Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies – and the most visible – so it pays to treat it right. Huel speaks to Sabrina Elba, founder of skincare brand S’ABLE Labs, to find out how we should all be taking care of our skin in 2024.
Along with her husband, the actor Idris Elba, Sabrina Elba is on a mission. Their aim? To change a skincare industry that is long overdue a makeover.
They are both founders of the genderless skincare brand S’ABLE Labs (S’ABLE is Elbas spelled backward) – born from Sabrina’s lifelong passion, and the pair bonding over this interest during a rare period of downtime brought on by the 2020 COVID lockdowns.
“During COVID, we talked and we shared products and on educating him [Idris], he was essentially educating me without me knowing it,” says Sabrina. “He kept asking me questions like, why do you use all these things if they don't work? Those questions really helped me self-reflect on not only the [skincare] industry but what I was using and what I was buying.
“When he found out a lot of the stuff that we found out in our journey about the marketing ploys behind skincare and the false advertising, he became as impassioned as I am to take on this mission”
Gradually, both became more aware of the need for a skincare range that actually worked; simplifying things while doing away with the meaningless marketing and outdated definitions that have become the standard in the industry.
“One of the reasons we started was because it just felt there was not only a pink attack on women's skincare,” says Sabrina, “but men's skincare on the opposite end of the spectrum was also a bit of a cheaper experience and didn't have the integrity as many female brands did.
“It was quite dumbed down for men. It would use words like invigorate and not explain what it's actually doing…. You find products in every color except one that a guy would maybe put on his shelf.
“With our brand, we wanted not only the packaging to feel neutral, but the language to feel neutral so that it was speaking to everyone. Because skin is skin, you know. We all should be taking care of our skin.”
4 years later and S’ABLE Labs has gone from a lockdown passion project to a fully-fledged international brand. Having launched just over a year ago, the range has since won several beauty awards and is now stocked in leading beauty retailer SpaceNK. When she’s not revolutionizing the skincare industry, Sabrina is also a Huel investor (with Idris) and a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations, with a focus on helping local farmers in Africa (born in Canada, Elba is of Somali descent).
Huel caught up with Sabrina at the beginning of the year to talk about S’ABLE Labs and the skincare habits we should all be following - especially men – in 2024.
The sheer amount of skincare products out there can be a massive barrier for men looking to upgrade their skincare routine. Where do you start then? Sabrina says to keep it simple: face wash, toner, and moisturiser is all you need to begin with.
“Idris said to me very early on he would never use ten things in a night,” says Sabrina. “So we developed this three-step program and it would be all you needed. Just to wash your face, spray on a toner and then slab on some moisturiser.”
“Once men figure it out, they're happy to adopt a routine as long as it's efficient.”
“There are only a small group of skin care ingredients that actually work,” says Sabrina. “We think antioxidants is a big one. Anything that is an occlusive. That is a humectant. It's going to keep moisture loss out there.
“Anything with retinoids will actually work. Only a handful of ingredients will actually work as exfoliating agents. So, you know, it's about finding a brand that just keeps it simple in that sense. And stick with what works.”
New to skincare? Here’s a short glossary of those terms:
Substances that help protect the skin's surface from oxidative damage caused by free radicals and environmental factors like UV and pollution.
Moisturizing agents that work by forming a protective layer on the surface of your skin and creating a barrier to prevent moisture loss.
These are substances that attract water. Similar to occlusives, they help hydrate the skin, hair, or nails. Examples include hyaluronic acid and glycerin.
Refers to a group of compounds derived from vitamin A. Commonly used to treat mild to moderate acne.
Granular substances that act like micro scrubs to physically buff the skin's surface to remove dead skin cell build-up.
“Your skin is an organ,” says Sabrina. “So how you treat it on the inside is just as important as how you treat it on the outside.
“We like to think about it as nurturing it from the inside out, and protecting it from the outside in. So we protect with our skincare, which we formulated. But we love to nurture skin care with our lifestyle and our meals. And Huel plays into that quite easily. With Huel you have a really easy way to have a nutritious meal. You can't think of anything more efficient than a Huel meal.
“Maybe there needs to be a S’ABLE and Huel smoothie to get the word out.”
“I would not recommend someone use soap on their skin,” says Sabrina. “Or any detergent that people think well ‘I use it on my body so why not my skin’, which men tend to do.
“Our skin is a different PH on our face than our body. And so the PH of a bar of soap or any detergent is going to be so much higher. Just keep in mind that skincare is formulated for face, and body soap is for your body.”
“What we didn't realize when we started [S’ABLE Labs] was how abusive the skincare industry is. You have farmers farming ingredients and sourcing ingredients for such little pay. In sometimes dangerous conditions.
“Shea butter is a really good example. It’s a commonly used skincare ingredient that's in almost everything you pick up off the shelf.
“But a lot of women die farming shea nuts and people don't talk about it enough.
“We talk about fair trade food. We talk about fair trade coffee. It's a little bit more obvious when it comes to food products. You see an ingredients list and you're asking where they came from. But we don't talk about fair trade skincare enough.
“When we were formulating [the products] we had barely anyone we could go to for how to do this properly. We had to go and find the farmers ourselves and build independent relationships. That's a really big part of our ethos and we were super proud to have been able to support farmers along the way.”
Words: Richard Jones
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