Eat yourself well - advice from Dragon’s Den contestant, Hanna Sillitoe
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 October 2019
After changing her diet transformed her health inside and out, Hanna Sillitoe, originally from Bramhall, has made a career helping others do the same - now she has a couple of dragons on board too.
How would you celebrate a major work win? A bottle of bubbly perhaps, or a blow-out takeaway with all the trimmings?
When Hanna Sillitoe netted a cool £60k for her vegan skincare brand on BBC Two's Dragons' Den - and sparked a bidding war between all five multimillionaire investors - she chose a much tamer option.
'At first, I had these big plans for a Dragons' Den party. But the reality was that I had to be absolutely glued to my laptop the night it aired, making sure the website didn't crash and sharing the excitement with my social media followers,' says the Bramhall-born author and skin healing expert.
'My friend Rachel came over to help me reply to the hundreds of messages during and after the show. I haven't drunk alcohol for nearly six years now, so she made us the most amazing mocktails with berries, pink tonic and fresh mint.'
Hanna's choice of celebration encapsulates the clean living and dedication which have made her business such a success (and had Dragons including Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden and Tej Lalvani vying for her attentions).
The blogger, writer and entrepreneur has amassed more than 30,000 Instagram followers with her skincare range, plant-based recipes and online coaching to tackle skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and acne.
But it hasn't been an easy route for the former interior designer, who spent two decades suffering from painful skin problems before discovering her formula of healthy diet and lifestyle changes.
Hanna's issues began at the age of 15 with an acne outbreak, followed by a flare-up of psoriasis (red, flaky, painful skin patches) just before her GCSE exams, plus itchy eczema on her eyelids.
'Some people experience stress, poor diet or anything bad going on as a migraine, stomach pains, or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), but for me it was always reflected in my skin. That stressed me out further, so it was a vicious cycle,' says Hanna, 40.
With crippling skin problems on her arms, legs, hands, stomach, eyelids and scalp, she learned to hide and disguise her skin - and field embarrassing questions from people wondering 'if I'd been bitten or if it was contagious'.
'For the next 20 years it was a constant merry-go-round of steroid creams and greasy emollients. All these vile paraffin and petroleum-based products. I remember going to bed smeared in this stuff, greasy bedsheets, having to throw pyjamas away after a couple of months,' says Hanna.
'Then when my skin really flared up, my doctor said we could look at prescribing something stronger, maybe a medication such as methotrexate, which is a chemotherapy drug.
'I understood the thinking behind it, that you want to suppress an overactive immune system, but I thought, 'Instead of supressing it, is there not something that could modulate it or regulate it? That was when I started looking into food.
'I thought, maybe I do need to look into alternatives which my doctor had said for years wouldn't make any difference.'
A self-confessed Diet Coke obsessive, with a diet of beige carbs - bread, pasta, pizza - and plenty of alcohol, Hanna began researching how lifestyle and dietary changes could help with skin complaints. The more research she did, the more stories she read about people achieving amazing results through diet.
She began with a juice cleanse, 'flooding my body with all the vitamins', eliminated sugar, switched fizzy drinks and for water, then reintroduced light salads and soups before adding healthy grains (such as rice or quinoa) to her plant-based meals.
Within a month, Hanna noticed an improvement. Able to wear short sleeves for the first time in years, she began blogging and posting her recipes online.
'Slowly but surely people were messaging me, saying, "I've been following your suggestions and my skin's clearing." They started sending me before and after pictures, so that spurred me to carry on.'
Keeping her stress levels in check through meditation and exercise, she released a bestselling cookbook, 'Radiant: Recipes to heal your skin from within', in 2017 with dishes such as creamy quinoa breakfast porridge and salted caramel nut butter cake.
Hanna also began online coaching and retreats for people with skin conditions, where she'd share diet and lifestyle tips.
She quit her interior design day job to focus on her ventures and began working with a local aromatherapist last year to create a range of natural vegan products based on the oils and butters she used on her own skin.
This year, to keep up with customer demand, Hanna moved her kitchen table business to a bigger natural skincare manufacturer.
The first sample products of the slick new Hanna Sillitoe Skincare - which include Vitamin D face cream, and body cream with chia oil - arrived just two days before her date with the Dragons.
'We just had to work really quickly to get the right bottles, get the right labels. Everything I created up until then really was very much homemade and I thought, "Peter Jones is going to rip me apart if I go on with that!"'
'So many different thoughts went through my mind going into the Den: don't trip, because I was wearing heels; don't make a fool of yourself; breathe; it's not X Factor, don't end up in floods of tears.'
The hard work paid off. Impressed with Hanna's story, the Dragons were soon competing for a share of her business.
'None of them said, "What is this quackery?". No one said, "Where's your scientific evidence?", all the things doctors had constantly said to me. They all just completely got it and understood what I was about.'
She opted for a combined offer from 'dream duo' Peter Jones, with his global business connections, and Tej Lalvani, CEO of vitamin company Vitabiotics, who will inject £60k in total for 20% of the business.
'The money is amazing and lovely and will take the pressure off and make life much easier. But it's their experience, having them on hand to talk me through things. They can make a phone call and make things happen,' says Hanna, who's also working on her second book.
She's keen to remove the stigma and shame around skin conditions.
'For me, the mental pain was often more difficult to deal with than the physical pain,' she says.
'I had a reality star on one of my retreats. She was so frightened to reveal anything on her Instagram [about her skin problems]. But actually, people would think she was so much more real…
'For all the negatives of social media, actually I think now, on Instagram certainly, there are a lot more people sharing the truth.'
This December, Hanna's skin will be six years clear, but she's cautious of using the word 'cured' - and says the diet and lifestyle changes she advocates aren't a quick fix.
'If my body isn't happy, my diet isn't on track, or I'm stressed, it's always going to react on the surface of my skin,' she adds.
'It's kind of like my little visible barometer of what's going on. Those little triggers that just remind me that actually, you do have to stay on track.'