She’s the brains behind The Beauty Chef, but for Carla Oates, it’s always been about the gut.
Almost twenty years ago, the then-beauty editor began noticing the number of toxic chemicals in skincare products crossing her desk. Researching the link between the gut, hormones, and skin led to Carla’s first book deal and the start of a journey that would see her develop her cult GLOW Inner Beauty Powder.
While today the term ‘inner beauty’ is as common as serums and face oils, at the time the concept of ‘from the inside out’ was unheard of in the beauty industry.
“It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but digestive health is key for healthy, radiant skin,” she says.
“There has been a huge paradigm shift in the health and beauty industries as more and more people discover that health is beauty, and beauty is health. When I first started The Beauty Chef, for example, the concept of inner beauty didn’t even exist – there was no inner beauty category. We were the pioneers, so to be part of that movement, has been hugely rewarding.”
Of course, it’s not all magic formulas and supplements. Carla believes there is a revolution happening in the wellness world, and a welcome one at that. She talks us through the return to simple, whole foods, a day on her plate, and the power of walking and good sleep.
This back-to-basics approach is one she has imparted on her children. Her advice for parenting teenagers is beautifully simple: “take them away for weekends and immerse them in nature (without their phones), teach them to cook, eat well and look after their gut health.”
With her children now grown up and out in the world, and ever-evolving, thriving empire in The Beauty Chef, we’ll be taking a leaf(-y green) out of Carla’s book.
What are your most vivid memories of your childhood. Where did you grow up? How many siblings do you have? How did you spend your time?
My most vivid memories of childhood are being in the kitchen watching my mum cook and make beautiful bread baskets that she sold to a boutique in Woollahra. Also roaming the streets of Rose Bay (where I grew up) with my older sister and my cousins, playing knock and run and pretending to be Charlie’s Angels. I also spent a lot of time up the coast with my grandmother and great aunt most school holidays in a shack on a lake and being bored, so making up lots of dances and playing card games and badminton and writing love letters to my mum, nana and great aunt. We also went to the bush quite a lot and my aunt and uncle and we would love to pretend that we were Mike and Mal from the Leyland brothers.
What did your mother teach you about life?
She taught me about what really matters – about love, compassion, laughter, passion and food.
Where did your career in health begin and what lead to you launching your own business?
When I started out in the natural health, beauty and wellness world nearly 20 years ago, I was working as a beauty editor for a mainstream newspaper and while researching the ingredients in beauty products, I became concerned about the amount of toxic chemicals in skincare products. I had always been interested in holistic health and beauty, so I started to research the benefits of looking after your skin with clean, natural ingredients – predominantly active plant compounds that rejuvenate the skin from the inside, out. From there, I made the decision to write only about natural and organic health and beauty, offering women healthier options.
As a result of this, I was offered a book deal with Penguin and wrote Feeding your Skin while also beginning to formulate new recipes and products that were natural and nourishing.
I’d also had eczema as a child, and as a teenager, I’d worked with a naturopath who’d cleaned up my diet which had a profound impact on my skin. This gave me the understanding very early on that food is medicine and that what we eat can have a huge effect on our health, as well as our skin. Then, around 12 years ago, my own daughter began to experience similar skin issues so I was interested in researching what may be causing them. I put my family on a gut-healing protocol, which included making and eating lots of lacto-fermented wholefoods, like kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir, and very quickly I saw that our skin and overall well-being improved dramatically. Friends and family also began to ask me what I was doing differently and why my skin was so ‘glowy’ – which made me realise the power of the gut/skin connection.
I began experimenting with lacto-fermenting skin-loving superfoods in my kitchen at home and essentially, this was how my first product, GLOW Inner Beauty Powder, was born!
Your philosophy is that beauty begins in the belly. Talk us through this philosophy…
It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but digestive health is key for healthy, radiant skin. Our gut is where 70 percent of our immune system lies, it’s where we regulate hormones and detoxifying enzymes and where we neutralise pathogens and make detoxifying enzymes. So much of what goes on inside our digestive system impacts our skin and health and how we feel and more and more research is supporting this link. Research shows that where there is gut inflammation, there will be skin inflammation (inflammation is implicated in most skin issues) and that people with a healthier microbial profile in their gut, have a healthier fatty acid profile in their skin – meaning their skin is more hydrated, moisturised and plump.
The skin is also the body’s largest organ and our first line of defence against environmental toxins and pathogens – so, in order for it to be strong and healthy, we need to nourish the skin from the inside, out. Wholefoods – obtained through our diet – are the best way to support skin health as our skin requires a diet rich in healthy fats, fibre, plant nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
What are some of the biggest mistakes women make when it comes to their health?
