Hardip Kalsi: “Never stop learning”

Never stop learning: Learning is so much more than accumulation of facts in your brain; it is the exercise your brain needs to stay fit. Whether it involves taking an extension class, experiencing new adventures, doing puzzles, meeting new people, or just curling up with a good book, your brain is limitless in its capacity. […]

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Never stop learning: Learning is so much more than accumulation of facts in your brain; it is the exercise your brain needs to stay fit. Whether it involves taking an extension class, experiencing new adventures, doing puzzles, meeting new people, or just curling up with a good book, your brain is limitless in its capacity. It is a shame to let it atrophy with prejudices and unquestioned positions.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hardip Kalsi.

Hardip is the Chief Sciences Officer of HERBODY Cosmetics, a CBD-infused skin care line that combines an ancient Indian holistic practice, Ayurveda and plant medicine with cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive component of cannabis. An accomplished biochemist and a specialist in preventative and curative skin care, Kalsi was born and raised in western Kenya, a region with an immense bounty of flora and fauna, by parents of Indian Sikh descent. She joined HerBody Cosmetics in 2019 to create a scientifically curated CBD-based skin immunomodulating properties care as a statement of strength, empowerment, and beauty for females worldwide.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Well first, let me thank you for the opportunity to share my story and the story of HERBODY with other women in the wellness space. I hope we can all inspire each other to ensure that our voices are heard.

My history is really the story of HERBODY. When I was a baby living with my Punjabi Sikh family in western Kenya, I developed a severe case of eczema. As I grew older, the whispered taunts of “look at her body” have stayed with me always, not as a painful memory, but rather as a rallying cry of empowerment for women everywhere.

Instead of succumbing to the steroids that were and still are the medical treatment of the era, my parents reached for their knowledge book on the Indian healing art of Ayurveda, and we set out to find soothing solutions embodied in the rich diversity of the East African Coast.

While I did not recognize it at the time, the seeds of a young biochemist were sewn in that Kenyan paradise. During my education in the United States culminating my Masters in Biochemistry, I continued dabbling in skincare. HERBODY gives me the opportunity to pursue both my career and my passion.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

After living in the United States for almost 15 years and experiencing a vengeful return of eczema, I was once again trying to find a solution to my condition. A friend who was aware of my on-going skin issues suggested I experiment with CBD due to its immunomodulating properties. He explained that it wouldn’t make me high, but that the curative powers of CBD on skin were just beginning to be documented. This was the onset of my insatiable curiosity regarding CBD and its properties, and I began to develop simple formulations using CBD to soothe my inflamed and angry skin.

Two life-changing realizations came to me over the following months:

1) CBD is a phenomenal benefit to skin care, not just in a restorative fashion, but also as a preventative agent against inflammation, aging, and a host of other negative trends.

2) Maybe (just maybe) the laws of the world are not always based on the population’s best interests, and we had to work with nature and not against it, which is the very core belief of Ayurveda and numerous plant-based medicines of the world.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Science, and particularly chemistry, was a man’s world and the masters of the chemistry universe want it to stay that way. So the presence of a woman, especially of color, rattled the foundations of their existence. The comments were frequent and non-stop. “You’re just not science material.” “People like you just aren’t suited for management.” “Your background is fine for quality control, but let’s leave the real product development to the experts.” My mistake (and I still kick myself for it) was that I began to believe them. A series of positive events helped me re-direct both my professional pursuit and my level of self-esteem. The lessons are two-fold: Always believe in yourself, regardless of what others say, and take every chance to be that positive change to somebody else who is being unfairly maligned.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My first reaction was to talk about my chemistry professors at graduate school, or my former employer, who challenged me to always do better and celebrated my achievements when I did. But the woman that I am most thankful for is my mother. While I am really close to my dad, my mom is a force to be reckoned with and she was the first to insist on finding tangible, realistic, and long-term solutions to my skin condition even when specialists would hand her a tube of steroid cream. My mom tirelessly sought to find out what was causing my condition and what would make it better. She was fully aware that using steroids was causing me (and my parents, as a result) severe sleep deficiencies as a six-year-old, and continued to believe that something different must exist to help me. Prevention became her obsession. Therefore, my whole family had to change their personal care products, fabric choices, detergents and even food choices to accommodate my condition. Changing what I ate, what I came in contact with, and how much I was allowed to play with pets became a documented daily occurrence. My mother was the first to pay real attention to cause and effect regarding my eczema, and I have her to thank for my chosen path in science.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

