Our CEO's Journey to Sustainability and Healthy Skin

Altilis Beauty was founded on a dream to create products that are not only good for your skin, but that are also good for the planet. What started as one thing (a business focused on personalized skincare systems for friends and family), quickly blossomed into a successful and sustainable enterprise when our CEO, Kenna Whitnell, was introduced to breadfruit. Today, Kenna shares with us why sustainability is so important to her and how it has personally changed her life for the better.



“Hey guys my name is Kenna and I’m the founder and CEO of Altilis Beauty. Today I want to share with you why I make sustainable beauty products and why sustainability is really important to me. Growing up I spent a lot of time outdoors; hiking, canoeing, camping, skiing, snowshoeing. Family time meant that we were outside and from a young age I learned to respect the environment. This idea that Mother Nature is giving you gifts and we have to respect them.

Now fast forward to when I was about 14, I started to experience my first bout of acne and like most teenagers do I just went to the drugstore and bought whatever cleanser was on a TV commercial the day before and that’s what I tried out. It ended up giving me a huge rash, and breaking me out. When I was a kid I was always interested in holistic medicine and natural health, I actually wanted to go to school to be a naturopath. I thought that natural remedies would be the solution to my problem - and I was right.

I started making natural skincare products when I was 14 and I did this for a long time. It just started out with basic crude plant extracts - really strong tea infusions with things like basil and rosemary. It really spiralled out from there and I started to make different sorts of products using all different plant ingredients such as carrier oils, like vegetable oils, and essential oils, waxes, butters, you name it. I did this for a long time.

In my first year university my new university friends were asking me what are all of these unlabelled vials and jars on your counter - what’s going on here? That’s when I started my first company, Soleluna Cosmetics, and that was personalized skin care systems for friends and family. Now I made those products for about two years, a lot of them custom but i did end up developing a product line of over 20 products including skincare, hair care and makeup.

Now in January of 2017, I went out to the University of British Columbia and started working for a professor, Dr. Susan Murch, who is the Canada research chair for Natural Product Chemistry and is just an expert in all things natural health products, plant chemistry and ethnobotany. She taught me a lot about the industry and introduced me to two really important problems that occur in my industry. The first being, adulteration.

Adulteration is when a manufacturer will put in a cheaper ingredient to make a more precious ingredient go further. This happens a lot with essential oils, it also happens with luxurious exotic carrier oils. This is a problem because manufacturers have to do this when demand is higher than supply. When this happens, the manufacturers are “forced”, I mean they don’t actually have to do this, but they feel forced to make that product go longer. So they put other things in there and don’t disclose them. If you’re buying exotic oils, luxury, expensive oils, often they are cut with cheaper oils to make them go longer. That’s something I wasn’t previously aware of.

The second thing that she introduced me to is unsustainable sourcing of plant material. I always kind of associated a green product as being very eco-friendly and sustainable and good for the environment but that’s kind of the furthest thing from the truth. It takes a lot more resources; land, water, sun, energy, labour, to produce plant-based products because you’re actually taking resources from the earth. Harvest after harvest to produce those ingredients. With synthetic products you are either pumping out that raw material using bacterial systems in the lab or using chemical reactions. This can go on 24/7 in a really confined, small space using less resources. Hate to break it to you but to produce a synthetic, chemical product it’s actually often, a lot more sustainable than producing green products. Now this just totally rocked my boat and really made me re-evaluate the product line that i was currently carrying.

I decided I had to discontinue it and I couldn’t ethically make those products anymore. So I discontinued my 20+ product line and I was back to the drawing board. I was asking myself “how can I use research to be responsible in how I’m using plants in commercial products”?

The same professor, Dr. Susan Murch, also introduced me to breadfruit. You must know by now that breadfruit is my favourite plant on this planet. She wanted me to look at non-food uses of breadfruit because it is a very, very sustainable crop that does not have a lot of commercial products that use it. Actually, there are no internationally available commercial products that are made using breadfruit. Because I have a cosmetics background, skincare, that is where I turned. Now, why is breadfruit so sustainable?

Supporting the breadfruit industry and growing breadfruit trees, means that we are planting more trees. What to trees do? They sequester carbon from the environment and we all know there is just too much CO2 in the environment right now. So that’s a good thing. They also help improve the soil heath, they help retain water in the soil and keep micronutrients close by so it helps with growing other crops. They do really well in agrofood forestry systems.

Not only is breadfruit a beautiful tree but it is also a staple food crop.  It supplies the local communities with a very reliable food source. One breadfruit tree can feed a family of 4 for over 50 years. Which is just amazing. So this is a crop that has multi functionality, it is abundant, the harvest season for the part of the plant that I use, which is the flowers, is 6 months long. And that’s a really long harvest season which is fantastic for a sustainable ingredient source.

Not only is the ingredient that we get from the breadfruit flowers great for the skin, but it’s actually better than other options on the market. It has super high antioxidant capabilities, higher than vitamin C, higher than vitamin E. It also has a really interesting property…. It inhibits the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin. That’s really great for retaining youthfulness, suppleness, and the integrity of the skin. This is a phenomenal resource for resource but it’s very, very under-utilized and that’s why I really loved bringing this product to market and love using it in my products. I know that it’s good, it’s science backed, it’s a sustainable source and I’m supporting the communities that really do rely on this for their health and well-being.

For me, sustainable ingredients, sustainable sourcing really starts at that. Who’s benefiting from it? Is there going to be benefit 50 years down the road, 100 years down the road?

I want to produce products that are not only sustainable for the next 20 years but the next 200. That’s really been a goal of mine with Altilis Beauty, to make sure that every single ingredient and every single plant that we use in our products is viable for commercial scale production and can upkeep with demands.

If this product was on every shelf in every household on this planet - could that plant supply actually sustain that kind of demand? And with Altilis Beauty, the answer is yes. “