Introducing Poko Skincare, founded by Justine O’Hanlon in 2019. Read all about how Poko got started and how Rob Kearney got involved.
I’m Justine O’Hanlon co-founder of Poko Skincare. Pokois a vegan skincare range that we started to conceptualise in 2019, and have just recently launched to the market after delays around COVID.
My background is in the creative industry, in design and creative direction. Having been diagnosed with PCOS at 24 years old, I am an advocate for healthy, fun ways to incorporate exercise into your day.
Poko was founded due to a passion to find ingredients and create products that 1) provide a more natural solution to solving and improving problematic skin whether its rosacea, hormonal breakouts, or psoriasis and 2) to give people a choice to enjoy their skin products more, even if their skin is sensitive or causing them issues - skincare is a ritual so you have to enjoy the textures, the smells and even the bottles they come in if you want to be consistent.
What inspired you to join the natural health sector?
While there has definitely been improvements in recent years, I still think that there is a huge amount of improvement needed around hormonal imbalances and how to minimise or improve the side effects they cause. I hope that Poko offers more support in this sector for people looking for solutions, and through the training we offer our stockists we hope to educate more people around PCOS.
When I was first diagnosed with PCOS it was relatively unheard of. I struggled to find accurate information on what could potentially help, my GP didn’t speak through what I could expect. 12 years later, I have an incredible GP and we have #cyster and #pcos trending on social platforms, with TikTok really being an incredible platform with an inspiring number of women using it to educate people and create safe spaces to ask questions.
For me it’s really important that when someone with PCOS or other hormonal issues causing havoc on their skin feel that the staff they speak to understand to some degree what’s going on, and I hope that Poko can help close that gap.
Where did you get the idea for your brand?
Poko was set up due to my own struggles with my skin as a woman with PCOS. I started getting hormonal acne very badly at just 11 years old and struggled to find an off the shelf product to suit my skin. Due to my hormonal imbalance and increased testosterone levels my skin was very sensitive, and a lot of the treatments for acne were too harsh.
I spent many years at my GP trying to find solutions and was given topical and pill after topical pill. Dianette was the only pill that worked but I had to come off at 21 due to long term use side effects and it put me off medications and steroids. I wanted something that was kind to my skin and more natural that I could buy off the shelf, that still looked and felt as good as all the other incredible products my skin just wouldn’t tolerate.
At 24 I was diagnosed with PCOS, polycystic ovary syndrome, and a light went on. After extensive research and discovering how many women felt the same as I did, I wanted to embark on this journey to create a skincare range that works for women with PCOS to deal with sensitive skin, hormonal outbreaks and the inevitable fact that our skin is going to start ageing.
What makes your brand unique?
Poko offers a unique range of products to the market as it infuses high-grade natural ingredients with CBD. High in antioxidants and due to its natural anti-inflammatory properties, we think CBD is a hero ingredient when it comes to skincare. With Poko, we want people to have healthier skin and our approach to that is to ‘glow beyond skin deep’. This means not only do we provide products to keep your skin healthy while addressing skin issues but we also promote practicing mindfulness and nourishing your body from inside out.
What are your company’s core values?
As a company we will always be vegan, and that is really important to us, even our lactic acid is made from fermenting sugar. Just to put our vegan friends at ease, Poko is fully Vegan Society registered.
Poko is cruelty free, we are approved by Leaping Bunny Cruelty Free International. We are kind to our furry friends and use animal friendly ingredients only.
We’re free from parabens, sulphates & mineral oils and we minimise our packaging and plastics as much as possible - our new SPF moisturiser tubes are made from sugarcane and are completely recyclable. Most of our products come in glass and use a recyclable outer box.
Problem skin, shouldn’t mean boring packaging and products. For us skincare is a ritual and needs to be fun in order to be consistent. We’ve made our products luxurious and pampering, just because your skin is temperamental doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things. Skincare should be enjoyed.
How do you support your community?
It’s really important for us to create a safe and welcoming community around our brand for people that truly struggle with hormonal skin issues, sensitive skin and other skin concerns.