A common mistake is adding lots of synthetic vitamin supplements into their health routine without addressing what foods they need to add in, or take out of their diet. Great skin and health improvements can be made by simply omitting certain foods from the diet. I recommend taking all the processed and packet foods out of the diet as well as refined sugar – and basing your diet on organic wholefoods. A Mediterranean diet is a good guide. I also am not a believer in over exercising when you are busy juggling work and kids – sometimes your body needs to rest. Regular and moderate exercise is the way to go, when your body is already under pressure.
A lot of our readers start the day with a milky coffee and skip breakfast – what does this do for our energy levels/overall health?
I really believe in the power of morning routines and that includes enjoying a nutrient-balanced breakfast to start the day on the right foot. Ensuring you incorporate protein into your morning meal, as well as throughout the day, is super important for sustaining energy levels and maintaining metabolic efficiency, keeping you feeling fuller for longer and keeping your blood sugar levels balanced. So whether you opt for eggs with veggies or a protein smoothie – a nourishing breakfast helps to promote good gut function and subsequently, supports our overall health, energy levels and immune function. Eating lots of fibre-rich plant based foods throughout the day is also vital as fibre is food for your microbiome. They ferment it and create short chain fatty acids – anti-inflammatory compounds that are essential for skin, immune, metabolic, brain and gut health.
In saying this, there is more and more research that suggests that time restricted eating and fasting can be very beneficial to your microbiome and overall health and wellbeing. I am very mindful of this and aim to finish eating and drinking (water is ok) at night by 7:30pm and then I don’t eat breakfast until around 8am or 9am. This gives my digestive system time to rest and more and more research shows it is very beneficial for cellular health. 8-10 hour restricted time eating is also recommended.
How long does it take to break a habit?
Studies show that it is easier to break a habit or start a new one by setting short term goals rather than long term ones that are overwhelming and hard to stick to. So, if eating well and creating a healthier lifestyle is important to you, set yourself up for success! Realising short term goals also stimulate the reward centre in your brain to release happy feel good hormones. So set a goal for four weeks – you are more likely to achieve it, and a habit may be set.
Spend Sunday afternoons planning, shopping and prepping your meals for the week ahead – thus decreasing the likelihood of relying on takeaway during the week. Try organising your breakfast ingredients into individual ziplock bags, pre-chop veggies or prep a batch of Glow Raw Energy Bars or healthy bliss balls to grab and go.
If you want to incorporate more exercise into your day or develop a self-care practice like meditation, try scheduling it in your diary as a regular appointment. By treating these practices as non-negotiables, these habits are far more likely to stick.
Three foods we should all have in our fridge?
Fermented foods: Love, love Lacto-fermented foods – like sauerkraut and kimchi as well as The Beauty Chef products (yes keep them in the fridge once opened)– rich in both probiotics and prebiotics (which feed your good microbes), helping to nourish your gut from within. The fermentation process also helps to pre-digest food, meaning that the nutrients become more bioavailable for the skin and body to use. And, fermented foods also possess anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating properties.
Leafy greens: As we know, our gut health is at the core of so many health and skin issues so it’s essential to incorporate a variety of alkalising greens into our diet daily. Greens like spinach and kale are also rich in lutein, which studies show help improve skin hydration. Leafy greens feed your microbiome that then produce anti-inflammatory compounds. They are also rich in a plethora of skin-loving nutrients.
Healthy fats: For glowing skin, and good gut health, it’s essential to include enough essential fatty acids in your diet. Fresh seeds and nuts, oily fish like salmon and sardines, olive oil and avocado are all good sources.
What are your thoughts on dairy?
The proteins in dairy (and gluten) can be hard to digest, for some people, so if you’re experiencing skin or gut issues – like leaky gut – it can be helpful to eliminate dairy from the diet while you heal the gut and rebuild a healthy microbiome. Interestingly however, studies show that acne is often associated with unfermented dairy, but not fermented dairy.
I am quite partial to a glass of red – three nights a week. From a health perspective, I certainly consider alcohol as a treat, not an everyday beverage. Red wine is a great source of health-boosting polyphenols, so that’s always a good excuse!
It is nice to see people embracing a new wave of non-alcoholic cocktails like Seedlip. Our Inner Beauty Boosts – Collagen, Hydration and Antioxidant – are a great base for mocktails with some sparkling water, a few herbs or a slice of fruit over ice.
What advice do you have for sleep deprived mothers?
