Now more than ever, we want total transparency from our favorite beauty brands. We want to know exactly what is in our face-saving formulas, and how much of it, from acid potency to potentially acne-aggravating substances.
However, it's not just because we're conscious of what we're putting on our skin; we're also more aware of exactly who is farming the wonder ingredients that we indulge in. Much like the growing demand for ethical fashion, we want to know that those involved in making our trusted lotions and potions are getting a fair deal, too.
In 2018, farm-to-face beauty brands are rightly getting time in the sun, but several names have been repping transparency for some time now. Jurlique, Tata Harper, and Ilcsi have long advocated a clear chain from harvest to bathroom shelf. As, too, has The Body Shop, which works with farmers globally to source ingredients since founder Anita Roddick established the brand.
Publishing the details of its Community Trade program means you can trace the exact farming community that a hero ingredient comes from, whether it's hemp seed oil from France or tea tree oil from Kenya. The brand's latest products, launching this May, will contain the harvest of the Dufatanye Co-operative's crops. Along with Asili Natural Oils, a social enterprise which works with brands to produce the best outcomes for small hold farmers in Rwanda, we followed the moringa plant – a skin-care ingredient loved for its anti-aging properties – from Dufatanye's farm in Rwanda to The Body Shop's final product.
Step One: The Farm
The Dufatanye Co-operative is made up of farmers who either own moringa trees or work on the communal plantation. They harvest the plant by using a long stick to grab and twist the pea-like pods from the branches, before collecting it up. Next, they snap the dried casing so that the seeds fall out. This is repetitive and time-consuming work, but as the moringa plant grows all year round and in the toughest of conditions, it's a sustainable livelihood. Once all the seeds are gathered, they're sent off to Ndera, a village just outside of Kigali, Rwanda's capital.
Step Two: Processing
There are two stages in the processing at Asili's Ndera facility: de-shell and cold-press. Using their hands rather than machines in order to create more employment, the workers separate the inner part of the seed from its husk by shaking and throwing a woven basket, leaving a white center from which a potent oil is extracted. The seeds are cold-pressed twice, as the first time around the cake (the solid residue) still has oil to be squeezed out. The nutrient-rich cake isn't wasted, though, and is often used as animal feed. Once the oil has been put through the machines, it's bottled and ready for shipping to the manufacturers. At this stage, the oil works wonderfully on dry ends of the hair or as an intense overnight skin treatment.
Step Three: Manufacturing
From Asili's processing center, the oil is flown to the UK in big jugs. From there, it's divided up to be transported to specific manufacturers across Germany, France, and the UK, which focus on different products. Here, the oil is tested for the correct acidity, odor, and chemical specifications to be used in skin-care products, to ensure it's compatible with all skin types. The factories where this happens are hyper-modern and machine-automated.
Step Four: Your Product
Once the formulas have been combined, it's packaged and sent to the retailers from which you buy your favorite products every day.
Knowing where your beauty ingredients come from is far more complex than sourcing the dairy you drink; there are countless steps, and many people involved, which is where the potential for unpaid labor, unfair deals, and unmonitored formulations can arise. With brands like The Body Shop, Votary, and Odacité all making clear exactly where they source ingredients, the industry is becoming a more transparent and thus fairer place. There's more at play than just knowing that what you're putting on your face is regulated, and that's the long journey behind every ingredient in your medicine cabinet.