Sold on aloe vera

When Mrs Sabine Beer and her husband first moved into their holiday home in Andalusia, Spain, their neighbour gave her a huge, prickly aloe leaf.

He told her it would treat her dry, red and spotty skin.

"He told me to cut up the aloe leaf and leave the thin slices of the translucent flesh on my skin like a mask, twice a day," recalls the 60-year-old German, who splits her time between Spain and Germany.

At the time, she was far from charmed.

"I was 30 years old then. I had problems with my skin, wore thick make-up and was addicted to expensive cosmetics. I was irritated that my male neighbour noticed that my skin needed help."

Little did she know then that the leaf would heal her skin (it cleared up in two weeks). Or that it would lead her in 1988 to start Santaverde - which roughly translates to sacred green in Spanish - one of the first organic German beauty labels, with her husband, Kurt.

Today, Santaverde is stocked in more than 600 retailers in Europe and is known for its 28-piece line of aloe vera-based skincare products. One of its most prominent fans is Bond girl and French actress Lea Seydoux, who used the brand's Aloe Vera Creme Rich and Aloe Vera Toner Sensitive on the Spectre film set.

The Beers were in town earlier this month to launch the brand's new Age Protect range made with the blossoms of the aloe vera.

In Singapore, Santaverde is stocked at multi-label beauty boutique Pure Tincture. Prices start at $55 for a tube of cleanser to $244 for a bottle of serum.

A host of reasons led the couple to launch the brand.

While doing research on the viability of an aloe vera business, they found out about the potency of the aloe vera species that thrives around their holiday home, in the harsh terrain and weather of the south of Spain, where the days are hot and the nights are cool.

"When the plant is under stress, to protect itself, it produces the active ingredient, aloverose, which is beneficial to the skin," says Mrs Beer. "The aloe vera that grows in Andalusia has five to 10 times more aloverose than the average aloe vera."

Aloverose supports cell regeneration, which, in turn, keeps skin looking healthy.

However, perhaps the stronger impetus for the Beers to launch the label stemmed from their frustration with the lack of transparency in the beauty industry. Both had no prior experience in the industry. Mrs Beer was in the clinical instruments industry, while Mr Beer's background is in real estate.

"I discovered that most cosmetics on the market are made mainly with water. If they claim to contain aloe vera, only 0.5 per cent of the formula is made up of powdered aloe vera," says Mr Beer, 68.

"As a consumer, I felt angry and cheated."

So the Beers - who have a daughter - were determined to do things differently. Today, up to 70 per cent of Santaverde's products are made with aloe vera juice. The rest of the formula is concocted from plant oils and extracts, as well as natural additives.

To ensure the quality of the aloe vera juice used, as well as the high levels of aloverose in it, the Beers farm the succulents on the 2ha of organic-certified land around their holiday home in Andalusia. They decided to make Santaverde an organic label when they realised that organically grown aloe vera was more beneficial to the skin.

The plants are fertilised with horse manure and leftover aloe vera cuttings.

"Half of the aloe vera is made up of its skin. We cut the skin into small pieces and put it back into the fields and it helps to maintain the moisture levels in the soil," says Mrs Beer.

Their aloe vera plants take three years to mature before they can be harvested.

"If we use chemical fertilisers, the plants will grow faster, but I don't think they will be as nutritious," she adds.

The leaves are then processed by hand in a facility in the middle of the farm.

"This method reduces the loss of the active ingredients during processing and prevents the juices in the skin of the aloe vera - which is a laxative and an astringent - from being mixed into the formula," she says.

For these reasons, Mr Beer claims Santaverde's raw aloe vera juice is 10 times more expensive than what is available on the market.

Their glass-walled facility produces 100 tonnes of aloe vera juice every year.

"Our factory has transparent walls. Anyone can come and see how we process our products. We have nothing to hide," says Mr Beer.

So far, the brand's philosophy has resonated with its consumers, especially in Germany, which is one of the world's largest markets for organic produce.

In the past five years, the company's sales have grown 20 per cent year on year.

"Right from the beginning, our focus was not on making money. Because of that, we didn't have to make any compromises," he adds.

"We make less money, but we're happy."

This article was first published on November 26, 2015.
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