That it is hard to pour from an empty cup, so it’s essential to set time aside for self-care. Do something that nurtures you – whether it’s a walk, yoga class, dance class or a movie or just staring into space!
If you have older children, encourage everyone in the house to contribute to chores and cooking. Train your kids when they are young!
Try to maintain a simple healthy diet even if it’s just snacking on a handful of nuts and some salad greens and a boiled egg.. eating well and keeping your microbiome happy which in turn helps with mood and general wellbeing which will make it easier to cope with the sleep deprivation.
What’s your approach to ageing? What do you love about getting older?
I embrace it. I truly believe that there is more than one definition of ‘beautiful’ and I love that the obsession with perfection and glamour and one type of beauty is now being replaced with the idea that we should all embrace our individual beauty, focusing on health and beauty from the inside, out. I think it’s also important that as women, we focus less on the concept of ‘anti-ageing’ and more on feeling healthy and looking great for our age – because women look beautiful at every age!
Motherhood is a juggling act. What do you prioritise and what do you let slide?
Motherhood is powerful and all-encompassing and there is a big part of my brain that is dedicated to thinking about my children – being happy for them, worrying about them or thinking about how I can help them – and the biggest part of my heart is also completely devoted to them.
I have also always believed that family and friends should come before business – and while it’s not always easy to juggle, striving for life/work balance (and not the other way around) is always at the top of my agenda.
I prefer to have friends and family around the table to share a casual meal with share plates and mess on the kitchen bench, rather than waiting to have the time to pull everything together in a picture-perfect way.
And as for my car… ha!
How do you make time for cooking in-between all your other commitments?
I’m lucky that cooking is one of my favourite things to do – so it doesn’t feel like a chore or just ‘one more thing’ on my to-do list. In saying that however, I’m also really lucky that my husband is a great cook too! So when I work late nights, there is usually a delicious meal on the table.
What does a typical family meal look like at your house?
It depends on the season, but I absolutely love soups and stews – which are excellent beauty foods, great for gut health, rich in nutrients and incredibly hydrating for the skin. In summer I love throwing together salads, with lots of strange and wonderful greens and herbs, many from my herb garden.
As a child, you had eczema and allergies and went and saw a naturopath who drastically changed your diet. What foods did she take out of your diet and what foods did she introduce?
Initially, she eliminated all allergens, including dairy and gluten as well as processed foods and refined sugars. This made a huge difference to my allergies.
GLOW Inner Beauty Powder was your first inner beauty product – tell us about it…
GLOW is undoubtedly our hero product and is now loved by women and men all over the world. Think of it as your essential daily beauty blend, to support and maintain your skin – like your inner beauty moisturiser. It contains 24 Certified Organic bio-fermented and skin-loving superfoods, which are designed to work synergistically together to support gut health and promote radiant, glowing skin. Thanks to The Beauty Chef’s unique bio-fermentation process – known as Flora Culture™ – GLOW also contains a good dose of prebiotics and probiotics, to nourish the gut from within.
You’ve talked before about being a kind and progressive leader in business – how do you work towards this every day?
It’s important that my team feels empowered, and understand that it’s OK to learn from mistakes. Having an empathetic work environment means everyone feels supported and is able to stretch themselves.
I hope I lead by example, with my passion and drive to explore all the opportunities presented by research into the impact of diet (including fermented foods) on the microbiome for skin health, immune health and mental health. Innovation requires an open curious mind, and that benefits all aspects of the business.
Three time management tips you swear by?
Be realistic about what you can get done in a day, prioritise and make sure the important things get done first, and finally, delegate. And diarise.
What are your favourite beauty brands for faking beauty sleep?
Thankfully, I rarely have to fake sleep thanks to SLEEP Inner Beauty Powder which a favourite part of my evening routine. Containing lemon balm and passionflower—both used in western herbal medicine—it helps calm me before bedtime, inducing sleep and relieving stress and anxiety. Sodashi have a range of beautiful Face Mist products which are a lovely way to ‘wake up’ especially when travel-weary and jet-lagged.
What would we find on your plate for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
I am a foodie at heart, so meals are an important part of my day! I eat a good solid breakfast and often have a smoothie for morning or afternoon tea, a salad with protein for lunch and a light dinner. I also love the occasional raw treat like a bliss ball or piece(s) of dark chocolate.
Breakfast is usually eggs in some form with roast tomatoes, spinach and/or with salmon or a protein-based porridge of some variety – like buckwheat and quinoa, miso, apple and almond and maple porridge. I’ll have a glass of GLOW Inner Beauty Powder with a splash of COLLAGEN Inner Beauty Boost – they make up my internal beauty routine. GLOW is like my internal moisturiser and COLLAGEN is like my internal skin serum.
