Keracol – how we’re getting on during the lockdown

In our series of catch-ups with Nexus members on key projects and shared experiences during the current lockdown, Dr Meryem Benohoud, Technical Director at Keracol, tells us about life inside the Nexus building during lockdown and fast-tracking a sustainable care and protection product for our scrupulously-scrubbed hands.

Social distancing is very easy in the Nexus building at the moment! There’s not been many of us continuing to operate within the building – but we need our lab space to keep our businesses running.

In February and March there were four of us in the laboratory as Rashmi Seneviratne, post-graduate from the University of Leeds’ School of Chemistry, joined us for her placement at Nexus (funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council), which was organised by Jo Howorth from the Nexus Engagement Team.

Rashmi’s support was invaluable. With an extra pair of hands in the laboratory and two weeks before the official lockdown was announced, we worked on a hand sanitiser product. We have an HMRC license for ethanol and had some in stock to supply our hand sanitisers to the Nexus building. The Oktaco team, also based here at Nexus, designed the label, and we used the University of Leeds’ printing service, who were able to print the labels at short notice.

The University of Leeds was also interested in the product to help support safe working conditions for essential staff on campus. At the same time – and very rapidly – the price for alcohol and other key ingredients for the preparation of the gel went through the roof (some suppliers were charging £130 a kilo – the normal price is about £1 a kilo), so we did as much as we could with reduced staff and used all the ingredients we had in stock, to supply our University colleagues.

But it was over a coffee break, when I was using yet another tube of hand cream, that Richard (Dr Richard Blackburn is co-founder of Keracol) asked, “why don’t we make our own hand cream for our cosmetics brand Dr. Craft. We are all scrupulously washing our hands for the recommended 20-seconds or using hand sanitisers”, he said, “and it’s taking its toll on our skin”.

It was the perfect project for us to focus on during lockdown.

While we were working on a hand cream formulation that would moisturise the skin without leaving the hands oily or sticky, the Dr. Craft marketing team came back to us to say that they loved the samples of grape cream we’d been working on for several months.

Person working at fume cupboard and person seated working at bench in Keracol lab in the Nexus building

Meryem Benohoud and David Woods, Keracol

Freddy Furber (our partner in the Dr. Craft business) said that he had nearly finished the sample as he was using it every day on his hands! That convinced us to use this rich moisturising formula, boosted with a generous amount of Keracol’s grape skin extract and grape seed oil.

Dr. Craft products are based on the principles “made from nature – designed by science” and our grape extract is made from waste grape skins that are left over after pressing to make sparkling wine. The skins are sourced from one of the largest vineyards in the UK that makes excellent sparkling and rosé wines. The skin of grapes is where the plant stores strong natural compounds that are antioxidants and provide repair against the effects of UV, ideal for keeping our hands hydrated, soft and healthy.

We’ve been able to fast-track product development and get it to safety-testing and microbiological analysis before an in-depth toxicology analysis within a matter of weeks and we’re hopeful that the new hand cream will be ready to launch this summer.

Keracol is all about sustainability and making the best use of waste products – using plant extracts to create safe, high quality skin care, hair treatments, food ingredients and nutraceuticals – so our “lockdown project” will be a perfect addition to our range in the coming weeks.

We also used the lockdown to finalise launch of our Organic Bakuchiol Cream. If you’re interested in this new anti-ageing cream and our other products you can learn more about them on our website.

As always, we love to hear from all of our Community, get in touch if you’d like to share your story with us.


Find out the latest information to help guide you through the advice and support schemes available in response to COVID-19 on our hub.