Conscious Beauty Spotlight: Abena Antwi

One of the Burt's Bees Product Developers, Abena Antwi, smiling towards the camera

Our very own product designer tells us what ‘conscious beauty’ means to her and discusses the path that led her to considered skin care. 

For more than a decade, chemist Abena Antwi has been the scientific mind behind Burt’s Bees eco-friendly, natural skincare products. You can find her in our lab, blending, measuring and balancing her formulas until she’s perfected your next favourite lip balm, face lotion or baby cream. We caught up with her to talk about her views on ‘conscious beauty’ and how life led her from her native Ghana to a globe-trotting post as our product designer and research fellow. 

Q: How did you get started in your field?

A: “There were two fields in my household—nursing and teaching. My dad was a nurse, my mom was a nurse and a teacher, one of my sisters is a teacher, another is a nurse. I actually wanted to be a nurse at first, but I left nursing and majored in chemistry. I’ve always been interested in math and the analytical aspects of science. 

I was thinking about where to go with this chemistry degree, and in my last year of college, I got offered two internships: one with L’Oreal, and one in the pharmaceutical field. I thought: “Okay, making lipstick or doing analytical work?”. Lipstick won. 

Abena Antwi looking through a microscope

The internship was supposed to be three months. I was so intrigued by what goes into the cosmetics industry. I had no idea, going through school, that you could take chemistry and actually apply it to makeup. When the three months were up, I asked them if I could keep working. That’s when everything started—my curiosity about raw materials, sourcing ingredients, everything. 

It became a passion. I think it gives me a level of satisfaction that there’s something at the end of your work that somebody is going to love.”

Q: What it was like moving from traditional cosmetics to a natural skincare brand?

A: “I came to Burt’s Bees for my interview, and I was hooked. The man that interviewed me was sitting yoga style, with no shoes on, candle burning behind him in a dark office. I thought: “What did I get myself into?”. He was just sitting on the floor, talking, and we really connected. The lab only had 2 or 3 chemists and it was scary looking at the bottles of oils and natural waxes. I was used to using a lot of synthetic products. 

Going from formulating synthetic ingredients to natural origin ingredients was like day and night. 

The first formulas that I worked on were the Peony and Caramel shades of Lip Shimmer. I had a full understanding of synthetic ingredients, so it was a surprising experience. Going from formulating synthetic ingredients to natural origin ingredients was like day and night.”

Q: Was that the beginning of your appreciation of natural origin ingredients?

A: “I lived in Ghana, West Africa, until I was 15. My grandmother used to lather us with coconut oil and shea butter. So, I knew about these ingredients, but I just didn’t know the chemistry of adding those ingredients together and coming out with something nice. 

At Burt’s Bees, it’s more than just natural origin ingredients in a formulation. We’re looking at sustainability, and how we’re sourcing the products. It’s what the company stands for. 

You have to basically unlearn everything that you know in the industry to really understand how Burt’s Bees formulates. We want the best ingredients out there. We want the best products out there. We want the best packaging and to be conscious of our impact on the environment. We want something that’s going to be delightful to use.”

The plants & natural ingredients that are used by Burt's Bees set in a stained window

Q: What’s your favourite Burt’s Bees product?

A:I’ve basically touched everything! I love the Burt’s Bees Baby Daily Cream-to-Powder. When I had my youngest son, I didn’t want to put powders on him like I had to for my oldest, so I put this formula together. It’s a really nice product.”

Q: Do you think that skin care is self-care? 

A: “Skin care is self-care! Especially now that we have so much time at home. I usually put a drop of mint in my water, or peppermint oil or eucalyptus, to clears my sense and calm me down.

I love a clay mask too because I don’t have time to sit down or stay still.  As a weekend treat, I’ll do some steaming too. I put ginger and mint in the water, place a towel over my head and steam my face for 5 minutes.”

Q: As a Black woman, have you found colour cosmetics that work for you? 

A: “Natural pigments aren’t always as intense as synthetic products. They may not show up as much on darker skin as they would on fairer skin- but we are moving the needle. 

In the past few years, we’ve been putting a multicultural lens on every product we make. I’m asked to find benchmarks that fit me and work for my skin tone, and that gives me a lot of energy. I know we can do it. 

We’re going to be working with a dermatologist who specialises in multicultural skin to help us with hyperpigmentation, skin tone evenness, and skin health.” 

Q: What do you wish people knew about Burt’s Bees products? 

 A:The amount of work and thought that goes into each product! I always say that there’s Shea Butter and there’s Burt’s Bees Shea Butter. Not every Shea Butter is the same. 

We’re taking care of those communities. It makes what I do more rewarding. 

My dad’s family came from a cocoa farm, and they sold cocoa to corporations that were giving it fair trade price. That was why my dad was able to go to university. He was the first person in his family that went through school and basically took care of his family in that way. 

Seeing Burt’s Bees taking initiatives on sourcing, going to Burkina Faso and Ghana and India, and making sure that we source ingredients in a way that’s going to better peoples’ lives in that community, it’s very close to me. We’re not just taking ingredients and profiting; we’re taking care of those communities. It makes what I do more rewarding.” 

Abena Antwi holding shea butter in her hands

Q: What does conscious beauty mean to you? 

A: “Conscious beauty is a holistic way to approach personal care. We’re using ingredients that aren’t harmful to you, but where are they sourced? Where’s your packaging coming from? It’s a holistic way of looking at the industry and understanding how it’s impacting the world overall.”

Find out more about Burt’s Bees values and standards on our website today.  

Beauty Expert

Beauty Expert

Writer and expert