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Q & A with Horst Rechelbacher: Wellness & Beauty Entrepreneur, Activist, Pioneer

Jason Wachob
August 17, 2010
Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
By Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth.
August 17, 2010

Most people would head for an early retirement after selling their company for hundreds of millions of dollars to Estée Lauder. Not Horst Rechelbacher, the the man behind Intelligent Nutrients, a health and beauty product company that utilizes 100 percent food-based and organic certified ingredients.

Austrian by birth, and son of an herbalist, Horst is an active environmentalist, innovative business leader, author, artist, and organic farmer. At age fourteen, Horst began a three-year apprenticeship in the beauty and salon industry. With an award-winning career as a hairstylist, in 1965, he started his own salons and product line called Horst. In 1978, Horst founded Aveda Corporation, a global plant-based cosmetic company. Nearly two decades later, he sold Aveda to Estée Lauder but remained a consultant until March 2003. Afterwards, he focused on his new product paradigm, Intelligent Nutrients.

Since the mid 1960's, Horst dedicated himself to analyzing the chemical constitution of plants, and pioneered flower and plant-based flavor-aroma-therapy, functional foods, and nutraceuticals to enhance personal health and well being. Vanity Fair magazine voted Horst as one of the most influential environmentalists in the U.S. in 1995 and again in 2005. Oh -- and he's authored three books, too.

He currently resides in Wisconsin and New York City, and his organic farm in Wisconsin (where he grows ingredients for Intelligent Nutrients products) is solar, wind and geothermal powered.

In my interview with Horst we talk about Ayurveda, the importance of organic certification, the future of beauty, stem cells, yoga, meditation, and more!

MBG: You've studied Ayurveda for some time -- how did you get started?

Horst Rechelbacher: I started studying Ayurveda in the 1970s. I met an Indian doctor/yogi at the University of Minnesota in the late 60s and then went to India to study with him. My study of Ayurveda continued on with him until 1996, when he left his body.

How has your knowledge of Ayurveda influenced your products and the message of Intelligent Nutrients?

Our products are now organic certified and our entire message is that we shouldn't put anything on our body that we can't digest or doesn't have nutritional value. The only way to measure authenticity and purity today is through organic certification. If it's not organic certified, it's probably a "greenwash."

Whole Foods is now pushing for certification in beauty products. Has that accomplished a lot?

Absolutely, that's why I have a call into Walter Robb at Whole Foods Market. For Whole Foods to do what they've just done is brilliant. There's so much potential there.

After you sold Aveda to Estée Lauder, did you contemplate retiring?

I was contemplating retirement. But when I looked at the industry and saw all the greenwashing, I had to do something. I try to be an activist, but activism without 'show and tell' isn't as useful. So I got back at it and started reinventing. It made sense to me. Aveda never lived up to my expectations so I left and did my own thing.

How didn't it live up to your expectations?

We could've been certified organic, so what I'm doing now with Intelligent Nutrients could be considered the 21st century version.

Is the timing right for organic beauty products to really move forward?

Yes, I think consumers are now interested. For example, we now sell our products to hospitals. Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan is the first organic hospital -- all the food is organic, no fryers, everything is fresh. It's actually run by the Ritz Carlton and they have a spa, and they're all going to have Intelligent Nutrients. It's really beginning to catch on.

So do you think having that organic label means a lot to consumers?

Absolutely. I think it's the same consumer who's probably buying organic food, which is still growing 20% a year. Consumers are realizing that cosmetics are extremely toxic -- from lipstick to anti-aging products -- you name it. Anti-aging products are all temporary inflammatory substances, which keep the skin swollen and stretch it. There are more active groups out there and the political process is catching up. I just had dinner with President Obama last week. I happen to like that he's got an organic vegetable garden at the White House. I think he's trying as much as possible.

Do you think President Obama is aware of the importance of organic?

Yes, I talked to him about it. I pushed him on regulation, we really need regulation of beauty products, and he totally agrees. In fact, Senator Al Franken has a bill right now that he's going to get through Congress. I think they should have warning labels on beauty products. I think lipstick should definitely have a warning label because it's extremely toxic. Other household products have no ingredient listings as well -- it's just outdated. For the FDA to say that the beauty industry is self-regulated is ridiculous -- they don't know what they are talking about. They're saying products are safe, that they're not food and they're not drugs, which is wrong. They ARE drugs. Now the FDA is saying that if you're certified organic, that you're a food grade product. My products are certified organic so we're regulated by the FDA.

