Creams of the crops: the rise of truly wild beauty products
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Wild is the new “clean”, as a host of skincare innovators are putting foraged ingredients in their beauty products. Wild plants are those that have come from unfarmed land, promoting all the nutrients of an ingredient grown in uncultivated, fertile soil.
North Wales-based Wild Beauty makes skincare blended with forage from founder Lord Newborough’s remote Rhug Estate. And it’s keen to stress that “wildcrafted” isn’t just a load of beauty mumbo-jumbo. Research by Urban Ecosystems shows that wild plants are more resilient because they’ve had to adapt to their conditions, unlike farmed ingredients, which makes them more nutrient-dense and therefore more potent and effective. And recent research from the University of Copenhagen suggests that wild plants should be considered in the use of crop cultivation, as they are more adaptive to the evolving conditions that result from climate change.
“For a number of years we supplied wild herbs picked by Richard, our forager, to chefs,” says Lord Newborough. “I had been intrigued through many conversations with him about the beneficial properties these plants and herbs could have for the skin.” The estate’s abundance of herb-Robert, which is known to have astringent properties to help tone the complexion, is the star ingredient in Wild Beauty’s Active Treatment Serum. Nettle leaf – celebrated for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties – and ingredients rich in vitamins A to D go into its Purifying Cleansing Lotion.
For Epara founder Ozohu Adoh, it was the wild-growing shea fruit of Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana that her dry, uneven complexion needed. “Our forebears have always told us about how good certain plants were for the skin,” she says of her quest for ingredients that suit women and men of colour. “Although we couldn’t prove it scientifically, we could see from the quality of their skin that they were on to something.” She started looking into ingredients such as moringa from Kenya, neroli oil from Egypt and marula from South Africa. She blended her first formulas and her skin cleared up within weeks.
Native plants are also key to Alpyn Beauty, a small brand that started two years ago out of Jackson Hole, in the rugged but now fashionable (thanks to Kim and Kanye) state of Wyoming. Founder Kendra Kolb Butler worked in the skincare business in New York for 20 years before moving there to start her own beauty-retail business, but she found few of her products solved the problem of “high-altitude” skin. “I was sitting in my backyard one day, which backed up to the Grand Teton National Park, and I was looking at the flowers, and they were all Jurassic Park-sized,” she says. “I thought, ‘How have these plants found a way to flourish in a climate that makes my skin feel like it’s going to fall off my face?’”
Butler hired a local farmer and botanist to identify the flowers, which turned out to be (among others) arnica, calendula and borage – all known anti-inflammatories – and camomile, which can strengthen the skin barrier. She promptly made a moisturiser, which she gave out in samples to her clients. When they couldn’t get enough, she built a dedicated range.
Harsh conditions produce hardy ingredients. It’s a logic that Cornwall-based eco-brand land&water has also followed for its range of herbal-scented lotions and washes, which contain coastal ingredients such as samphire and sea-buckthorn. These plants, founder Pix Ashworth says, have developed impressive capabilities for protecting themselves from dehydration because of the salty nature of their environment.
Nevertheless, the logistics of wild harvesting are far more complex and delicate than those of organic farming. Ingredients can only be collected when they’re in season, which might be just a few weeks of the year. “We have to plan a year ahead exactly what skin or body treatment we’ll create next,” says Newborough. “The plants are harvested at the right time of year and then dried, vacuum-packed and stored until they are required.”
The quirks and intricacies of wild harvesting have been embraced at Margate brand Haeckels, which uses mineral-rich seaweed (recently acclaimed as a natural alternative to hyaluronic acid due to its super-hydrating properties) sourced from local beaches to blend into shampoos, fragrances, washes, lotions and moisturisers. “Each scent was developed at different times of the year,” says founder Dom Bridges. “The idea being that we could revisit the location during a different season and create a new scent.” Seaweed is available year-round on the beach, but the colour and consistency often varies. “You might buy a product two months apart and the colour will be different,” says Bridges. “But that’s the beauty of a natural product.”
Scalability and sustainability isn’t a problem, emphasises Butler. “On my 60 acres of land, we harvest arnica in a 100sq ft patch. That will make 10,000 moisturisers. I go back one week later and it looks like I wasn’t even there. We’re never going to pull so much from the plant that it can’t just pop right back up.”
The duo behind haircare-brand Rahua rely on a similarly sustainable, traditional way of foraging in the Amazonian rainforest for wild Rahua oil, which goes into it moisturising shampoos, masks, oils and treatments . “Members of local tribal communities travel into the deep jungle, where they start climbing and gathering their plantae materials,” explains Rahua’s Fabian Lliguin. “Then the men pass the fruit, seeds or leaves to the women, who prepare the final symbiotic ingredient,” adds his co-founder Anna Ayers. “They gather by hand only what they need – pruning the trees. It’s a regenerative process.”
Using foraged plants to treat the skin isn’t a new phenomenon. Indigenous American communities have been harvesting them for that purpose for hundreds of years. “I’m not inventing anything new,” Butler says. “It’s been around for centuries.” That’s the beauty of wild beauty: it takes you back to where skincare first began.
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