Brilliance, Connection and Mastery with Richard Parker
Glean a glimpse into the incredible journey of RATIONALE. From humble beginnings in a small store on Melbourne’s Chapel Street to the leading luxury skincare brand it is today, Founder Richard Parker shares exclusive insight into what occurred behind the scenes.
Our first guest on Radiant Rambles is Richard Parker, RATIONALE Founder and Director of Research. Richard, a classically trained Cellist and Pianist turned Cosmetic Chemist, along with his husband, Greg, established RATIONALE in 1992. He has dedicated his career to creating skincare Formulations that are considered the platinum standard in protecting and restoring skin health and natural luminosity.
Welcome, Richard. Let’s start at the very beginning; where did the idea for RATIONALE come from?
I think, like most people who choose skincare, genesis often occurs either from a medical angle or from an aesthetic angle. My motivation primarily came through my skin, through my skin problems. I grew up on the south coast of New South Wales, and I was a competitive swimmer, so I spent a lot of my youth, childhood, and young adulthood on the beach and in the pool. And by about 25, I had quite serious sun damage: pronounced lines, wrinkles, sagging skin, pigment. And I was only 25!
So, I think that was always my motivation: to understand my skin problems. I wanted to find out what I could do about them, and I wanted to move myself into that field. In the meantime, I had taken myself off to study music and education, so I was at the Conservatorium in Sydney. During that time, I had quite an enormous curiosity and learned how to research skin and skincare. I remember moving to Melbourne and locking myself in the medical library at Melbourne University for days and days and days; I'd go in at nine in the morning and come out at 10 at night when it closed.
My whole philosophy of educating myself about skin revolved around understanding healthy skin first. So, what does healthy skin look like? What does it feel like? How does it function? What's going on at a cellular level? At a tissue level? And I learned all of that through my independent research. That was an important lesson for me because I think if I had gone and completed medical school, I would only know the disease model of human skin health.
It taught me that so often when something goes wrong in the skin, it's traceable down to a deficiency of something or an excess of something. And if we can try to correct those things, we can very often correct the skin and restore it to a state of health. So, I did that for my skin and then thought I could do it for others, too. I had found my happy place. So, I transitioned over from music, studied cosmetic chemistry, and started learning about business, which was a new field for me! Luckily, my husband Greg was an accountant, so he helped me understand a lot about the financial side of the business.
You started with a consultancy just off Chapel Street in South Yarra. Can you tell us a bit more about those early days?
People would come in with their bags full of cosmetics and dump them on the desk, and I'd sort through it and say, “Oh, that's good, and that's no good.” I’d give them a shopping list and tell them to go to the chemist. We charged something like 20 bucks for that consultation. But it took off. Even The Age newspaper, in the early nineties, wrote a whole-page article about our little consultancy.
In those days, most people’s cosmetic bags were full of things that didn't help them. Other people had been hurt by prescription medications that were inappropriate or not explained properly. So, we had these people who'd been emotionally hurt and the people who'd been physically hurt, and we had to try and find a pathway for both of them.
I learned that if you've got problem skin and you've tried everything, you've often been either ripped off or hurt. I know myself, I went into a department store one day, spent my last hundred bucks on some miracle skincare product that the woman promised was going to do this and that, and of course, it didn't. I vowed never to let such a sense of betrayal happen to me or my Clients again.
It was such good grounding because I got to practice my theories and gain a lot of clinical experience. I was also working on the formulation side of things. So, at night, I'd go home, and we converted our laundry into a little laboratory where I'd formulate things and, you know, 90% of them didn't work out.
But the failures taught me more than anything else. It wasn't enough to know what needed to go into a product. You also had to understand how it looks, how it feels and, most importantly, how it delivers the active ingredients into the skin. So that early research, although it was humble, was probably the most important benchmark I've ever done.
What came after Chapel Street?
After Chapel Street, the next move was to move into manufacturing, production, and distribution of our formulas because I had learned enough by then to know what we wanted to do. I had discerned that there were these six things that everyone needed to do every day. And so, the Essential Six was born.
The Essential Six represents the Six Pillars of Skin Health, and I had those conceptually worked out in my mind: barrier defence, antioxidant protection, solar and environmental protection, restoring the barrier of the skin, recalibrating skin pH, and cellular renewal.
We started selling our Formulations through dermatologists, plastic surgeons, cosmetic physicians, and aesthetic day spas. That was great because it taught us a lot about business. It taught us how to refine our message so it was clear. People understood what to do, how to use the Formulations, what was happening in their skin—which sometimes doctors are not great at communicating due to time constraints.