I have often said that in Kenya sustainability is not a slogan, it is a way of life. The third world recycles everything possible and has done it for centuries not as an ecological imperative, but as an economic reality. When I started college in the US, I was shocked and saddened by the amount of discarded waste being produced. As I settled in, I began reading ingredient lists on products (we chemists are geeky that way) that eschewed the natural world for lab-developed alternatives that might be cheaper, but are never as beneficial. I vowed to keep to my Kenyan roots and to embrace the health of the planet over the lure of the dollar.

When we founded HERBODY, we went through an extensive exercise to assure all the founders were in alignment on company values. I was all ready to pound my fist on the table and yell at the top of my lungs that our products must be derived exclusively from plant and natural materials, and that our packaging must be recyclable down to the last insert. Furthermore, I wanted a company that was committed to the wellbeing of all women. To my surprise and delight, my partners were in absolute agreement and that’s when I knew I had found my professional home.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

Volumes have been written on how to focus on a healthier lifestyle and the basics are well documented: Quit smoking, eat healthy, exercise regularly, meditate and develop a work-life balance.

That’s all fine and good, but I’m going to offer a different list:

  1. Explore the world. You don’t even have to climb on an airplane given the wealth of intercultural education that is available with the press of a button. There are multitudes of different ways to do things, and the more options we embrace, the better armed we all are at finding solutions. In a recent family group chat with my three siblings and parents during the pandemic, I shared with them a recipe for Korean street sandwiches that I had watched on my favorite Korean food YouTube channel, Maangchi. On the menu were Korean street sandwiches, which I topped with my homemade batch of Kimchi. My mom, who initially bewildered about the ingredient combination, made the street sandwiches and posted pictures of her culinary endeavor on our chat. My dad loved the delicious snack and since then has been asking my mom to make it every week!
  2. Never stop learning: Learning is so much more than accumulation of facts in your brain; it is the exercise your brain needs to stay fit. Whether it involves taking an extension class, experiencing new adventures, doing puzzles, meeting new people, or just curling up with a good book, your brain is limitless in its capacity. It is a shame to let it atrophy with prejudices and unquestioned positions.
  3. Listen thoughtfully to people with whom you believe you disagree: Any damned fool can find people to agree with. A little searching on cable news or social networks will unearth a crowd of people that share your thoughts. Don’t bother. Search out people that hold different points of view, whether professionally, socially, or even politically. I don’t necessarily mean suffering through your drunk uncle’s tirade on how minorities are taking over, but I do mean well-intentioned people, that have thought through their positions, and simply ended up believing a contrary set of tenets. Listen to why. You’ll be a better person for it.
  4. Be one with nature: I have the extraordinary luck to live in the Redwood forest, not far from the Pacific Ocean. I step out my front door, and suddenly my frustrations fall away, replaced by a contented and appreciative stance. Take the time for yourself, and re-emerge yourself with the world from whence you came. Even when I lived in the frigid climes of upstate New York, I was always rejuvenated by a brisk walk in fresh snow, or a quiet moment surrounded by nature in the Adirondack Mountains.
  5. Laugh: Start by laughing at yourself. We are all characters in a Shakespearean comedy, fully earnest in our pursuits, yet plagued by our own shortcomings, visible to everybody except ourselves. Laughter puts people at ease, brightens their days, and erases some part of the angst that was there beforehand. It is healthier than any diet, more inspirational than any quote, more fulfilling than a brilliant novel, and ultimately more satisfying than that last piece of pie.