Zanzibar, Africa: Seaweed and Flash Mask

I became obsessed with seaweed while on a month-long trip through Africa. We spent a week in Zanzibar where I saw women transforming their lives, along with the local economy, by creating seaweed farms. Seaweed liberated them, altering the balance of power that had previously kept women locked away from exploring the world, or even from leaving their homes unless it was to visit the doctor or sick relatives. 

I’ve since used seaweed in many of my formulas, like the Kelsen Pomade. One of my favorite brands that is totally dedicated to seaweed is Osea. They use vitamin and mineral enriched seaweed in almost all their products, and I just love the Black Algae Flash Mask for a deeply exfoliating and delightfully luxurious facial treatment at home.

Sicily, Italy: Anchusa and Porte Per La Vitalita

The Furtuna Skin Transformation Set features an extremely powerful plant called Anchusa azurea, wild foraged from La Furtuna Estate in Sicily. As the co-founder and CEO of this brand, I get to develop products from a treasure trove of over 80 medicinal plants day-in-and-day-out. The plants from the founder’s, Agatha Luczo’s, family farm are packed with wildly potent phytonutrients and processed through an exclusive soundbath extraction technology to deliver the highest-level of performance. As a potent active ingredient, the Anchusa turns back time on my face every time I use it (and that’s daily). 

My favorite of our Anchusa-enriched products is the Porte Per La Vitalita Face & Eye Serum. The most rewarding things about founding Furtuna Skin is knowing we are supporting a community of people who previously didn’t have enough work to thrive, and that we are preserving species of plants and animals that are nearly extinct. 

There’s even an archeological dig happening on the land, in collaboration with Italian Universities, to further explore the history of the people who lived there thousands of years ago. We’ve found some of the oldest remains ever discovered in Sicily to help reconstruct the past and inform future generations through ethnobotanical and ethnomedical discoveries.

Yucatan, Mexico: Chocolate and Surf Mud

As a California Native, I’ve traveled frequently to various places in Mexico. I even stayed once (when I was 19) for an unplanned year teaching horseback riding at a Club Med. That was because I visited for a holiday and didn’t want to leave. The property managers said I could stay beyond the 2 week holiday for free if I could make myself useful to other guests. And so I did. 

I taught horseback riding by day and took guests scuba diving by night. I fell in love with Mexico, especially the Baja Peninsula region. Riding out on horseback everyday, we became intimately familiar with the land and healing properties of plants. Jojoba, for example, is native to that region. We would pick and crush the seeds to make healing skin ointments for riders whose skin became abraded on our outings. 

As my life progressed I continued to travel regularly to South America  – especially from Belize out to the Yucatan Peninsula – for scuba diving trips and skincare ingredient reconnaissance.  When it comes to being out in the sun and ocean for extended periods, the best sunscreen ever is EiR NYC Surf Mud, inspired by none other than the Mayan chocolate mask.

As my obsession with ingredients imbued with a rich ethnobotanical heritage evolved, I worked more and more closely with a medical aromatherapist named Rodney Schwan. The course of Rodney’s life led him to immerse in the Mayan heritage of the family he married into, and to create a Maya Healing Balm made of mango butter, payaya, hibiscus extracts, and calendula along with other healing ingredients grown on his Abuela’s land outside of Mérida, Yucatan. Rodney makes the Maya Healing Balm to order. The only way to get it is to email him and request it. Then you’ll have to wait a long time while he works his magic, and pay a small fortune. The Maya Healing Balm is worth every penny of the $585 price tag for a 6oz jar.

When I use the Maya Healing Balm and Mayan inspired Surf Mud, I’m sitting right back on the balcony of our villa in Tulum watching lightning slash feverishly across the Caribbean Sea.

Hawaii, USA: Ylang-Ylang and Pendulum Potion

I’ve always loved Hawaii. My father took me there for wellness retreats over the years growing up. It was the first place I tried yoga, experienced a macrobiotic diet, and learned to scuba dive. The thought of Hawaii fills me with happy memories. While my father eventually retired to Kauii, and passed on there, my aunt and uncle still live in Kona. My favorite thing about visiting them (other than their hugs and getting to spend time with them) is that they greet me with a lai of fragrant flowers built with plumeria, ylang ylang, jasmine, and tuberose – all fantastic skincare ingredients. 

Given my father was also a skincare creator, we searched the islands for interesting ingredients in our time together. Hawaii is where I learned about the benefits of plants like kukui nut, taro, and macadamia for skincare inspired by Hawaiian heritage.