We were able to take the time and educate the staff about their role in educating their patients. An important realisation for me was the understanding that RATIONALE was a luxury brand. I knew when I entered this field that I wasn't going to be able to do what I wanted to do by making cheap skincare products. The products were going to be expensive because they worked—because they were the best.
I often talk about the luxury of science, the fact that we take the time to do the research, that our Formulations are so intricately and precisely crafted, and that's a luxury—to take the time, energy, and financial resources to make our formulations the best, to make them unique.
So, RATIONALE has that superior superlative. You can't compare what we do to anyone else, and it's a privilege to be able to work at this level.
After exclusively being available in doctors' offices for two decades, the opening of the Flagship store in Sydney in 2013 marked a significant shift. Could you tell us a bit more about this?
We needed the perfect RATIONALE experience. The wonderful thing about being in the doctor's office was that we knew our Clients could get the help they needed—whether that was medication or treatment or skincare advice. But what was missing was the patience to talk to the Clients about their skin, to give them the full experience of what a RATIONALE Treatment feels like, and to answer their questions. All of these things are very hard to do in a medical setting because of time constraints.
The hand-holding was missing; listening to the Clients in-depth, probing their responses, and answering their questions—this is how we want you to experience the brand. The lovely thing is that we've been able to take that experience and bring it into the medical setting now. So, there is sort of a cross-pollination. But our Flagships serve that purpose of the perfect RATIONALE luxury experience.
Let's shift gears slightly and talk about the future of beauty. What do you think the industry will look like ten years from now?
I read a quote a few years ago that said, “The best way to control the future is to invent it.” And from the very beginning, we have invented the future of our company. No other skincare company focuses on medical research like we do.
So, I think the future for us will not be like the future for anyone else because we are the only ones who do what we do. But I can tell you that it will definitely revolve around a deeper understanding of human skin. The links between the gut, mind, nervous system and skin are really promising areas that we're pursuing at the moment.
RATIONALE has pioneered the emerging research on epigenetics and the relationship with the skin. Can you talk to us a little bit more about that?
More than 20 years ago, when I was doing my formulation chemistry study, we were taught that the skin's genetic code was unchangeable. So, you were born with a genetic blueprint that was inherited from both your parents. That was going to be your skin's destiny. If you were born with a genetic tendency to skin cancer or acne, there was nothing you could do about it—it was going to happen. But since then, the whole science of epigenetics has turned that on its head.
Epigenetics is the code that sits above genetics—it’s like a series of on-off switches. So, you might be born with a gene for skin cancer, for example. But if you do the right things like not going in the sun, using daily sun protection, getting regular skin checks, and so on, that gene may not be switched on. It remains off. The most incredible thing about that is that it gives power back to you. What your skin becomes is very much under your control. And I find that the most empowering message in medicine in the 20th and 21st centuries.
In 2022, RATIONALE made the move to Kyneton. Can you tell us a bit more about how this move has helped RATIONALE position itself as the epicentre for skincare research and innovation?
For many, many years now, I've had this dream of bringing research, education, administration, and logistics all under one roof. But it was going to be a massive undertaking. Thankfully, our partnership with Amorepacific has allowed us the resources to make that dream a reality.
As for Kyneton, people flock to this area for good reason. Kyneton is a very beautiful gold rush town. It has many great mineral spas, great energy, great air, great water, great people, and great food. So, I thought, this is our spiritual home. This is where I want us to be. And with our campus-style global headquarters now here in Kyneton, we want to make Kyneton a centre of global excellence in skincare worldwide.
On top of this, our Formulations are extremely complex. So, we can't just have our products made by anyone. We need to control those processes. We've had to innovate many of these processes, including how to incorporate active ingredients into Formulations and manipulate their electrochemistry to effectively target specific skin layers or cells. So that will all be possible now at our new Kyneton Global HQ.
In terms of next steps, where does RATIONALE go from here?
We know what we're doing now. It's taken nearly 30 years, but we truly understand human skin now, not just Caucasian skin, not just damaged, sun-damaged, or acne-prone skin but all skin types, and most major skin conditions.
So, now it's just expanding that throughout North America, then the rest of Asia, Europe and Africa. We have the confidence in what we know to take our luminous skin for life philosophy to the world.
And finally, do you have any words of wisdom to leave us with?
I implore people to ask themselves: what would you do if you knew you couldn't fail? Find that thing and then pursue that path.