Ten years ago chemical engineering student Iliana Loza began making soaps at home after a discovery she made during the cosmetic formulation section of her chemical engineering degree.
She found that there are many synthetic and non-biodegradable ingredients in cosmetics and wanted to see if she could do things differently.
“When we use a shampoo or use a soap, we don’t realize that they contain many ingredients that don’t biodegrade,” Loza told Mexico News Daily. “In the end that impacts the environment and then our health because the ingredients get absorbed [into the skin].”
Initially, she made the soaps in her apartment and sold them to friends and family before taking the sales online. She credits the use of social media and the ability to utilize live broadcasts as having played a huge role in the success of her brand, Ahal, since it allowed her to easily spread a message about the impact of synthetic materials on the environment and health.
Ahal, which means “awakening” in Maya, is now one of the leading names in biocosmetics in Mexico.
A decade ago “there was no brand in Mexico that offered a super sustainable alternative,” said Loza. However, today many “large companies [in Mexico] are looking for a local, sustainable option,” she said, explaining that this year Ahal had found its way on to the shelves of the Liverpool department store.
Ahal produces more than 40 different products, everything from foundation, powder, blush, lipsticks and mascara to facial serums and oils as well as shampoos and soaps. The line is constantly expanding as Loza and her team find new and powerful ingredients.
Back in the early days when Loza realized there were no Mexican cosmetic companies using Mexican ingredients, she began to study endemic herbs and remedies from across the country.
“There were things that have been used for hundreds of years that weren’t in any commercialized product,” she said.
Her interest well and truly piqued she began to work with a laboratory to test certain plants and remedies to see what effect they had on the skin, discovering that many traditional ingredients do indeed have healing properties.
Loza spoke enthusiastically about tepezcohuite, the so-called arbol de la piel (tree of the skin) found in Chiapas that the Maya have been using for generations.
“When we studied it in the laboratory, we discovered that it has a lot of antioxidants,” Loza said.
It is not just the tepezcohuite that caught the attention of the now 14-strong team at Ahal. They now have a huge variety of other Mexican-sourced ingredients.
“The cacao butter comes from Tabasco. We use coconut, that comes from Colima. We use sustainable beeswax, which we bring from a Maya community in Yucatán in the middle of the jungle,” Loza said, also listing milk from goats that live in a cruelty-free environment in Nuevo León.
One of the newest products to make the cut is a face tonic made using the cempasúchil or marigold flower and well as the tuna roja, or red prickly pear fruit. The team discovered that the prickly pear hydrates the skin and allows it to retain moisture, while the marigold is great in combatting the effects of pollution on the skin.
Ahal also uses some oils from southern Africa and Madagascar. Marula, kalahari and mongongo oils used in some of their cosmetics come from fair trade organizations, ensuring that those producing them are treated and paid fairly.
It is clear that Ahal is focused on being socially and environmentally ethical in its practices. Another important issue for the firm is the whitening of the world’s coral reefs which is happening in part due to the chemicals used in commercial sunscreens.
“Octavio our biologist studied the problem of the whitening of the reef,” said Loza, “and we have created a sunblock that is coral-friendly.”
The sunblock uses the only active ingredient that doesn’t damage the reefs, zinc oxide. While it might not be as transparent as more chemical sunblock for Loza it is a tiny price to pay since coral reefs provide so much of the world’s oxygen.
There could be a problem convincing consumers that they should pay more for natural products that are sustainable and biodegradable. Some are already invested in the cause and need no convincing, but when others see a lipstick available for 60 pesos in their local supermarket, it can be hard to convince them to pay a higher price for one that is sustainable and natural. However, Loza has a direct response to this problem.
“I tell customers that right now it might be cheap, but in the future it is going to be costly for the next generations.”
To help further educate customers in being conscious consumers Loza and her team gives workshops at their stores in Monterrey, explaining what ingredients are in regular cosmetics and the effects that these can have on the environment and the health of consumers. She described how she has seen women’s skin change just by switching to a natural makeup base. Until then they had been unaware they were “poisoning their skin every day.”
The workshops and videos on social media also provide information on using natural make-up and help Loza achieve her mission to “change consciousness around the use of cosmetics.”
This mission is also being supported by the Sephora Accelerate program. Loza was one of just 13 female brand creators from around the world working in beauty to be picked to take part in the scheme. The program allows Loza to work with mentors to help her grow her business, all within the framework that the future of beauty is a conscious and aware one.
Speaking of the future, Loza has great plans. Having achieved so much in Mexico in the last 10 years she will be looking further afield in the years to come.
“In five years, we want to be in international markets. We want the United States to know what tepezcohuite is,” she said with a smile.
And if her ability to go from making soaps in her apartment to selling over 40 products on the shelves on one of Mexico’s largest department stores is anything to go by, the U.S. should look forward to seeing Ahal products there sooner rather than later.
To find out more about Ahal and their great variety of products, head to their website.
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist based in Mexico City. Her work has been published by BBC Travel, Condé Nast Traveler, CNN Travel and The Independent UK among others. Find out more about Susannah on her website.