While probably best known as a classic Hawaiian chocolate topper, the oil of Macadamia nut is a fabulous skin healer, rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids. 

The skincare product I most rely on to transport me directly to the Hawaiian islands and some of my happiest travel memories is a cleansing oil from May Lindstrom called The Pendulum Potion.

Rajasthan, India: Aloe and Refreshing Serum

One of my most prized product creations is the LAVOAGE Refreshing Serum. It was born (or really re-born) on a 3 week trip through Northern India initiated by the wedding of one of my best friends. I had originally designed that particular skincare formula years earlier to help newborn skin transition from the amniotic fluid-filled environment of the womb to the airy environment we are born into. 

It never occurred to me to use this formula regularly on myself until shortly after landing in New Delhi, the most polluted city in the world. My skin panicked and went into a blemish-ridden tailspin. While that behavior was quite out of character for my skin, the causes were clear: unfamiliar bacteria in the water supply, my own exhaustion and dehydration from being on the move, rapidly changing climates, air pollution, air conditioning, and so on. 

As I thought about how to fix my skin problems, a long list of solution-oriented ingredients filled my head… yarrow…  probiotics… elderberry…. cypress…. arnica… aloe… hyaluronate. Then it hit me. I had actually already made the product that would solve my “out-of-whack” skin problems. I just hadn’t realized it before. 

My already existing BEB Organic Soothing Serum formula was exactly what my skin needed. It would balance my skin’s pH and microbiome, and protect from environmental pollution and contaminants, all while preventing and clearing away redness, irritation and blemishes. Perfection. The only problem was that I didn’t have it with me. 

I did my best to recreate that formula on the road with the ingredients I could get my hands on – from the Aloe vera farms in Rajasthan where we stopped while driving from Jodhpur to Jaipur, to the probiotic supplements we sourced from a local pharmacy. 

Right when we got home, I tweaked the skincare formula to make it grown-up specific, and relaunched it as the first product ever for a new brand called LAVOAGE. I use this product daily, and think of our journey across India every single time.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Myrrh and The Baby Bump

From a social perspective, Dubai is definitely the most astounding place I’ve ever been. The idea that a city of that scale and grandeur with such enormous political and economic significance could emerge from a tiny fishing village to such massive scale in under 20 years is nearly unfathomable. While most people visit Dubai to do business, go shopping, or to stand atop the Burj Khalifa (all of which I did) my biggest pleasure was learning about Myrrh at the souks and mosques. 

Ancient pharaohs had the resin collected, transformed into a crystalized form, and exported it from Ethiopia and the surrounding areas of Eastern Africa, Arabia, and India to the rest of the world. Used as a holy plant in many religions, and with important uses in nearly every great civilization – from East to West – Myrrh was valued for medicine, incense, perfumes, and embalming. 

The Middle East has been important in the Myrrh trade since the ages, since long before petrol had value. While Myrrh is no longer a primary source of income for the Middle East, that region still exerts great control over Myrrh passing from its native growth places like Ethiopia and Somalia to the rest of the world. The medicinal and spiritual powers of Myrrh are documented since before the common era (BC). From a scientific perspective, the phytochemical and pharmacological properties of Myrrh for medicinal uses are also well verified. 

After visiting Dubai and immersing so fully in the ethnobotanical history of Myrrh, I started using it in many of my skincare formulas. My favorite Myrrh-rich formula is Soothing Serum from BEB Organic, a company I founded many years ago to make pregnancy and baby skincare. I especially love Soothing Serum in tandem with the other products in our Baby Bump Sensory Set. Like the ethnobotanical uses of Myrrh, the bond between mother and child is sacred.

Morocco, Africa: Neroli and Kahina Giving Beauty

Between a trip to our labs in Milan (working on new skincare formulas for Furtuna Skin), and a trip to Ireland to visit my mom (she’s an expat), I met a couple girlfriends in Morocco for an extended spa weekend. That was the first time I experienced a Hammam body treatment. When I tell you my mind was blown, I mean it. My body has never (and I do mean never-ever) felt as good as it did that day and for at least two weeks following. 

After a thorough, multi-staged scrubbing process using a mitt, black soap, and rhassoul clay, the therapists leave you to steam while covered in argan oil blended with Moroccan rose petal and neroli essential oils. The Kahina Giving Beauty body products make me feel like I never left. 

