Plant-based Skincare for Melanated Skin, from Pharmacist Sejal Patel
Meet the founder of Plantkos
Like many melanated women, Sejal Patel, PharmD struggled with irregular pigmentation, dryness, and inflammation. Combining her pharmaceutical background and traditional Indian roots, she created Plantkos with the understanding that your skin is more than meets the eye, and is not a flat surface meant to be slathered with products that sit on top, never penetrating the deepest layers where problems begin. The newly launched, five product collection focuses on the most common concerns associated with melanated skin: inflammation, dehydration, and hyperpigmentation. After learning more about Sejal's inspiration behind her brand, we had to share it with the Influenster community.
You were (are!) a pharmacist. How did this profession prepare you for launching a skincare brand?
Being a pharmacist offered a very unique way to connect with and have an impact on patient care. I wanted to be involved at the very first stage of this process and that is within the pharmaceutical industry where safe and effective products are developed. Being on the Medical side which is under the umbrella of Research and Development, it allowed me to get involved in very early stages of drug development and educating healthcare provider. This is where I learned that the product is as good as its clinical data and data is as good as the science behind the product. I took this learning and applied it to developing our proprietary Phytomedicinal Complexes for each Plantkos product. I thoroughly researched each ingredient in the Complex for scientific data and not only that, tested the final formulation for its effectiveness. For me, it wasn’t enough to say that my products will have benefit “x” because it has ingredient “y.” I wanted to have clinical data to support it, just like I was used to seeing as a pharmacist with medications.
You position Plantkos as a blend between plant-based and "clean" science. How do you approach an unregulated space like this where any brand can make these kinds of claims?
Because of the lack of regulation in the beauty industry, it is incumbent upon each brand to carefully evaluate the ingredients it uses for its products. I’ve researched and evaluated each and every ingredient, including emulsifiers and preservatives for its safety. Additionally, when we say clean-clinicals – it is referring to the use of ingredients that have clinically proven effectiveness without untoward or harmful side effects.
How does Plantkos live its nature-focused ethos in practice?
Our primary packing is made of glass, HDPE, and PP plastics, which are all fully recyclable. Additionally, the secondary packaging is made of FSC certified paper and is also recyclable. When possible, we have used ECOCERT, COSMOS, USDA Organic, or sustainably sourced ingredients.
Tell us more about Dreams Foundation. What is it, how are you and Plantkos involved, and what can our members do to support this mission?
Dreams Foundation is devoted to providing financial stability to hopeful entrepreneurs with the skill, talent, and work ethic to succeed, but lack the means to do so. By providing interest-free loans and grants to promising entrepreneurs at the grassroots level, Dreams Foundation gives those individuals the opportunity to succeed. This foundation means a lot to me because I’ve always believed that if we are going to break the vicious cycle of poverty, talented and determined individuals need monetary support and guidance, not just well wishes. This foundation provides just that and plus is based out of the city in India, Ahmedabad, where I spent my early teenage years. It gives me a chance to give back. In partnership with the Dreams Foundation, our commitment to their mission is to donate a portion of Planktos® proceeds to sponsoring a grant for an entrepreneur in need of funding.
What is your advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
You don’t always have to know what you want but you must always know what you do not. I did not set out to start a skincare line, but I knew I didn’t want to use the products available because they didn’t meet my needs. And here we are.
Your daughter seems to be a big part of the inspiration behind Plantkos. Can you tell us more about your struggles there and how you translated them into a skincare line?
Her skin condition (mosaic pigmentation) had a 50-50 prognosis, as in it could stay limited to her extremities or spread throughout her entire body. And since there is no treatment for it, I felt helpless. The only thing I could do was to protect her skin from getting too dry and from the sun, which makes the mosaic pigmentation more pronounced. That’s where my research into skincare ingredients started. The other aspect was, as a woman of color, I didn’t want my daughter to have to face or experience an added layer of colorism because of her skin condition. I was determined to instill confidence in her where the appearance of her skin did not matter. This journey is when I started taking a closer look at the products I was using and wondering why they did not address the distinct needs I had. That’s when I reflected on my Indian heritage and my training as a pharmacist kicked in and I to started researching ingredients that worked to address the concerns those with deeply melanated skin have.