While we are brand focused on our social media pages, we also work to incorporate educational and informative content through our website and social channels to make sure that our community feels like they have the tools they need to tackle the issues they have.
In addition to this Poko will be starting a series of educational webinars, with the first being around skin cancer awareness and melanoma with the Marie Keating foundation. In September 2022 we will be hosting our PCOS webinar inline with PCOS awareness month, and will confirm our qualified speakers closer to the time.
What has been the most rewarding part of your brand's journey?
I think when you're creating a brand or working as essentially a start-up, it’s hard to celebrate the wins as there is always so much work to do. We’ve had a few really special moments as a team, I think attending the ASOS Beauty Awards was an amazing moment as it was an incredible event and a lot of the team got to get glammed up and attend after lockdowns and everything.
But honestly, the most rewarding moments for me personally come when I get to hear other women's stories about PCOS and be able to offer them support and some hope that this brand understands them. We recently did our first Ireland AM segment with Jess Redden presenting for us. Myself and my Business Growth Manager, Rochelle, sat in the waiting area supporting her and watching the segment. When it finished one of the ladies waiting for the next segment came over and told me about her struggles with PCOS and her skin as a woman in her 30s and how she would love to try Poko - so we gave her some product to try and asked for her to let us know how she got in. That’s what Poko is really about.
What in your opinion makes Irish brands unique?
In my opinion Irish brands are unique due to the sense of community they get from the Irish. I think that as consumers we’re very aware of the label, and seek out brands that are made in Ireland. It’s important to us to support local, and I think the local county councils did a great job of reiterating the support you give to your country when doing this during lockdown.
I think Irish brands really get a unique sense of belonging from this, and it’s incredible to see how willing the Irish community is to support homegrown brands.
What is your favourite product from your brand?
My favorite product from the brand is definitely the Soothing Serum! I would seriously bathe in it if the bottle was bigger.
Tea Tree is one of the first ingredients your told to include in your routine if you have acne, so it was a must and we combined it with aloe vera, CBD and sea buckthorn to create truly incredible serum for calming and soothing the skin while packing it full of hydration.
Tell us about something that has shaped your brand?
At the end of 2021 we announced our partnership with Rob Kearney and then in February of 2022 the additional partnership with Jess Redden, who is a qualified pharmacist. As a very young brand in a highly competitive space the partnership really helped to position Poko in the Irish market and have people stop and take notice.
For us it was a really special moment to know they were both excited to work with the brand together as they felt it was something that really worked and they could both stand behind. We went from a brand trying to get people's attention to a brand people all of a sudden had heard of. It opened a lot of doors for us.
Jess being a pharmacist and saying she approves of these products and thinks there’s a need for them on the market was incredible. I think a lot of people really didn’t understand how Rob fit into a skincare range, beyond his Irish celebrity status, but skincare is not gender bias and neither are skin issues. Poko is for everyone and Rob was the one that came to us with the idea of a product that really helped highlight this, the new Daily SPF50 Moisturiser. We were hesitant to use SPF50 in the title, as some would consider this a summer only product, but this moisturiser combines anti-aging ingredients, hydrating ingredient and UVA & UVB Protection to really give you a 365 day product that, especially for men, can do the job of many products in one.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
Poko has many exciting things planned for the coming year, but for us as a brand what we’ve really set out to accomplish is to raise awareness about PCOS and hormonal issues that can cause issues with your skin. I hope that Poko can not only become a household name when it comes to the go-to skincare brand for these issues, but I also hope that it brings more awareness to conditions such as this.
We do have big plans for our ‘Commit to Go Beyond Skin Deep’ campaign which was launched with Rob Kearney and Jess Redden and focuses on all the aspects of wellness and mindfulness in order to improve your skin. Your Skin care routine isn’t going to get the job on its own. So we might be bringing out some supporting products to our skincare line, which we’ve worked with Jess on and are very excited about.
If Poko helps more women to question their symptoms and hopefully get a diagnosis, then I feel we’ve done a good job.