Irene Forte has created the most wonderful collection of skincare products founded on her Italian roots and focused on her passion for sustainability. I caught up with Irene to discover how her brand has evolved and her skincare tips post-summer, as well as to listen to her self-care rituals, with much of an emphasis on sleep!
Tell me a bit about Irene Forte Skincare and what inspires you
As an Italian who grew up in the UK, I’ve always wanted to create something that connected me back to my roots. I also fell in love with Sicily, and wanted to do something that tied me back to this magical island. I first stepped foot in Sicily in 2003 to visit the site that would soon become Rocco Forte's Verdura Resort. Six years later, the resort opened its doors and I spent almost a year working there. I was living in the resort, and didn’t have a car, so I spent evenings testing lots of different things in the spa with the Spa Manager, and from that point I got into beauty. I also fell in love with the people, the culture, the food and the breath-taking nature of the island.
Later in 2014, when I started overseeing the spas for Rocco Forte Hotels, I decided to create a small line (Forte Organics) that unified all of our spas with signature Rocco Forte Rituals. I knew I wanted to use ingredients grown on Verdura’s Organic Farm, so I set about looking for a lab in Italy that would be able to formulate with them. After meeting with a number of labs, I came across Doctor Francesca Ferri of EffegiLab in Trento; I immediately knew she was the perfect fit to help me bring the line to life. The immediate positive reception to this first line made me want to learn more, create more and launch an even better and bigger line that was my own. Therefore, I worked with Ferri and tested formulas in our spas over three years, before finally launching Irene Forte Skincare.
How has the brand evolved and what is important to you?
My original vision for the brand has remained the same; I still have the same core propositions: Mediterranean diet for your skin; spa-grade (we tried and tested the products for over 3 years with spa professionals); growing out own fruits, herbs, and flowers; nature shaped by science (natural products that are formulated by cosmetic scientists led by pharmacologist Doctor Francesca Ferri, who has over 35 years of experience); and sustainability (built into our DNA from the start).
Nevertheless, I'm constantly finding ways to improve upon these core propositions and develop the brand further. For example, I'm launching refillables for my next production run, I'm doing the Vegan OK registration, and I'm currently doing anti-wrinkle clinical trials on the Hibiscus Serum and Hibiscus Night Cream products. Of course, you learn what customers like and don't like and how retailers work and adapt to that, but the core vision has always been quite consistent.
After the summer season our skin can often suffer from clogged pores, dehydrated, pigmentation, etc - what tips can you suggest on how to revive our skin post -summer?
I think one of the most obvious skin concerns post summer is dehydrated skin, as this can certainly be caused by prolonged exposure to the sun. Products with Vitamins E, C and A are great for combatting dehydrated skin. I would also always suggest using skincare with Hyaluronic Acid, a super hydrating ingredient that can enhance the moisture content in the skin, as well as revitalise the skin’s outer surface layers. I would also say to add a serum to your routine (I love my Hibiscus Serum), underneath your moisturiser, and to use a heavier cream at night (such as my Hibiscus Night Cream). I would also suggest doing a very hydrating face mask at least twice a week, such as my Pistachio Face Mask.
After prolonged exposure to the sun, you can also get a certain type of pigmentation known as lentigines, sun spots, age spots or liver spots. These are pigmented spots which vary in colour from light brown to black, and are caused by UV rays. Antioxidants are important to block enzymatic processes that make more pigment in the skin. Therefore, look out for products that are rich in antioxidants, such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E. All the Irene Forte Skincare products are packed with antioxidants. Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) is a great ingredient which slows pigment production (my Almond Eye Cream contains this ingredient). Also, look out for products with Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), which are an effective way of exfoliating dead cells from the surface of the skin to enhance radiance and improve hyperpigmentation. My Lemon Toner, Apricot Face Peel and Lavender & Rosemary Face Mask all contain a blend of AHAs. You should also look out for Azelaic Acid, which is present in my Lavender & Rosemary Face Mask; Azelaic acid is known to inhibit the enzyme tyrosinase, which is needed for the production of melanin. Other important ingredients include hydroquinone (which also inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase) and retinoid (which can also enhance a hydroquinone treatment). However, I would recommend getting these from products prescribed by a dermatologist or doctor.
All that sweating and heavy sunscreens can also result in very congested skin. When your skin is congested, the cleansing part of your routine is extremely important. I would recommend a light foam cleanser, such as my Lavender & Rosemary Foam Cleanser. You can also double cleanse if necessary. An Ultrasonic Spatula is also a great tool to use a few times a week during the cleansing step to unclog blocked pores, remove blackheads, eliminate dead skin cells and improve overall skin texture. Alternatively, Foreo has a great cleansing tool. I would recommend never missing the toner step when you have congested skin. I would suggest using a brightening toner/ something with AHAs or other acids, such as my Lemon Toner or Biologique Recherche's P50. I would then suggest moisturising with something light or a gel-like-texture moisturiser, e.g. my Lavender & Rosemary Face Cream. You don't want anything that is too rich that's going to clog your pores more, but it's also very important to keep your skin hydrated. I would also recommend doing an AHA peel or another acid peel once or twice a week; my Apricot Face Peel is great for this. I would also suggest a purifying mask twice a week; I think kaolin clay is great- clays may be old-fashioned, but they work wonders for congested skin because of their ability to attract oil and lightly exfoliate skin. I also love my Lavender & Rosemary Face Mask, which contains a good mix of acids, along with a number of soothing and anti-inflammatory ingredients.