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I see everything in our universe as a fractal. We are an extension of the world around us, and if our planet is not healthy, nor are we. We are a pill-popping society in which we create all these problems for ourselves that we later endeavor to solve, sometimes much too late. I believe that when it comes to overall health and well being, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If we think of ourselves as part of the natural world, as a fractal in the universe, we begin to respect the laws of physics, chemistry and nature. In many cultures past and present, there is a continuous theme of respect and reverence for nature, and not one of conquest. Therefore, living in harmony with nature is our best chance for survival as a species. This is by no means a novel concept, but I would like us to remember that as humanity our collective, everyday decisions affect ALL of us. And this carries forth in our products at HERBODY where we strive to create products that enhance our bodies and the world we live in. Every product is curated to gently steer our bodies closer to wellness. We might not be perfect, but if we don’t set a high bar, we will never make it to the top.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Teamwork is essential. I have created skin care products for myself and a few close friends for almost twenty years. Most of those formulations would never benefit the mass public if it weren’t for a collaborative effort by our entire team at HERBODY. It would be virtually impossible to present my best formulations to the world if it weren’t for Ian Rice, Nick Eisner, Phil Engfer, Ben Towne and Jacky Gilardi. I suppose I was waiting for the right and trustworthy team members!
  2. Not everyone who disagrees with you is your enemy. This ties in to what I said before — if we don’t listen to the opinions and ideas of others, we may never learn about our own blind spots. As a strong Sikh woman who was always treated equal to men by my own parents, I have the tendency to sometimes have a rigid, scientifically driven thought process. This can lead to a giant blind spot that can come across as arrogance when in fact it is a symptom of ignorance on my part. While many scientists struggle with this daily, I try to look at the feedback as a non-personal observation. While I may never please everyone, I can participate in a process that may yield a truce.
  3. That leads me to say that you many not please everyone by doing the right thing! While disagreement is not necessarily a negative thing, there must be a basic respect for the boundaries of others, whether that means people, animals, or our planet. Often, there is a mass-minded “looking the other way” mentality when injustices occur before our very eyes. There may have been times when I thought that speaking up for the underdog may seem like career suicide, but it is always the right thing to do at the end. You may upset the apple cart, but it may be necessary to get rid of the rotting apples to prevent the whole harvest from being spoiled.
  4. It’s not easy being green — but we do it anyway! In our quest for sustainable ingredients and packaging, we have come to learn that the cosmetic industry can be one of the greatest contributors to litter and waste on our planet. I wish I had known some of the challenges that we were going to face when trying to source something as simple as an opaque glass jar from the United States. The struggle we faced as a team to stay well within the bounds of our commitment to glass packaging, while still having the capital to launch the brand, was mind-boggling to me. I truly believe that the United States as a nation has an opportunity, with the pandemic dragging out, to manufacture so many of our essential components (that it used to manufacture!) locally. We have an opportunity here, and we accept the challenge!
  5. A positive realization I have come to while being “in the thick of it” is that WE are the instruments of change if we choose to be! We are solely responsible for affecting real change in how we conduct our business. If we choose to be greener, better, and cleaner than other skincare companies, that responsibility drives others around us to make better choices. There is no “away” when we discard waste. There is no “tomorrow” for many species as a result of our actions. There is here and now. We are not in this just for the dollar. We are here to gently steer our patrons to symbiosis with nature.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

All these are very high on my personal list, but they are very much inter-related. Can I have all three? I would like to propose that like the redwood forest ecosystem, the soil, watershed and mycelial mat which dwells in the soil connecting tree to tree, we must think of ourselves as part of the ecosystem, and not above it. We have no more right to be here than any other creature, and we could learn a great deal from nature. Therefore, I think vegan or vegetarian lifestyles help to create a sustainable world, and a world that is one with nature is a more tranquil one : )

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Please refer to our website at HerBodyCosmetics.com and our Instagram page @HerBodySkinCare for posts and educational materials pertaining to our choice of ingredients and our commitment to wellness.

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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