Welcome to the next instalment of the #beautyinsider Q&As, where you can find out who is behind some of your favourite natural beauty brands, what they are working on and how they got there. This month’s guest is Ben Grace, Founder of plastic-free solid skincare brand SBTRCT, offering high performing, sustainable bars that don’t compromise on results. Having incorporated various solid formats into my daily beauty routine, I frequently sing their praises for their strong sustainable credentials, so I’d earmarked SBTRCT as one to watch. When I met Ben at a sustainable beauty symposium – organised by Evolve Beauty where UpCircle Co-Founder Anna Brightman was also a panellist – I wanted to find out more about how SBTRCT started and what’s next in the world of solid bars.

Image courtesy of Alex James London (all rights reserved)

1. Hi Ben, thank you for being my #BeautyInsider Q&A guest this month. Let’s start from the beginning: every beauty brand has a story, what’s SBTRCT’s?

With the previous skincare venture I was involved in a few years ago having sold, I took some time off to revaluate my life and figure out what I wanted to do next. I wasn’t earning so I bought less and focused more on what really mattered to me. I’m naturally frugal and hate waste and I found myself happier and more content with a stripped back lifestyle. This change in approach became the genesis of SBTRCT.

Even in my short time away from the beauty industry the world had changed a great deal in terms of awareness of the climate crisis and all the challenges associated with it. It was clear to me that as a generation we are waking up. Everything from our choice of diet to the things we wear is changing for the better. We’re recognising that all these small conscious choices can make a big difference.

But the world of premium skincare has been slow to sit up and take notice. It seemed ironic to me that an industry created to cleanse and care was still making our planet a dirty place and having such a disastrous impact on the environment. That’s when I set our mission, to create the highest performing skincare with the lowest environmental impact.

I believe our industry faces three key environmental challenges…

  1. Plastic pollution
  2. Water waste (up to 80% of traditional creams and lotions can be water)
  3. An over reliance on palm oil

The desire to create incredible products that also help tackle these three issues was what led me to developing solid state products. I started SBTRCT with one guiding principle; less is more. It was this ethos that brought me to the name Subtract. With the desire to thread the ethos through everything we do as a brand, the removal of the vowels seemed the obvious step. Subtract became SBTRCT.

Image courtesy of Alex James London (all rights reserved)

2. What is it that makes SBTRCT stand out from other skincare brands?

That we are addressing the big environmental challenges head on, but we don’t compromise on performance. With SBTRCT it was my intention to create something different that tackled the specific challenges I mentioned earlier, but also products that were actually better than what’s out there right now. With performance top of the list, we’ve set about formulating solid state products using the gold standard of active ingredients that are proven to deliver fantastic results.

Image courtesy of Alex James London (all rights reserved)

3. Solid bars have become increasingly popular formats for all sorts of beauty products in the last few years, from shampoos to cleansers and moisturisers. Where will this trend go next?

What we’ve seen in the last few years is fantastic. And the trend in solid state products has led to ingredients suppliers really innovating to deliver the very best active ingredients in formats that can work in a solid formulation. We’ve been beneficiaries of that with the two biggest innovations we’ve developed at SBTRCT: our Rejuvenating Night Balm, which is the world’s first solid retinoid and our Vitamin C Booster, which is the world’s first solid Vitamin C Serum. It’s amazing to be able to create products with these proven active ingredients, but at the same time negate the needs for water-based formulations, plastic packaging and palm oil. And there’s no reason why we should stop there. Our community are telling us they want more and giving us lots of great ideas. We’ve recently launched our Fragrance Free Gentle Foaming Cleanser and Moisturising Facial Balm as a direct result of our community’s input.

Image courtesy of Alex James London (all rights reserved)

4. Today eco-credentials must be at the heart of every brand to earn a place in customers’ bathroom cabinets. What does the future of sustainable beauty look like to you? 

I think the future of sustainability in beauty will focus on evolution, transparency and collaboration. It’s important to recognise that there is no silver bullet out there right now that can tackle every single problem we face. With SBTRCT we’ve tackled what we see at the three biggest issues but will be focusing on more as we grow, whether that be solving for net zero or giving more back to our local communities.

Of course, transparency is also key. Our industry is renowned for its greenwashing, and I think in a world so focused on the ‘new’ and innovation, it will always be susceptible to it. Along with some of our retailers we have just signed up to Provenance which is a fantastic piece of software that validates what a brand promises through evidence-based research around each claim. I see this as an integral element of sustainable consumer products moving forward.

Finally, collaboration. A couple of weeks ago I was sat on discussion panel with Laura for Evolve Beauty, Anna from Upcircle, Sophie from the Soil Association and Jessi from Provenance to explore Regenerative Beauty as a concept. A conversation like that would never have happened 10 years ago, it demonstrates that as an industry and as smaller “challenger” brands we recognise that working together is the best way to truly address these environmental challenges and tackle big issues.

Image courtesy of Alex James London (all rights reserved)

5. What exciting projects are you working on right now?

From a company perspective we’re in the process of becoming a B Corp. This is so exciting for me. Being able to build a business from the ground up that is a force for good a big part of my vision and the B Corp framework is ideal for that.

6. And finally – what do you get up to in your spare time?

When I’m not working on SBTRCT I’m usually spending time with my wife, children (I have two boys, 11 and 7 years old) and our dog, Bella.  We enjoy water sports and so wakeboarding, surfing and paddle boarding are all often on the list. We live in Hertfordshire and I love running (and walking) in the countryside here. I put a lot of worth in spending time in nature as a means of maintaining good mental health and perspective. Graphic design is my other keen interest so I can often be found at an exhibition.

If you have any burning questions you’d like to ask Ben why not leave a comment below? Or you can get in touch with him directly on Instagram.


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