We spoke with Kenneth Koo, founder of Orris Paris, to discuss his gorgeous line of artisanal botanical soaps. All of Orris’s soaps are cold pressed and handmade from the most luxurious oils and infused with the highest quality healing and nourishing herbs. They are also free from synthetic ingredients and fragrances, making them an ideal choice for those with sensitive skin, and skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. In fact, people with eczema and psoriasis really love Orris’s best seller, Le Nomade, for its ability to manage flare ups. And Orris’s Le Botaniste is equally loved by those with acne for its antibacterial and acne fighting properties.
Kenneth, what inspired you to create a line of artisanal botanical soaps?
All my life, I’ve struggled with psoriasis and more recently eczema which was one of the reasons I became very interested in skincare and cosmetic ingredients in the first place. I became hyper aware of which ingredients were triggering or sensitizing for my skin. Most commercially available products I found had very irritating synthetic surfactants (like SLS). I also thought that products designed for eczema or sensitive skin were quite clinical in appearance and were not enjoyable to use.
Since I couldn’t find anything that suited me, I started making cold processed soap for myself. Around the time I was formulating these natural soap bars for myself and friends around me, I began to be very interested in herbal remedies and holistic plant-based practices that had long histories like Ayurveda and herbal medicine. For years I had been prescribed very intense steroid creams and cortisone creams by dermatologists that in the long term really wreaked havoc on my skin and skin barrier. My partner Lani and I created ORRIS to provide an alternative for myself and others like me — a line of natural skincare products that utilized high quality ingredients, was luxurious to use, and inspired by the healing powers of plant-based ingredients.
Can you tell us about the ingredients you use in your soaps?
If you look at the ingredients lists of bar soaps that are available — including those sold by luxury brands — you will usually find Palm Oil (Sodium Palmitate) as an ingredient, if not the primary ingredient. This is because Palm Oil is extremely inexpensive and is the classic ingredient that gives soap that creamy, bubbly lather.
When we were formulating our line of products, we made a conscious decision from the beginning to step away from Palm in any of our products due to its environmental impact. It was a challenge, but in the end, we found a perfect combination of extremely nourishing plant oils — Olive, Shea, Coconut, Cocoa and Castor — which allowed us to achieve the same beautiful sensorial cleansing experience but without the use of any Palm. We also do not use any artificial fragrance; all of our soaps are fragranced using natural ingredients.
Is there a reason you chose to create bar soap rather than liquid soap?
With ORRIS, our intention was not only to provide the highest quality and most efficacious products, but we set out to create a beautiful sculptural object for the bathroom. We were attentive to all aspects of the soap, from its shape, its size, where our stamp would be placed to the ergonomics and how it would fit in your hand.
Many soaps can be very drying. What makes your soap different?
It’s funny that many commercially available products now market themselves as “soap-free”, as though it’s something inherently bad for your skin. With ORRIS, we are trying to change the notion that bar soap is drying. For us, a beautiful bar of artisanal soap is really the most luxurious and decadent thing you can use to cleanse your skin. All of our ORRIS soaps are ‘surgras’ or superfatted, which means there are leftover oils and butters in our soaps which are not saponified. As a result, our artisanal soaps are able to cleanse your skin effectively but gently, without stripping it. Not only is dirt and impurities cleansed away from your skin, but emollients (like Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter, Olive Oil etc.) are being deposited onto the skin to provide gentle hydration.
You have four soaps. Each created for a different skin type. Can you tell us about each soap and its benefits?
Our collection of artisanal botanical cleansing bars include 4 soaps: Le Soliste, Le Botaniste, La Déesse, and Le Nomade. We developed this collection of complementary products, so that each soap addresses a particular skin concern and skin type.
Le Botaniste (the Botanist) is infused with St. John’s Wort, Comfrey and Calendula petals and works great for acne-prone and irritated skin. We have La Déesse (the Goddess) which was developed for dull and congested skin with Raw Honey and Manjistha (Indian Madder), which has been studied for its amazing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Le Soliste (the Soloist) is fragrance free and has Fermented Rice Water as its key ingredient: an incredible brightening and softening facial bar. Finally, we have Le Nomade (the Nomade), which is one of our bestsellers, with Turmeric and Sheep’s Milk — perfect for dull and dehydrated skin types.
People with eczema and psoriasis really love your Nomad soap. Can you talk about the ingredients in this soap that help to clear these skin conditions?
As I mentioned, I’ve personally battled with eczema and psoriasis my entire life. No cosmetic product is ever going to “cure” eczema or psoriasis — these are conditions triggered by stress, hormones, environmental factors, and inflammation. For me, it has been something that needed to be addressed holistically: via lifestyle changes, diet, stress management in conjunction with topical products.
ORRIS soaps are specially designed for sensitive skin in mind, like those suffering with these skin conditions to manage their flare-ups and to not further irritate skin that is already in such a fragile state. In Le Nomade, our star ingredients are Turmeric and Sheep’s Milk. Turmeric has been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda and has been clinically studied for its anti-inflammatory properties. Sheep’s Milk, on the other hand, is amazing for damaged or compromised skin because it naturally contains Vitamin E and contains a much higher percentage of fat than other kinds of milk and nourishes skin deeply.
You use fermented rice water in your Le Soliste soap. What are the benefits of this star ingredient?
Le Soliste is inspired by the art of sake making and traditional Japanese cleansing rituals. The star ingredient in this postbiotic cleansing bar is Fermented Rice Water. When rice is fermented, the starches and proteins get broken down into a host of skin-loving postbiotic byproducts like enzymes, amino acids, minerals and vitamins B and E. The result is an ingredient that is about to exfoliate, brighten and soften your skin while remaining super gentle.
What is the most common feedback you hear from people after using your soap?
The number one compliment we receive about our soaps is how great they smell and how it leaves their skin feeling. We’ve also had a lot of feedback from people who have seen improvements with their acne — especially with Le Botaniste, which is infused with anti-bacterial and acne fighting St. John’s Wort.
Do you have a favorite?
It’s so hard to pick just one! I really have to say they are in constant rotation in my bathroom. The one I’ve been loving recently is Le Soliste — it is my go-to facial cleanser. It is perfect for extra sensitive skin as it is completely fragrance free. I also love running Le Nomade under some warm water for a decadent milky bath.