SUSTAINABLE SKINCARE

WORDS: KATE WEINER

IMAGES: COURTESY of BOTNIA

Although skincare brings me joy—stirring up calendula-infused moisturizers is my kinda magic-making—it's only been in the last few years that I've celebrated the relationship between my daily beauty rituals and my environmental activism. Feeding my skin with plants from my garden and oils sourced from rad herbalists makes me happy, connects me to the earth, and inspires me to learn more about what's growing green in my corner of the universe.

Much like style, skincare is often derided as superficial. As I dig deeper into my studies of Ayurvedic medicine, however, I've loved discovering the emphasis on beauty within this holistic healing system. Taking care of our skin, embracing our natural beauty, and nourishing self-care rituals isn't shallow if it brings us into deeper relationship to the soil surrounding. 

Based in Sausalito, CA, Botnia is a skincare company that shares this same passion for holistic healing. When I first connected with founder Justine Kahn, I was struck by the joy she took in her work. Her commitment to healing the skin is really about healing our relationship to ourselves and to the land. Tune in as Justine and I talk about growing a botanical garden, feeding our skin, and what sustainable skincare really means (hint: spoilage!) 

KW: What inspired your work as an esthetician? 

JK: I was inspired to get into skincare mainly because I myself struggled with skin issues. I had horrific acne throughout my teen years. It really affected the way I presented myself to the world. I have an empathetic approach and I love helping people. I never went into it thinking I would make my own skincare line but I've always wanted to help people [feel at home in their bodies]. 

KW: What experiences encouraged you to launch Botnia?

JK: My inspiration came from the treatment room while I was working with clients. I really found as a skincare provider that I wasn't able to give my clients the proper treatment that their skin deserves—and needed—to heal and be healthy. What was in the skincare industry was a lot of chemicals, things that were inflammatory, and sythenthic ingredients that were made in a laboratory.

Botnia came from wanting to help my personal clients. I started to take classes through local [herbalism] schools in the Bay Area and began to craft these very simple and very basic formulations. I would take one client at a time. So if one client had acne and rosacea and was dehydrated, we would treat her skin with care by looking at anti-inflammatory ingredients.

KW: How does Botnia integrate your passion for environmental sustainability and holistic healing? And what practices do you use—both in your garden and in community—to heal our environment?

JK: Botnia is really something that I started in my garden in the Bay Area. I grew a small batch of botanicals that I thought were amazing for their anti-inflammatory properties. And when we need to outsource botanicals because of climate, we really focus on local and sustainable brands. We also have solar power at our spa in San Francisco and strive to hire from the area. Creating community and keeping it local for our clients—that's important to us. We're also really looking forward to partnering with more companies that are committed to healing our environment. 

KW: Although the skin is the largest organ in our body, we so often treat skincare as if it's superficial. What can we do to take better care of our skin?

JK: Our skin is our largest organ so what we put on our skin and in our bodies really affects us. Nutrition is such an integral part of our overall skincare regimen. I have a green smoothie with kale, coconut oil, and almond milk that I make myself—full of amazing vitamin A and minerals—every morning. It's such a nurturing drink to start the day off with. Greens and probiotics are really helpful for the skin. As is drinking water and getting sleep. Our body absolutely thrives on hydration. 

People always thinks about organic skincare but they don't always realize how very different it is than conventional skincare. Anything that goes in or on your body should go "bad." It should be just like food and have a shelf life. [At Botnia] we want our products to turn and spoil because that means they are alive and active. 

KW: How do you hope to grow Botnia in the coming year?

JK: The main thing I want Botnia to do is provide people with safe and natural skincare. I really want to deepen relationships with local estheticians to help push this message of clean beauty.

I'm always learning more about gardening too. Every day, I learn something new and discover an inspiring botanical or botanical extracts. So deepening my knowledge of organic farming and working with more farms—we currently work with Moving Roots in Petaluma—is important to me. 

KW: How do you embody hope for a better world in your everyday life? 

JK: The thing that helps me embody hope is bringing forward a handmade product. If we can go back to a time where we can value handmade things—where we can pour our love and energy [into creation]—we'll see people respond to that positively. 

For so long, we went in this other direction [of mass production and materialism]. So it's exciting to me that people are gravitating more and more to human interactions. To get to put on a cream that someone grew in their garden and made with their hands—that's magic. It gives me hope that people feel that love and energy on a daily basis [and can give that energy in turn] to the greater good.