Carla Oates, a pioneer in the beauty world, was an early champion of ‘health is beauty and beauty is health’ which she articulates through her enormously successful brand ‘The Beauty Chef’. Here Carla shares how she balances running her own business while keeping herself physically and mentally nourished. ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup,’ are wise words to live by.

Do you look back and have any sense of how your childhood shaped the person you have become?

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, Sydney. 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, submerged in nature, in a shack on a lake. I remember being so bored and making up dances and playing card games and badminton and writing love letters to my mum, nanna and great aunt. I also started up a healing clinic when I was about eight years old, at my house and used all of my mum’s beauty products to give massages to my family. I guess that was the beauty of not having computers (except for Nintendo), as it allowed you lots of time to engage in creative play. My mum taught me about what really matters–about love, compassion, laughter, passion and food.

"Style to me means being comfortable in your skin, confident in your shoes, having a deep understanding of yourself and an attitude and a love of what you do."

With a long career in fashion, how did that influence your attitude towards clothes and style? How would you describe your own style?

My mum worked in the world of fashion and beauty as an editor which fostered my love of fashion and inspired me to enter the industry. For me, style is a holistic expression of who you are. Style to me means being comfortable in your skin, confident in your shoes, having a deep understanding of yourself and an attitude and a love of what you do. And not being afraid to express this–whether in your personality, what you wear, or the objects that you surround yourself with.

Are you a person who likes to make things happen and what is your technique for daily motivation?

I try to walk most mornings—and thankfully—it’s something we’ve been able to do here in Sydney over the past few months. I love walking along Bondi Beach at sunrise, which is quite close to my house, or through Centennial Park, which is a more meditative route. I describe walking as a natural filing system for my brain—it provides mental clarity, gives me energy and helps to set me up for the day.

How would you characterise your personality?

I am creative, empathetic, loving, determined, inspired by nature and innovation, driven by passion and justice and can be stubborn.


What star sign are you?


"I decided to make it my mission to help change the paradigm in the beauty industry and help educate women on how to look after their skin in a healthier and more holistic way."

As a beauty writer did you have a light bulb moment when you realized that the application of superficial treatments was only doing part of the job?

As a journalist in my early career, I landed a job as a beauty editor for a mainstream newspaper and was inundated with beauty products from mass-market brands. My excitement soon dissipated, after researching the ingredients and becoming increasingly concerned about the many toxic chemicals in skincare products. Women from all over Australia were writing into my column and asking what products should they use for their eczema, psoriasis and acne and other chronic skin issues as well as their ageing skin. I knew looking after your skin properly was an inside job from my own experience with eczema, and knew that none of these chemical-laden products would actually help, heal or rejuvenate their skin. I decided to make it my mission to help change the paradigm in the beauty industry and help educate women on how to look after their skin in a healthier and more holistic way.

The relationship between the gut and skin healthy is really interesting. Can you explain how the two are linked?

It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but digestive health is key for healthy, radiant skin. Our gut is where 70 per cent of our immune system lies, it’s where we regulate hormones and detoxifying enzymes, where we neutralise pathogens and make neurotransmitters too. So much of what goes on inside our digestive system impacts our skin, mental health and wellbeing. More and more research shows that where there is gut inflammation, there is skin inflammation. Like there is a gut-brain axis, there is also a gut-skin axis, a profound connection between our gut microbiome, our gut and the state of our skin health.

The skin is also the body’s largest organ and our first line of defence against environmental toxins and pathogens. In order for it to be strong and healthy, we need to nourish the skin from the inside, out. Whole foods obtained through our diet is the best way to support skin health as our skin requires a diet rich in healthy fats, protein, fibre, plant nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Part of your regime is to avoid caffeine, processed sugar and alcohol. Was this ever a challenge for you?

Not really as I don’t really enjoy processed foods or too much alcohol. I have been quite conscious of my diet from an early age having suffered from eczema and allergies. I am not perfect–I love black tea, dark chocolate and the occasional glass(es) of pinot noir. I consume them in moderation but also know that they are all full of skin-loving antioxidants–and that is how I like to justify it! Although I avoid inflammatory processed foods and refined sugars, I am definitely not an advocate of dietary deprivation. I love food. Over the years I have learned to make lots of healthy snacks and meals and desserts that taste delicious–which is why I wrote my cookbooks–to help educate our customers that you can still be healthy and decadent at the same time.

What do you think are the 3 most valuable things that you have learnt during your career?

The first thing would be that saying no is sometimes just as powerful as saying yes, so it’s important to follow your gut instinct when making crucial decisions. No one really knows your business like you do. I’ve also learnt it’s important to 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 to look after your gut health–it’s where you regulate skin, mental, metabolic and immune health. When you juggle running a business and family, you need to replenish your energy and take time out for yourself as you can’t pour from an empty cup. Oh and do what you love–a deep love and passion for what you do gets you through the bumpy times in your career.

Where do you see The Beauty Chef going as a brand and where do you see it taking you?

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 in 2009 the concept of inner beauty didn’t exist–there was no inner beauty category and we pioneered the space. Fermentation and the power of probiotics for gut health and skin health were also fairly new and while there was a certain level of awareness in the health and wellness world, probiotics for beauty was also entirely new. I am really excited about creating more wonderful products that help people and writing more books that help to educate around the importance of diet and the gut microbiome–not just for skin health, but mental wellbeing and overall wellbeing.

Has this time of Covid taught you anything about yourself you didn’t already know?

Covid has been a challenging time. Balancing all of the facets in my life is something I am constantly working on, but in the past 18 months, it has really been a focus. While success in your career is rewarding, at the end of the day love, family and friendships sustain. Nurturing good relationships and a healthy, supportive community is very important for the heart and the soul, as well as the planet. I try and take time to ensure I am present with my loved ones as much as I am at work. Being mindful and strict with my diary around time with friends and family, as well as time for exercise and healthy meal planning, is important. To be honest, with running my own business, this balance is not always there, but it is something I continuously strive for.

With daily dressing, what pieces make you feel the most yourself?

I am definitely drawn to natural materials that feel good on my skin and are made well and shaped well. I like investment pieces that will last a long time. I also like to wear clothes that I find beautiful, whether that is their material, their shape, their pattern or colour and have something a little different about them. I used to wear a lot of colour when I was younger, and then evolved to more tonal colours. I am finding myself more and more drawn to colour as I get older–which I am really enjoying and embracing.

What are the most pleasing aspects of your home and how does it reflect who you are?

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 and calm. I do love a pop of colour from a piece of art or bunch of flowers. There’s nothing I love more than curling up in a comfy chair with a good book.

Photography: Anne Peeters

Words: Karen McCartney