As we go into Autumn and the nights draw in, what skincare routine would you suggest following a bath, to help us unwind and relax?
I would actually recommend a ritual with the bath. Light a candle; I love the Bjoerk & Berries candles. Put some Epsom Bath Salts in the bath to relax the muscles; I love the nature of things Fortifying Magnesium Soak. Body Brush whilst in the bath to boost circulation. After the bath, apply some body oil on damp skin; I always apply my Rose Body Oil. Apply a face oil doing some self-massage techniques on the face; I recommend either my Rose or my Orange Blossom Face Oil. Put on some amazing Sian Esther pyjamas!
What other wellness and self-care rituals do you practice?
So, my first ritual is sleep. I sleep about 8.5 hours per night and never jeopardise sleep for work, etc. Sleep is essential for your health and skin. The World Health Organisation and the National Sleep Foundation both stipulate that we need eight hours of sleep per night. In his book ‘Why We Sleep’, Matthew Walker states that sleeping less than six or seven hours per night demolishes your immune system. Sian's beautiful pyjamas are the perfect tool for promoting sleep.
My second is having a healthy and balanced diet. I follow a Mediterranean diet, which is widely believed to be the cleanest, healthiest and most balanced diet in the world, associated with good health and longevity. It is not about faddy trends and unsustainable eating habits (just like my skincare).
My third is regular exercise, vital for good health, and the skin thanks to the fact that it assists with the internal movement of blood, nutrients, oxygen and cellular energy.
I also have a stringent AM/PM skincare routines, which have become my morning and evening rituals. I do regular facials, and, on top of that, I’m a sucker for longer at-home facial rituals.
What makes Irene Forte Skincare so special?
There are not many strong Italian skincare brands that have made it abroad (despite the fact that Italy has some of the best cosmetic labs). Therefore, it's special because I'm promoting the Mediterranean Diet for Skin and 100% Made in Italy skincare to an international audience.
The fact that we grow our own ingredients in Sicily.
We are a brand that has grown and developed in the spa world. Irene Forte Skincare has been tried, tested and approved by spa professionals. Not many spa heritage brands tend to work well in the retail world - conversely, we're spa-grade, but we have always kept retail in mind (particularly through our packaging).
We're a natural brand backed by science; this has been possible due to pharmacologist Doctor Ferri, who has over 35 years of experience in making cosmetics. Many natural brands can fall short on the science side.
We're skin kind; not everything in nature is good for you. Many natural brands use essential oils which have allergens in them; the Irene Forte Skincare fragrances have been allergy-screened and we do things not to follow the trends, but because they are healthy for the skin.
Sustainability is an ethical principle for us (I talk more about it below).
You have a strong belief in sustainability, in what ways are your products and processes sustainable?
Sustainability is part of our DNA; it was not simply an afterthought. People, community and planet all fall under sustainability for us, and we're committed to ensuring that all of our processes are as sustainable as possible. No one is ever 100% perfect, but we are constantly striving to find ways to improve.
We source ingredients from our organic farm in Sicily, and we don’t use harmful chemicals and plastic microbeads in our skincare, minimising
soil and water pollution. Any ingredients that cannot come from Sicily are sourced from reputable farmers in the area of Trentino, where our lab is based. We also avoid the use of palm oil and mineral oil in our products. Our ingredients are all vegan.
90% of our products are housed in glass packaging. We use plastic for 10% of our products that cannot be housed in glass. Bioplastic
and post-consumer recycled plastics are a more costly option and the minimum quantities are still incredibly high. For our first production run, these quantities were not a realistic option, but for our new production any plastic used is in bioplastic. We are also launching refillables in January 2021. We do not use plastic wrapping on our retail boxes, and our boxes are made from 100% recycled fibres, with vegetable and soya-based inks.
We support the local Sicilian community in many ways. We source ingredients that we cannot grow/ produce on our organic farm from other farmers in Sicily, such as pistachio oil, white wine, water, etc. We use hand-painted Sicilian ceramics across all of our spas globally and to display products on retail shelves. We use handmade Sicilian bells across all of our treatments. We also use Mount Etna volcanic stone in our treatments. We have also recently launched gift packaging 'coffa' bags, 100% handmade in Sicily. We are continuing to explore how we can further support the local community, such as looking into a social farm.
We have been accredited by Positive Luxury for sustainable excellence.