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Susan Ma On Starting Her Own Beauty Business At The Age Of 15

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Tropic Skincare founder Susan Ma on why choosing natural skincare products is so important for both your health and the environment


Inspired by her childhood in Australia, Susan Ma began to create skincare formulations using her knowledge of plants and botanicals and founded Tropic Skincare when she was just 15. After proving her business skills by selling her handmade products in Greenwich Market, Susan appeared on BBC’s The Apprentice in 2011. Impressed by the products, Lord Alan Sugar invested and became a 50/50 partner, helping to boost Tropic to where it is today.

Natural skincare is all I’ve ever known. As a chemist, my grandma was clued up about the side effects of synthetic chemical ingredients. She ensured that our family led a natural lifestyle, from the food we ate, to the cleaning products we had – and our beauty routines. The ingredients we use at Tropic are those I’d find on my doorstep back in Tropical North Queensland. My mum and I would tour local markets and mix beauty products in our kitchen with natural ingredients, such as macadamia butter and eucalyptus. Keeping things simple meant we only used what we needed, which was healthier for our bodies and purse strings!

Using home-made products is an intrinsic part of my lifestyle. With approximately one in eight cosmetic ingredients classified as a carcinogen, I feel passionate about reducing the amount of synthetic chemicals we apply to our skin to minimise their effects on both the body and the environment. We might not be able to change the world in one fell swoop, but using products with natural ingredients and at a minimal cost to the earth makes a collective change.

I founded Tropic when I moved to the UK, aged 15. I created my first product and began selling at a stall in Greenwich Market to help contribute to the household bills. On my first day, I sold all 49 jars of my body scrub (a family recipe packaged in a jam jar) and took home £980, which was so motivating. I re-invested my profits, bought more ingredients and returned to the market every weekend and throughout the school holidays. When I went to university, I’d saved enough to pay towards living costs and tuition fees.

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