For lunch, I’ll make a big salad with nuts, sprouts, avocado and some form of protein, whether chicken or salmon, and dinner means all kinds of culinary surprises, depending on what is in season. For dinner, we eat mostly salads, veggies and a protein source – mostly fish, sometimes chicken and more seldom red meat.., I’m a big fan of curries and I love slow-cooked soups and stews with lots of veggies and herbs and spices with bone broth, especially in the cooler months.
What will you teach your kids about working/achieving their dreams?
I know it sounds cliché, but being successful requires a lot of hard work and I often say this to my children. I also think it’s important that they do what they love because you may as well work hard at something you wholeheartedly enjoy. Plus, you are bound to be more successful doing something that you have fire, passion and drive for.
How, in your opinion, has the health industry changed in the last 10 years?
There has been a huge paradigm shift in the health and beauty industries as more and more people discover that health is beauty, and beauty is health. When I first started The Beauty Chef, for example, the concept of inner beauty didn’t even exist – there was no inner beauty category. We were the pioneers, so to be part of that movement, has been hugely rewarding. Fermentation and the power of probiotics for gut health and skin health was also a fairly new concept and while there was a certain level of awareness in the health and wellness world, probiotics for beauty was entirely new. So it is fantastic to see that change in the beauty and health industry.
What excites you about the future of health?
I think there is a wellness revolution happening. There has undoubtedly been a rise in degenerative diseases in the modern-day and now, people are realising that modern life isn’t so conducive to good health – too much stress, packaged food and pollution. I’m excited that we are going back to basics with organic food, chemical-free skin care and personal care products, as well as embracing traditional and healthy ways of preparing foods like slow-cooking and the art of fermentation.
I’m also excited about the building research into the microbiome! While I’ve always been passionate about the link between gut health and our overall health and wellbeing, it’s exciting to see this knowledge hit the mainstream as more people discover how looking after their gut can foster good health.
And what worries you?
The decline of the bees (they indirectly are responsible for 96% of our food), plastics in our oceans, climate change, world poverty, human rights and the questionable behaviour of many of our world leaders. I am also concerned about the decline of microbial health – our microbiome regulates everything from our immune, brain, gut and metabolic health and the modern-day diet of overly processed food is not conducive to a happy, healthy microbiome.
What are some of the challenges you face parenting teenagers (ie social media management, etc) and how do you overcome these challenges?
My children are adults out in the world now! However, I think most parents face challenges with their teenagers. I think helping them keep busy is important and grounded. Sport is helpful for this – ‘be sporty not naughty’. Social media is a reality – and for most parents is a losing battle, but putting boundaries around their time on their phones is helpful as is having open and regular conversations about the healthy and unhealthy aspects of it. Staying connected to your kids in whatever way you can is really important and remember to pick your battles.
Three parenting tips for mothers of teenagers?
Take them away for weekends and immerse them in nature (without their phones), teach them to cook, eat well and look after their gut health.
If you could turn back time, what phase of your life would you revisit?
When my children were little, I juggled working and raising babies, but financially, I had to work. If I could turn back time, I would probably move away from Sydney to relieve the financial pressure to be able to spend more quality and not such rushed time with them. That time when they are small is so precious – they really do grow up so fast.
What did your own mother teach you about life/being a mother?
My mum was the most beautiful person in the world, she gave love wholly and unconditionally. I think she has taught me that really ‘all you need is love’. She also taught me not to sweat the small stuff.
Finish this sentence. “We all need to be more honest about…
… the things that we find hardest to talk about.”
How do you keep your home tidy/organised with a child? Are you more on the minimal side of things?
I think a home should be comfortable and nurturing so for me, our home is filled with well-designed and purposeful pieces as well as lots of texture and greenery. I wouldn’t necessarily describe our home as minimal, but everything has its purpose and I am drawn to natural fabrics, lots of natural light and a neutral colour palette, so everything feels inviting. There’s nothing I love more than curling up in a comfy chair with a good book!
What keeps you sane?
Walking, walking, walking.
What are you loving right now?
- Natural, essential oil perfumes – love rose, sandalwood and patchouli
- Onda facial with the gorgeous Nicole Manning
- The South Coast of NSW
- Tennis if I can remember to book a court!
- Barre and Pilates
- Buckwheat and sweet potato and miso porridge (from my book)
- Gut primer every morning
- Modern Love Stories on Amazon Prime
- Listening to Marlon Williams
- Reading Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat