat his own patients, with sensitive or acne-prone skin, as they recovered from skin cancer surgery.

“We never originally planned to create a skincare or cosmeceutical brand at all,” Alison explained.

“We were really just focused on treating patients and getting the best skin outcomes.”

She said in producing dermaceutical products for people with sensitive skin concerns, the company’s key point of difference has been the encapsulation of active ingredients.

“Usually a lot of ingredients you could put in, they’re not buffered and they might be irritating for the skin – like retinol, salicylic acid, vitamin C.

“Ours is a costly two-step process. But because we micro encapsulate within a double liposome, we can put those active ingredients into the skin.

“So, skin can regenerate and heal quicker, but without irritation.”

Knowing they had a winning product range, pre-COVID, the pair took advantage of international trade programs offered by the City of Gold Coast and Trade and Investment Queensland to break into the professional market overseas, including India and Dubai.

This led Skin O2 to expand to more countries and develop a network of wholesalers and distributors. The manufacturing plant on the Gold Coast is GMP standard, enabling the company to tap into EU markets, where the certification is required.

Trade programs from City of Gold Coast and Queensland Government have helped Skin O2 break into overseas markets

When the thousands of beauty salons they supplied were forced to close during lockdowns, the company found a new market.

“COVID really pushed us to go direct to consumer – and that was a game changer globally for us as well,” Alison said.

Sales of the cruelty-free and vegan skincare and makeup ranges have stayed satisfyingly high since the consumer website’s global launch, and Alison said “there is no going back”. The brand has also built a strong following among models and doctors treating celebrities, both locally and internationally.

Recent gold and silver wins at the highly competitive 2023 Global Makeup Awards – Asia have helped the company sign more contracts in Vietnam.

Skin O2 now has around 20 employees on the Gold Coast and is in the process of updating its packaging to reduce its carbon footprint.

“We’re quite passionate to bring change in other countries,” said Alison of the company’s stand on clean beauty and eco packaging.

“Australia and Queensland are good like that, and now the beauty buyers are coming around in other countries. So, that’s really great.”

Roccoco Botanicals

Roccoco Botanicals founder and chief cosmetic chemist Jacine Greenwood-Drummond

It is not often you hear of an Australian brand that is huge overseas and less well known at home. But Roccoco Botanicals is one such success story coming from the Gold Coast.

Founder, chief cosmetic chemist and CEO Jacine Greenwood-Drummond launched the brand in 2013.

For four years, she travelled back and forth to the US to run education programs in skincare clinics, sharing the formulations she developed for her own acne-prone skin. By 2018, the (then) self-taught chemist had “cracked the American market”.

“But I soon realised that if we were to ever reach our potential as a business and really grow, we needed to invest in equipment,” recalled Jacine.

“That investment was a huge turning point for us, because it’s really allowed us to scale our growth.”

The company has outgrown its manufacturing base on the Gold Coast three times since 2018 and is now settled in Yalata.

“One of the reasons I love the Gold Coast region is there’s just so much ability to scale up here versus other areas,” she said.

“Moving in this region, I’ve still been able to stay local to where we are. And it’s been no big change for my staff – it’s a two or three-minute drive difference.”

While Roccoco sells direct to consumers via its website, around 70 per cent of its sales are through clinics.

Jacine Greenwood-Drummond is known internationally for her innovative, efficacious formulations

The company is on track for 25 per cent year-on-year growth in 2023. Incredibly, this has all been achieved without any paid advertising until March of this year. Word of mouth is its superpower.

Jacine’s US skincare group now numbers more than 10,000 members and she will be speaking at the influential IECSC Las Vegas 2023 in June. New Zealand is also taking off as an export market.

Roccoco is also capturing the attention of its competitors. Roccoco’s Ruby Crystal Cleanser won the 2022 Cosmetics & Toiletries Alle Award for The Most Significant Skin/Body Care Formula in the Indie category.

The awards honour the “scientific discipline, formulating skills, resourcefulness and creativity of innovators” and are judged by cosmetic chemists, including ones from Chanel and Estee Lauder.

“We are the only Australian company to ever win,” Jacine said.

“It was a huge kudos to us because I think that everyone thinks cosmetic innovation is Europe and France.

“They don’t think of Australia and the talent we’ve got in our own backyard. So, that was massive to take out that award.”

A recent grant from the Queensland Government’s Business Growth Fund has partially funded additional equipment needed to meet the company’s rapid growth.

“We’re planning on getting into Canada, the UK and eventually Europe at some point next year. But that’s not scalable without the equipment,” Jacine said.

Jacine’s love of the creative process for “bringing out something innovative” and the company’s focus on efficacy and rapid results are propelling the brand’s growth.

“At the risk of sounding egotistical, I do believe we’ve got the potential to be a billion-dollar company,” she said.


Issada manufactures its skincare range on the Gold Coast

Issada owner and director Deb Farnworth-Wood had a growth strategy “ready to go” when she purchased the established brand in 2020.

“My skill set is business growth,” said Deb, who founded the Australian Skin Clinics franchise, taking it to 60 clinics before selling in 2019.

“The strategy involved increasing the product range to include clinical skincare, increasing the production, warehouse, and admin facilities, and expanding into new markets.

“No one thing created a turning point [in business growth since the purchase] – it was more of a carefully curated strategy encompassing many initiatives to first prepare and then to scale the business.

Issada was established in 2006 and shortly after launching opened its first concept store in Brisbane. Initially, it was a makeup brush brand loved by celebrities but introduced mineral makeup soon after, selling through salons, spas and skin clinics. The brand had a cult following with incredible repeat purchase rates.

Deb Farnworth-Wood bought Issada from her friend and the brand’s founder Fiona Neale in 2020

When Deb bought the business, it launched online to broaden the appeal to a wider demographic. She is ambitious for the company and its further growth.

“The sky’s the limit!” Deb said. “As we are currently consolidating and growing our Australian market to be ready for scale up, the next step is the international market – of which we are currently in the process of entering and, of course, conquering.

“The fact that we are a cosmeceutical, clinical range of skincare and mineral makeup, means that our products provide clinically based benefits for the skin to improve not only the health, but also the quality and look of a person’s skin in the future.

“We also use Clean Science, which means our products are designed and formulated without known ingredients that can irritate or give negative effects to the skin’s integrity.

“Having expertise in both clinical skincare and a comprehensive range of professional makeup products, definitely sets us apart from our clinical competitors.”

Last year, Issada opened a new state of the art manufacturing facility at Helensvale for its clinical skincare products.

“Having onsite manufacturing means we can ensure the quality of each and every product – from research, development and formulation, through to every stage of the manufacturing process in our state-of-the-art facility,” Deb said.

“Most companies use a third-party contract manufacturer, and they don’t have the luxury of having this level of quality assurance.”

The company’s formulations use innovative, science-based ingredients that have been independently clinically tested to perform, which are used at therapeutic doses to guarantee their effectiveness.

“We couple these ingredients with powerful and concentrated plant extracts that take natural to the next level [and] make formidable changes to the skin’s health and ability to function in its best possible way, creating a more beautiful looking skin – naturally!” Deb explained.

Like Alison Atia from Skin O2, Deb said being based on the Gold Coast has offered a good testing ground for skincare products.

“It affords us the luxury of convenience and the ability to test our products in one of the harshest environments – the Queensland sun!” Deb said.

“We have to deal with a lot of skin problems here under these conditions and we know if our products outperform our competitors in this environment, they will certainly work just as well around the world.

“So, no trade-offs, in fact the Gold Coast allows us a competitive edge!”

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