In Conversation With: CJ Zhan-Shahani, Founder Of Forest Rhapsody

CJ Zhan-Shahani is on a mission. She believes modern science and ancient wisdom can co-exists together and more than that she believes you can combine them to create extremely efficacious skincare formulas.

Her brand, Forest Rhapsody, represents just that. It’s a combination of age-old beauty rituals and intelligent formulas that are designed to utilize green chemistry whilst giving you an indulgent beauty routine.

Today, CJ, tells us more about why she developed Forest Rhapsody, how her childhood in Singapore developed her thinking about formulations and what she wants to accomplish with her brand.

Why did you start Forest Rhapsody?

I always had an affinity to nature. My father is an ardent nature lover, so I spent the bulk of
my childhood learning about herbs, growing plants, and of course, climbing trees! I have
always been intrigued by the symbiotic relationship between plants and science, but it is only
after my pregnancies that this interest evolved into a full-time pursuit.

Throughout both pregnancies, I dealt with volatile and aggressive bouts of hormonal acne,
forcing me to re-evaluate my skincare routine and the products I have been using. This
became a period of trial and error, during which I oscillated between sophisticated actives
prescribed by my dermatologist (which turned out to be too harsh for me), and overly
simplified formulas (which eliminated all gratification from a daily skincare routine).

This experience compelled me to research gentle yet efficacious alternatives to the
traditional actives that were available to me up till this point. I intuitively turned to plants for
solutions, and using clinically proven plant-based bioactives was to me, the optimal solution.
From there, Forest Rhapsody was created so we could pioneer a game-changing skincare
line that is grounded in bioactives while paying tribute to ancient ingredients.

What did you do before starting your own brand?

I did brand management at P&G for the Pet Care category. At first glance, kibbles and treats
seem to be the furthest thing from skincare, but in reality, the core values of these 2
categories cannot be more similar – formula is EVERYTHING. I can recall the days I would
huddle with my R&D team to review ingredient decks, test results and customer feedback,
challenging ourselves to find ways to create unique products that delivered both results and
joy! The same values on which I rely to provide nutrition for man’s best friend, are the same
guiding principles I use to create Forest Rhapsody’s products.

How is Forest Rhapsody different from what is currently on the skincare market?

We differentiate ourselves by striking a balance between tradition and modernity –
oftentimes a challenge given the polarising nature of the skincare industry.

Our main goal at Forest Rhapsody is to pioneer modern interpretations of ancient beauty
rituals, by elevating them with advanced ingredients. This means we embrace centuries-
old botanicals with the same ease as new science-based bioactives. We choose ingredients
based solely on their individual merits and challenge ourselves to combine these seemingly
contradictory ingredients to create an efficacious and indulgent final product – in our
formulas, it is not uncommon to find EOs sitting right next to an Ecocert/Cosmos certified
emulsification and preservative system, something you don’t see in a typical “green” or
“science” brand.

We try to avoid greenwashing or science washing as an easy means of standing out in a
crowded marketplace and let our ingredients (irrespective of their labels) define us as a

Did growing up in Singapore impact the way you think about skincare?

Absolutely. When I research ingredients, I often find myself gravitating towards those
commonly used in beauty rituals across Southeast Asia. In our formulas, many of these
cutting edge bioactives are derived from plants that I grew up around and are familiar with.
They are close to my heart and I have experienced first-hand how these botanicals are weaved into the daily rituals of women across this region.

Can you tell me a bit about how you develop your products? What kind of research is involved?

We lean on a rigorous internal process to select bioactives that are supported by clinical
studies, literature and journals. Together with a team of chemists, we then explore
complementary ingredients, from plant oils to synthetic actives, that would optimized the
performance of these ingredients – we make these decisions based on the data that we
have collected, as well as the experience and expertise of our R&D team.

That said, we recognize that formulation is part science and part artistry, and there is an
element of sensory joy that cannot be measured in a petri dish in a laboratory. Each and
every one of our formula’s goes through multiple rounds of trial and error to ensure they are
formulated at optimal levels to deliver results as promised, but we also pay attention to the
texture, application and scent of the final product. Like I always share, we formulate to
perform and to delight, and our products are designed to deliver an experience in every jar
and bottle.

Are there any skincare ingredients you wouldn’t ever use?

I always find this question very tricky. As a brand, we try to avoid any “free from” marketing
claims because these statements are usually rooted in fear than knowledge. Instead, I will
share with you the skincare ingredients we WOULD use – we believe in using ingredients
that are either 1) backed by science or 2) proven to be effective over thousands of years of –
these includes many botanicals used in Southeast Asia, passed down from generation to
generation. And our goal is to combine these ingredients to create stellar formulas our
customers can trust.

What does green chemistry mean to you?

To me, green chemistry is about using technology to create solutions that are
environmentally sustainable. This ranges from creating raw materials from renewable
sources; establishing processes that reduces pollution; to choosing recyclable packaging
options. It is a broad term with a flexible definition, but fundamentally, it is about making sure
the next generation inherits planet Earth in a better state than it was handed to us.

In this day and age sustainability is something that every brand tries to be better at, how do you stay sustainable?

Going back to our earlier point, we try to embrace the philosophy of green chemistry
wherever feasible. For example, if we have an Ecocert/ Cosmos certified ingredient, we
would choose that over the non-certified/ more economical alternative.

Packaging wise, we also opted for recyclable glass containers. However, there is a bit of
team effort needed here. The mileage of every glass container can only be stretched if
consumers find ways to recycle or repurpose them.

With sustainability, it truly takes a village and it includes everyone from manufacturers, brand
owners, retailers, and of course the end consumer.

Lastly, what do you hope Forest Rhapsody will accomplish as a brand?

We want to shift the conversation in the beauty industry from instant results, to one that
celebrates the gradual revival and sustenance of happy, healthy skin – a great skincare
routine is about results as much as it is about taking that 5 minutes or 20 minutes to focus on
yourself. Every single day, twice a day. In the long term, we would love to create a physical
space or community where we can combine Forest Rhapsody products and services to
create a 360 experience.

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