What is it about Ayurvedic tradition and your Indian heritage that sets Plantkos apart from other brands in the skincare space?
Let’s break down the word Ayurveda – Ayur, means life and Veda, means science or knowledge. For me, Ayurveda is not a trend or a fad, it’s rooted in my Indian traditions and daily life. Many of the Ayurvedic herbs I use in Plantkos, I grew up with but without knowing or recognizing its value. For example, we use turmeric daily in cooking and my mom to this day makes me drink turmeric milk at the first sign of cold or cough – for its antiseptic, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Not only does Eastern medicine have thousands of years of use but also in recent decades, it is being studied clinically with scientific rigor.
Melanated skin has been ignored (at best) by big beauty for so long, and we are really seeing a reckoning there. How can consumers and companies like Influenster help advocate for more inclusive product development and marketing?
First by recognizing that one size does not fit all, which is being done and it’s a great start. Next, take the time to really see and understand the unique beauty needs of those with melanin-rich skin by having an open conversation about those needs. Then get experts involved at the development stage to formulate products suitable for this specific cohort. And it is a must to highlight and support these brands – like you are.
Let's talk product! You launched with 5 items comprising a pretty complete skincare routine. Tell us what gets you excited about your formulations.
Each product is carefully formulated with our proprietary Phytomedicinal Complex to address hyperpigmentation, dehydration, and inflammation, all at once.
First, starting with the Phyto Exfoliating Cleanser, the fruit-based AHA blend and willow bark extract provide gentle exfoliating, while the combination of turmeric, panthenol and probiotic ferment help address inflammation, hyperpigmentation, protect skin barrier function and skin microbiome. This cleaner is exfoliating yet gentle enough that my 11-year-old daughter even uses it and it also removes makeup.
Rosewater, chamomile, licorice, and rice water-based Phyto Facial Essence, helps sooth inflammation, replenish hydration and prepare the skin to receive treatment. Use this after washing, before applying serum, or anytime throughout the day for an extra boost of hydration.
Follow up with the Phyto Triple C serum which has three types of vitamin Cs – ethyl ascorbic acid which is a more stable form of L-ascorbic acid, tetra-c which penetrates deeper from epidermis into the dermis where collagen production takes place, and amla, which is an Ayurvedic fruit rich in vitamin C.
Now your face is ready for Phyto A Face Lotion which is packed with acne-fighting, hyperpigmentation reducing, collagen-producing, hydration boosting and microbiome balancing ingredients such as niacinamide, bakuchiol, turmeric, Gotu kola, ashwagandha, and shisandra root.
Don’t forget your eyes! Phyto Vitality Eye Cream is formulated with caffeine, amla, Gotu kola, turmeric, and darutoside to address dark circles, puffiness, and fine lines and wrinkles.
At Influenster we are all about connecting people to the right product for them. Aside from your own, what other brands and products are you reaching for on the regular?
I love Biophile’s Bio Barrier Nourishing oil for that extra cozy, moisturizing effect. In make-up, I’m loving La Bouche Rouge lipsticks and Kosas lip oils! And ILIA’s foundation and mascara are my absolute must-haves!
How important are online reviews and customer feedback to the success of your business?
Reviews give a great insight into the customer experience which speak volume and confidence (or lack thereof) to fellow consumers – and are directly related to sales, therefore, they are a must. Customer feedback is priceless because this is the best way to find opportunities to improve your products or come up with the next SKU for addition.
Each Plantkos product is created with a unique proprietary Phytomedicinal Complex formulated from a synergistic blend of Ayurvedic herbs and clean, clinical actives including acids, enzymes, and biodiverse botanicals. The collection is designed to support your microbiome, protect the skin barrier, soothe inflammation, prevent dehydration, support balanced melanin production, and maintain collagen and elastin integrity. You can shop the full line at Plantkos Skincare.
Will Plantkos be YOUR next favorite thing? Be sure to review it if you try it, and let us know what you think about Ayurvedic-inspired products in the comments below!