REWIND one year and Joyce Carslaw was preparing to launch her new company Smart Ass Beauty. This new niche skincare brand, which uses rich donkey milk to produce a range of serums and moisturisers, was the culmination of Ms Carslaw’s decades of experience in the pharmaceutical and beauty industries.

She had sourced PR representation in London with the hopes of a glossy launch into high-end department stores, with production of the products in full swing at her partner laboratory over on the Italian island of Sardinia.

But with cases of a new strain of coronavirus rapidly taking hold across Italy, their government took what was then unprecedented action and placed the whole country into lockdown. Production of Smart Ass Beauty halted overnight.

“Everything changed dramatically,” Ms Carslaw says, “we had so many plans about what to do for the launch and none of it happened. When you believe in something so fanatically you want to get it out there, but unfortunately there has been lots of things in my path.”

Production managed to restart in August, but Ms Carslaw has also faced the complications of Brexit, lockdown closures affecting the stores where she had hoped to see her products stocked, even water damage wreaking havoc in her other business, a beauty salon in Hamilton. And with uncertainty around Covid continuing, she still hasn’t been able to have a launch event for Smart Ass Beauty.

Yet despite the setbacks, her belief in her products - and determination to see them in the hands of consumers - remains uninhibited.

“I’ve tried so many cosmetics through my career without finding anything that I have thought actually makes a difference. You can pay hundreds and hundreds of pounds without seeing a particular difference from before. I think that is because the biggest ingredient in most skincare is aqua, so basically water, whereas the active ingredient in ours is the actual milk.

“The key to our products is the high percentage of active ingredients that we use. The Smart Ass serum is 98% donkey milk. What you are getting in a teaspoon of donkey milk is about ten skincare ingredients in one, but it’s all organic.

“Using chemicals isn’t always the answer, there are natural alternatives out there that can give you far better results than any chemical. You can do more damage than good by putting too much stuff on your face.”

Ms Carslaw was herself convinced of the benefits of donkey milk following a chance encounter in an Italian spa. She and her late husband had bought a holiday home in Sardinia 16 years ago, and on one of her regular trips over to the island Ms Carslaw got chatting to a fellow customer while waiting in a spa.

“She was telling me about all the different things that they do in Sardinia with donkey’s milk. It is used much more widely in Italy, but also in the US, where it is classed as a ‘pharma food.’ I thought it was fascinating. She told me that she had problems with acne and it had made a big difference.

“After that encounter, and having tried it myself, I started doing quite a bit of research when I came back. I thought ‘I have to do something with this’, and because of my background in the industry, my connection to Sardinia, I thought it was a path I had to follow.

“I started working with a lab in Sardinia, about half an hour from where my house is over there, then got in touch with a man who breeds a particular type of donkey on the island. The donkeys live organically on the wild scrubland in the centre of Sardinia. It’s a bit like the Highlands of Scotland, there isn’t many people living there and so the donkeys can wander about wherever they like.

“The brand is 100% cruelty free, which is very important for me as an animal lover. It isn’t like dairy farming where the young are taken away from the mother. With donkeys they have to have the foal with them or they don’t produce milk anyway.

“It is quite niche because of that - the donkeys only produce milk when they have a foal at foot so you only get about a litre a day for a period of about nine months. It isn’t mass-produced, it is a unique product. We use a very high percentage of the milk which is unusual.”

With a range of three Smart Ass products at present (a cleansing bar, serum and moisturiser) Ms Carslaw has used the time spent in lockdown to develop more, with face masks and shower creams in the pipeline. She hopes to make a real difference to those suffering from skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis and is considering sending products out to sufferers directly to generate a bit of buzz around the brand.

“Things have changed a lot since the start of the pandemic, with how people shop, so my outlook on the best way to get the product out there has changed. Is retail the way forward now, with the pandemic? I’m not sure.”

At the moment her products are available to order online direct from the Smart Ass Beauty website. Ms Carslaw’s ultimate dream is to have her own donkey farm in Scotland, where she can produce her Smart Ass products, as well as providing a sanctuary for donkeys in need.