7 mins reading

By Genevieve Phelan

The science of good skin, and how Richard Parker’s Melbourne-based global skincare brand, Rationale, is helping people get it.

There aren’t many people who can adhere to a 3am wakeup routine and maintain an unequivocally radiant visage. An exception to that norm is cosmetic chemist Richard Parker, founder and research director of Melbourne-based luxury skincare brand Rationale, whose face glows through my computer screen when we speak.

Parker claims his early rises are essential for cultivating the self-described “quiet time” necessary to indulge the creative thinking that drives Rationale. “I think Rationale is unusual in that we kind of stand alone, to my knowledge, in the way we approach human skin,” Parker says. “I always say human skin is my research library, and my guiding light— it’s where I start with everything.”

Now representing a global standard for research-based skincare, Rationale emerged from somewhat accidental beginnings, led by Parker’s own skin concerns.

“I wasn’t born with good skin genes,” he says. “I had my mother’s tendency for sun damage, and my father’s tendency for acne. So by the age of 25, I had sun damage and acne and I thought ‘there’s got to be something I can do about that’”.

In 1990, Parker decided to channel his keen interest and self-led research in skin into a small consultancy, which he opened in South Yarra with his now-husband Greg. Here, clients sought out what Parker calls his natural “skintuition”. He would review their existing skincare routines and craft new customised rituals, guiding clients towards suitable pharmaceutical products—available at the chemist—to combat specific skin concerns or deficiencies.

It didn’t take long for the consultancy to make waves through Melbourne. In 1992, The Age published a full-page story about Parker’s work, which completely altered the course of his life. “You can imagine, you can’t pay for publicity like that,” he says. “So it just took off. We were inundated with calls, and there were a lot of dermatologists who read that article and liked what I was doing.”

The consultancy ran for several years before Parker started inventing his own products. In 1995, he and Greg launched Skintech Co2, a cosmetics company specialising in products for patients recovering from laser surgery. They started with four products: a gentle cleansing lotion, a moisturising gel, a skin refining AHA gel and an SPF15+ tinted sunscreen base. Laser surgery was a very new technology in Australia at that time and was blowing up internationally. The products were only made available to doctors and dermatologists.

It was during this time that Parker clearly saw the manifestations of sun damage, which is responsible, he says, for 80 per cent of facial aging. Lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, sagging skin, sensitivity: “All of those things are caused by the sun,” he says. “It occurred to me that anything we did to restore skin health or prevent further aging had to address the sun; it was right there in that early research.”

They soon expanded the brand into the US, and over the next 30 years, Parker and his growing team of scientists developed a portfolio of products. In 2005, Parker became a qualified cosmetic chemist, and the business was officially rebranded Rationale in 2008. “Now, our focus goes deeper and deeper into addressing sun damage,” Parker says. “We deal with [both] prevention of sun damage and reversal of sun damage—that’s our foundation. When you heal someone’s skin health, they look great. They’re happier, too. And there’s a biological reason for that.

“When your skin is healthy, you make happy hormones, you feel better, you look better; it’s this positive upward cycle.”

Rationale’s first Australian flagship store opened in 2010 in Toorak. That year, the rapidly growing brand unveiled its skincare paradigm, dubbed ‘skin identical’ technology. This translates to considering human skin in a state of optimal health and beauty, culminating in the Essential Six product range for which Rationale is now broadly recognised. The range is built upon Parker’s six pillars of skin health: resilience, vitality, brilliance, integrity, clarity, and renewal. When these qualities diminish, Rationale’s theory is to reengineer them.

“All the answers are right there in the skin,” Parker says. “We look at vitamins, minerals, proteins, lipids, and enzymes that are found naturally in human skin. We find out what happens to them when things go wrong, and then we strive to put them back into equilibrium. It’s amazing how successful that formula has been.”

Now with 13 Australian stores and a broadening international footprint thanks to a significant investment from South Korean beauty juggernaut Amorepacific, Rationale has built a reputation that sits somewhere between wellness and medicine. In an industry that is so heavily saturated, rife with buzzwords and vulnerable to the pitfalls of influencer marketing, Rationale’s preeminence as a genuinely science-driven solution for healthy skin seems to endure. Parker says Rationale customers recognise it as a “research company that makes skincare”, rather than a “skincare company that does research”. New clients can opt for an in-store consultation to ascertain their skincare needs, in which a UV light diagnostic tool is used to identify a myriad of skin concerns. DNA testing is also offered, which gives the brand insight into the epigenetic makeup of a customer’s skin and allows Rationale’s team to further tailor care regimes.

“We straddle two worlds; we’re a bit of a conduit between medicine and luxury beauty,” he says.

And while doctors might love the brand because of its scientific approach, consumers love the products because of the results. “I can be at a dinner party with 20 people and identify, with 100 per cent accuracy, the six women who are using Rationale. It’s not so much word of mouth as it is ‘word of glow’.”

Last year, Rationale’s Melbourne team relocated from its city dwellings to a multimillion-dollar state-of-the-art facility in Kyneton, central Victoria. The new headquarters are strategically positioned in the Macedon Ranges where the team is working on a project to use mineral water from a local spring in Rationale products. The water has a high calcium concentration and contains a bounty of other minerals.

The ultra-modern facility is the built manifestation of the brand’s research-based philosophy. Labs are positioned right in the middle of the building, housing a team of research scientists that work alongside Parker to implement all formulation, prototyping work and clinical research projects. Everything originates from this regional cornucopia. In fact, when a formula sheet goes into production, it’s all completed right there on-site. About 40 per cent of Rationale’s employees are local to the office area, while the remaining team members commute from Melbourne.

“It’s so beautiful,” Parker beams when describing the 14,000sqm building. “It’s very inspiring and uplifting, with plentiful glasswork giving way to nature, trees and fresh air. The space is so conducive to doing your best work and paving the future of beauty.”