With nearly three years in business, Poko has grown exponentially across Ireland and the UK as an award-winning, natural skincare brand which is continuing to grow. Birthed from a personal story of a woman’s battle with PCOS and problem skin, Poko has helped others take back control of their skin and feel more confident and able to handle bad skin days.
Today, Poko’s founder Justine chats with us about her journey into skincare, her struggles with PCOS, and exactly what Poko is all about. It doesn’t get much more personal than this.
Hey Justine, tell us about your skin
I hated skincare for a longtime. I had hormonal outbreaks when I was 12, and felt uncomfortable in my own skin. At a time when you're supposed to be learning about yourself and the world, I was very self conscious about it and to me I seemed to be the only one of my peers with this issue.
When I say I tried everything I could to clear my skin believe me. I started a 10 year journey to learn to be ok with my skin. It started with the GP, where I was told as a young girl it was just my hormones and it would balance out, I was given a number of tablets and steroid creams to try thinking each one would change my life - they did not.
Did anything work in the end?
Back when I said I tried everything, I really did. My Mum even brought me to a healer because I was so self conscious about it - In Ireland there is a long lived legend that the seventh sons of seventh sons from unbroken lines have mystical healing powers for a number of ailments. People travelled from all over to receive ‘the cure’ for whichever ailment the healer would deal with.
My healer was a lovely man who had ‘the cure’ for skin issues like eczema and psoriasis, so off we went, on a spiritual healing journey. Whether my belief, my condition, or my ability to follow directions were the culprit, I was not healed. Although now I know PCOS is the culprit, there’s a good chance he was the wrong person to go to.
At 14 I was prescribed Dianette, the pill, and I had a wonderful few years of practically clear skin. Until I was no longer able to take it when I was 21, due to long term use studies on this particular pill. So I decided to clear my system and come off the pill altogether. At the same time my sister had been diagnosed with PCOS and after learning more about the condition I asked my GP to be tested. As I had come off the pill, the side effects of PCOS started to creep back in and at 24 I got my diagnosis.
Where did you discover your love for skincare?
Well, I used to be awful with skincare. Everything marketed for acne that I could find wasn’t great for my skin and there was just too much choice on the market, I didn’t know where to start. So I asked a friend, who kindly recommended products she thought would help me get into a simple and easy to maintain routine - including CeraVe & The Ordinary and from there my interest grew.
It’s been a long road but I can say that now I’m confident with where my skin is at and I’m not worried about not having make-up on or bumping into someone when I’m out and about, so having the right products and routine can really do a lot for confidence.
For the people wondering, where does Poko get its name?
There isn’t really a straightforward answer for it, but Oko is a deity of hunting & farming, which resonated with us as Poko is packed full of lots of natural fruits, herbs and ingredients found in nature. We added the P for two reasons, we wanted to bring a plant based element into the name as we utilise Aloe Vera and Hemp to hydrate the skin, but also we wanted the name to tie into the acronym PCOS, as Poko was founded due to the condition.
We played with lots of different names & ideas when we were still at the concept stage but ultimately this was the one that everyone just started calling it, it was more playful and fun and we wanted that to be part of the brand as well. Skincare should be fun, it’s the only way you’re going to stick with it.
Skincare is a very busy market, what inspired you to launch a skincare brand?
Like I said, the market is so overcrowded, you would think that would be a deterrent but what I found was a lot of products are for normal to dry skin or for acne prone skin. By the time I figured out skincare I had a range of issues I needed to tackle - dry patches, hormonal flare ups and breakouts, oily T zone & the inevitable ageing process of my skin, paired with years of acne scars.
Basically I had PCOS skin and I found that there was a gap in the market for this type of range or product, that is more tailored towards a skin issue like this - our products aren’t going to cure your PCOS but they are going to help tackle all the array of skin issues that can come with it.
What has the reception been like for fellow PCOS sufferers?
Extremely positive, someone recently introduced me to the #cysters & I think after about an hour of laughing at this I actually really loved it. PCOS is so common yet it's something we’re only really seeing it get the spotlight now, people are finally talking about it.
There’s so much power in talking about things openly and sharing experiences, my PCOS experience isn’t the same as everyone and that’s ok but the support we need to make healthy choices and look after ourselves or just to vent with like minded people is a form of therapy.
