We sat down with Emma Davis, founder and director of esst, a sanistising hand cream that priortises both the health of the skin and the environment

Tell us a bit about the story behind esst. What was your inspiration and your brand mission?

We are in the era of social change; from mental health to education and crucially, the environment. People want their products to align with their core philosophies, while still delivering on their promises. What goes into a product is now equally as important as what happens to the packaging when it’s empty. We are no longer prepared to sacrifice sustainability for selfcare. The impact on our planet is as important as the impact on our wellbeing.

esst is the intersection of science and luxury: a sanitising hand cream that prioritises both the health of our skin and the environment. We decided this time we are not going to compromise on the essential products in our lives. It was conceptualised in my Brighton studio, Melbourne, in 2017. The idea was born out of needing a sanitising hand product for myself as a busy makeup artist. I thought I could simply Google it and somewhere in the world it would already exist, but no… and so I went from makeup artist to formulator. 

I found a world-renowned chemist who accepted my challenge, leading to extensive research and development.  We worked hard to combine all of the essential components of a premium hand cream, with the safety and responsibility of antibacterial functionality. Our ingredients are suitable for sensitive skin and come with a superior safety profile.

My check list was concise and rigid: a luxury cream formula that moisturised and sanitised (government lab-tested to kill 99.9% bacteria), could multipurpose, was safe for the whole family, and felt beautiful on the skin without compromising efficacy. The innovative formula ensures every single ingredient has a function, using only what is integral and nothing more. It was also vital the product be vegan, cruelty free, plus 100% Australian owned and manufactured with all aspects of packaging locally sourced. Aesthetically, it needed to be elegant and understated.

esst embraces the philosophy of Informed Beauty; which is to value information, and transparency around non-toxic ingredients, science-backed research, and sustainable packaging of products. We rely on third-party data and independent sources to ensure that every step of our process is ethical and environmentally friendly. Consumers are increasingly understanding the direct link between health, nutrition, functional ingredients, beauty and personal care. It is important they get the right information and understand the nature of ingredients.

esst's mission is to reinvent the way we think about wellness; at work, at home, and when travelling. Being socially responsible when it comes to our health has never been more key, as it directly impacts our community. Having esst within reach, especially on the go, guarantees a barrier of protection.

What sets your brand apart from others?

esst is the first of its kind and does not compromise on anything. We went through several iterations of formulation to comply with independent lab-testing without compromising quality or function. esst sanitising hand cream kills 99.9% of bacteria as well as nourishing skin simultaneously.

Its stunning packaging is low impact (the tubes are manufactured by a facility that runs off a full solar powered farm in NSW), the formula contains renewable and sustainably sourced ingredients. Crucially esst is vegan, non-toxic, cruelty-free and is proudly Australian owned, designed and manufactured. esst doesn’t rely on high alcohol percentages to kill bacteria, making it non-flammable. This is a game changer as we start to travel again. Being multipurpose alleviates the need to pack several products.

We are also proud that esst is safe to use and leave around children. There have been alarming reports of toxicity with children drinking traditional hand sanitisers. It would be counterintuitive for children to drink a cream product.

What is your favourite product and why? 

I only develop products I love and need for myself and they are developed for different essential purposes. esst is not a brand for the mass market. esst is a trustworthy new best friend, complicated and detailed. Our customers genuinely care about our environment, their health and products that deliver on promise. They are willing to pay the price for this because they like to know they are investing in themselves and the environment for years to come. 

What were the first steps you took to launch? And what would you say was the scariest part/your biggest fear? 

Being a Melbourne girl meant I was part of the longest global lockdown, so a traditional launch was not viable. Instead, I went live with my website esstlife.com.au on Australia Day, 2021.

My first steps involved connecting with a business mentor to talk through my idea: mapping it all out was paramount in moving forward. Development was an exercise in stamina and patience because the current advice for claiming lab-tested antibacterial in an emulsion was not possible. No one had ever done this before, let alone succeeded. I was nervous that some corporate Goliath with limitless financial backing would steal my David idea before I got to market.

There was also some hesitancy when COVID hit, trying to convince people this was not a knee-jerk response to capitalise on a pandemic. I had been grappling with the concept of hand hygiene my entire career because I touch people’s faces professionally.

What do your customers love about your products? 

If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “it smells amazing” I’d be Rockefeller! Some people even ask which ingredient makes them so addicted to it?! It is so rewarding to know I’m helping others solve their problems ranging from dry, irritated skin, to chaffing, cold sores, minor burns, and even shave rash. I’m overwhelmed and humbled to see the little esst that could is now a ritual in so many people’s lives. It’s protection times three (antibacterial + moisturising + sustainable) which has made sanitising a beautiful thing! 

What path led you to Life Instyle and what is it about the show that makes it a great fit for you?

I am fortunate to have been introduced to a very special girl, Alina, who is the Founder of Ergo Pouch. She said, “Emma you’ve got to do a trade fair,” and sent me an email to enter the competition for a complimentary stall. I still can’t believe I didn’t win it . LIS brings premium buyers and makers together, igniting an eruption of incredible minds offering premium goods. 

Can you share one of your proudest moments in the business so far? 

First of all we did it! A world first: my brain created it and my chemist developed it! We created  a remarkable and amazing science-based formulation! My chemist is extraordinary. We built this beauty product from the ground up and achieved our entire list of requirements. Without any guarantees we created a viable product, and I’m so proud I listened to that burn in my stomach to keep going. We were a force that never gave up.

Meeting people who understand esst and why it’s been created also fills me with pride. esst is like a complicated child. For me it’s not about building an empire, it’s about making a life that I love, being surrounded by like-minded people and debunking ingredient myths! Love that! esst values information, and transparency around non-toxic ingredients, science-backed research, and sustainable packaging of products. esst is making life easier.

Quick Fire Questions

What is the best piece of business advice you have been given? 

You’ve got to have a creak in life (my husband Renato said this.)

Where do you see esst in 5 years? 

In countries like the UK and Singapore, where style and premium products are valued and understood. 

What is your dream travel destination?

I was in theatre and dance for 17 years so I’ve always wanted to dance on a float at Rio Carnival! I love music and performing. I think I may have missed that boat now, in age but not in spirit. Realistically, Italy is the dream destination. I’m married to an Italian but I’ve never been to Italy. I’m excited about the passion, the fashion and the sights with him. 


Meet esst at Life Instyle Sydney 2022, 19-22 February