How do you get people to rethink beauty products?

It starts with organic, educated consumers because those people understand what we're doing and are grateful. It's all about education. Unfortunately it's easier to educate someone who just had cancer. This is one of the reasons that our products are in hospitals -- people who've had cancer pay attention to what they're putting on and into their bodies.

One of your products that I love (and have) is your elixir. What positive effects can elixirs have?

You have a lot of high quality essential oils which are designed to function, which is where herbal medicine comes in and proves to be useful. They can definitely make you feel good, which is what this is all about -- making people feel good.

Speaking of feeling good, how do you feel good? How do you maintain a healthy lifestyle? Do you practice yoga?

I live it. It's my practice. I've been practicing yoga for 30-40 years.

Where do you practice yoga?

I practice wherever. I try to be conscious. I call it meditation in action. It definitely helps me manage my stress for sure.

Did you have a moment when you decided to become a conscious entrepreneur?

I guess you could say that I was lucky in that when I was young in the '60s, I got sick from being exposed to toxins in a beauty salon. My mother was an herbalist and she used to come and visit me and say 'Your salon doesn't smell right. You're using chemicals.' She totally saw it coming. So because I got sick, I took a break, I learned how to detoxify, and looked to clean up my act. That's when my yoga and meditation practice began. I'm still studying and learning.

You have a farm in Wisconsin -- can you tell us more about that?

Right now I'm building greenhouses there so I can grow year-around. I'm growing rose and jasmine, and a preservative that I'm going to use in our products.

Where do you go when you want to get away from it all?

My place is my retreat place. I live on the St Croix River. It's gorgeous. I have 12 dogs and other animals -- I end up taking dogs and animals that other people don't want. But I don't need to go anywhere -- between New York and Wisconsin that's all I need.

Where do you see the future of beauty?

I see beauty as health, and health is beauty. The future of it all is using the organic matter of the body to renew itself -- stem cells. Now I'm working on plant stem cells, and we're also looking at human stem cells. The fat in your stomach -- those cells can grow organs, they can grow new skin, it's phenomenal where it's going. That's the new buzz.

So everything we could need as far as beauty might already be inside of us?


That's amazing -- how far are we away from that?

I think we're already there. Now it's just going through the FDA. That's where the big drug companies come in because everyone wants to own this. The potential is huge. It remains to be seen who?s going to own it.

I vote for you to own it!

Oh well, good luck. You need to go public to own that. You need that much money.

Do you think going public is a possibility for Intelligent Nutrients?

You know, I keep on saying I don't want to work. I'm 68 years of age so I want to relax a little bit. I like being in silence the best.

What is it about silence that you like so much?

What I like about silence is that you can hear the truth, that you can hear yourself. And studying the self is what I'm really interested in.

You mention studying -- have you had any great teachers?

I know a lot of special people including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil. I'm interested in medicine. I think these types of people like Andy and other doctors are going to be the new gurus because they can document what we're doing, particularly with stem cells. Andy is very inward and is definitely interested in the practice of yoga and meditation as well.

How do you learn and grow?

I'm not a big reader of books. I'm someone who learns by doing. I'm a little bit dyslexic, so I let the plants teach me now. I still study medicine and believe the future is all stem cells -- and good nutrition. Now we know which foods are inflammatory, which foods are non-toxic, which beauty products are toxic and non-toxic. This is a whole lifestyle -- a lifestyle that is becoming more documented through science and that people are more interested in.

So where do you lean in your diet?

I believe that we need to take Omegas -- Omegas-3s, 6s, and 9s, which you can supplement with clean ocean fish or oil. Once again, it's all about being non-toxic. This is where stress management comes in because stress is toxic. Stress causes cancer, there's no doubt about it. It mutilates the cell -- the cell is like an employee that needs direction, motivation, and it needs management. This is why I believe in yoga and meditation because it's stress management. It's absolutely necessary that we practice stress management daily. It's supported with good food, our mind body relationship, our household products and beauty products -- even our cell phones.

Even our cell phones?

Yes, you need to use the speaker. Yes, because there's frequency, it's radioactive.

You've done so much, what do you want to be known for?

I have no need to be known for anything. That's not my mission for life. My mission in life is for me to feel good about me. And if I can feel good about me than I can feel very good about you!

That's a very good mission

That's it, that's my mission!

For more on Horst and Intelligent Nutrients:

Jason Wachob author page.
Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO

Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.