The best part about Kahina (in addition to their gorgeous products) is that they support women’s cooperatives in the Berber mountains. I met with several of the women from those co-ops on our trip, and learned a great deal about how they grind kernels, press oils, and prevent oxidation before they transform their oils into delightfully effective products. I also met with some of the more commercial farmers who supply argan oil in mass to the global conglomerate brands. My preference is definitely to support the multi-generational argan oil processing methods that help Berber communities thrive in Morocco’s Atlas mountains. Thank you Kahina!

Ethnobotany Inspires Skincare Worldwide

Skincare Around the World, Rituals and Products

The Use of Plants in Skin-Care Products, Cosmetics and Fragrances: Past and Present by Francisco José González-Minero 1,* and Luis Bravo-Díaz 2

About the Research: This work discusses the way people have used plants over time (basically since Ancient Egypt) to care for their physical aspect, and also how natural resources (especially plants) are currently used in personal-care products. Many plant species are ancient. This paper also shows examples of plants used for personal care which are investigated with new scientific advances.

Eastern Cameroon

Ethnobotany and pharmacognostic perspective of plant species used as traditional cosmetics and cosmeceuticals among the Gbaya ethnic group in Eastern Cameroon by E.F.FongnzossieaZ.TizeaP.J.Fogang NdeaC.F.Nyangono BiyegueaI.S.Bouelet NtsamaaS.D.DibongbB.A.Nkongmeneckc

About the Research: With the growing demand for plant genetic resources in cosmetics industries, traditional herbal cosmetic knowledge is becoming a potential resource for innovation and economic development. However, despite the abundant ethnobotanical literature in Cameroon, the use of plants as cosmetics among ethnic groups has only been poorly investigated. This study was conducted to assess the traditional herbal cosmetic knowledge of the Gbaya ethnic group in the Eastern Cameroon.


Plants Used in Cosmetics: Ethnopharmacological survey of Jordan Medicinal Plants, by Talal Aburjai* and Feda M. Natsheh

About the Research: This review describes the use of some natural products in cosmetic preparations, due to their low mammalian toxicity, with a brief description of the major use, plant parts used, the actives responsible for effect and the benefits of such products. Their use in skin care; such as dryness, eczema, acne, free-radical scavenging, antiinflammatory, antiaging and skin protection effects are explained, and also the use in hair care as hair growth stimulants, hair colorants, and for hair and scalp complaints such as dandruff. Essential oils when incorporated into finished products impart many benefits such as a pleasant aroma in perfumery, shine or conditioning effects in hair care products, emolliency and improving the elasticity of the skin.

China & India

Novel Cosmetics Ingredients From Tribal & Aboriginal Medicine by Shyam Gupta, PhD

About the Research: Gems from Traditional Ethnobotany: The development of active chemical compounds that may be present in traditional healing potions can lead to future utilization of ancient, yet still practiced, therapies for topical product innovations via modern-day science. The use of medicinal plants for personal care applications has precedence in ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic literature. The knowledge of topically active ingredients from native resources, while quite abundant, has received scant attention due to their limited commercial availability and lack of scientifically proven applications. Indigenous native healing traditions have played an important role in treating tribal and aboriginal populations worldwide, via both topical and ingestible therapies along with ceremonial rituals and holistic sessions. Beyond hallucinogens or intoxicants practiced so commonly in ancient ceremonial medicine, this article focuses on select, newly discovered active chemical compounds from native tribal and aboriginal ethnobotanical resources—via a blending of ancient art with modern science—in anticipation of their increased commercial awareness for innovative skin and personal care applications.

South West Nigeria

Ethnobotanical studies of folklore phytocosmetics of South West Nigeria by Adediwura Fred-JaiyesimiK. K. AjibesinOdeyemi Tolulope, Ogundokun Gbemisola

About the Research: Phytocosmetic is a common practice in the domestic medicines of many cultures (Pieroni et al., 2004) with emphasis on the skin, hair, and body. The majority of the traditional cosmetics are employed in enhancing beauty, eliminating body odors, cleansing, and treating certain skin disease conditions in both children and adults. However, various cultures have specific beauty recipes. In Africa, plants, minerals, and fats serve as the main composition of the recipes for traditional cosmetics.

Southern Italy

Dermatological remedies in the traditional pharmacopoeia of Vulture-Alto Bradano, inland southern Italy by Cassandra L Quave 1Andrea PieroniBradley C Bennett

About the Research: The traditional dermatological pharmacopoeia of Vulture-Alto Bradano is based on a dynamic folk medical construct of natural and spiritual illness and healing. Remedies are used to treat more than 45 skin and soft tissue conditions of both humans and animals. Of the total 165 remedies reported, 110 have never before been published in the mainland southern Italian ethnomedical literature.