If Poko can help more people get a diagnosis, understand more about the condition or just feel like this brand supports their needs then we’ve done our job right.
I mean the strangest one I had was that one customer's skin tags, which are often prevalent on PCOS sufferers, had shrunk and fallen off when she used the Soothing Serum…maybe we’re on to something!
Poko promotes itself as being healthy for your skin, can you give some light to this?
Our products focus on mostly natural ingredients, and while natural isn’t always necessarily better, we’ve carefully selected the ingredients we use to work for sensitive skin. People with psoriasis, eczema and breakouts require sensitive skin loving ingredients that will be kind and soothing to their skin.
Our main focus is getting hydration back into your skin and calming your skin. The majority of skin issues stem from a lack of hydration getting into your skin and heat and inflammation under your skin. Poko’s ingredients focus on these areas to improve skin conditions.
On top of this we’ve ensured all of our ingredients are vegan friendly so our ingredients are mostly plant based, like a superfood salad for your skin!
What products would you recommend for the changing Irish weather conditions?
The Daily SPF50 Moisturiser. The new Moistursier was formulated with Rob Kearney due to his career and training outdoors in Irish weather, and what that can do to your skin overtime if you don’t look after it.
It’s an all in one product that fights signs of ageing, hydrates and moisturises your skin and protects it against UVA & UVB rays. You should be using SPF every day 365 days a year, just because you can’t see the sun or feel it shining down on you, don’t worry those rays are still reaching your skin & causing problems.
If you think about it, a lot of the sun damage you see on your skin in your 30s/40s is caused in your 20s when we’re a little less careful and more carefree. Your skin might already be damaged on a cellular level and overtime the skin discolours as a way to protect itself. So always protect your face, if you do nothing else, do that.
I’d also like to give a little shout out to the Soothing Serum here, as a country where reportedly 1 in 10 people have rosacea, this is a product that is perfect for our fairer complexion. It works to calm and soothe inflammation whilst hydrating the skin so we’ve gotten a great response from people suffering with rosacea with this.
Is there an underrated ingredient in your formulations that you wish more people knew about?
We have so many incredible ingredients but I think Hemp needs a shoutout. I would say it’s probably more misunderstood than underrated.
Hemp on its own isn’t going to cure your skin, it's not the miracle ingredient the internet people tell you it is. But we’ve paired it with a range of carefully selected, good for your skin, active ingredients.
It works in a few different ways, it’s a natural hydrator so it’s going to bring moisture back into your skin and keep it there. It’s got antibacterial and anti inflammatory properties to calm and soothe the skin as it protects it. For me though it’s a personal favorite as it reduces the production of excess sebum or oil production. Added bonus: it's non-comedogenic so it won’t clog your pores - *pours hemp seed oil into everything but the kitchen sink!*
Your holy grail skincare routine?
I have a few steps!
In the morning I keep it pretty simple, I start with the Gel Cleanser (wash it off with a bamboo pad or face cloth not just water), Correcting Eye Cream and Daily SPF50 Moisturiser. If I’m having a bad breakout around that time of the month I’ll add the Soothing Serum after I cleanse.
In the evening I double cleanse my face, use some niacinamide, then use Eye cream, soothing serum & the Light Hydrating Moisturiser. Twice a week I’ll skip the niacinamide and soothing serum & use the AHA exfoliating treatment instead.
Once a week I try to do a clay mask and usually look for one that has tea tree in it to help with blemishes and spots.
You have five seconds to choose your hero product and why! 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…
Soothing Serum - I mean come on…someone’s skin tags disappeared, what can’t it do?
What does the future look like, for Poko and skincare trends in general?
Poko is founded in its passion to educate people about how to care for hormonal skin issues and sensitive skin and our future plans are very much built on this mantra. This year we launched our ‘Commit to go Beyond Skin Deep’ campaign with Rob Kearney & Jess Redden which focuses on overall health as being a key contributing factor to your skin's health.
For us that education needs to be reinforced, using a product is not going to improve your skin long term if you are not looking after your health and wellbeing. Mental health, diet and exercise can all factor into your skin's appearance. This campaign focuses around how people can make small life changes to improve overall health & wellbeing which is really important - good skin starts in the gut!
Later this year we’re really excited to announce that we’ll be doing a supplements range which is grounded in this belief that overall health is more important than the products you put on your face. A good skincare routine can only take you so far!