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From Farm-to-Face, Green Cosmetics and Skincare: An Interview With Brenda Brock

Brenda Brock is founder of Farmaesthetics and a well-regarded trailblazer in the green cosmetics movement. Read her take on the changing face of skincare and discover a DIY green gift idea for the coming season.
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Brenda Brock is founder of Farmaesthetics and a well-regarded trailblazer in the green cosmetics movement. Read her take on the changing face of skincare and discover a DIY green gift idea for the coming season.

Omega: Most people don't equate personal beauty with farms. How have you connected beauty and farming, and what makes "farm to face" so alluring?

Brenda: Before synthesized ingredients or pharmaceuticals entered our health and beauty regimens, the farm or garden was our medicine chest. Traditional herbal formulation is the craft of converting plant energy into herbal preparations for human benefit.

For Farmaesthetics, I formulate from this perspective and am continually expanding our relationships with small organic growers. For example, I work closely with Farmer Garman of Garman Organics in Rhode Island, to experiment with unusual and hard-to-find herbs and ingredients. This kind of relationship supports not just my creativity as a formulator, but fulfills our commitment to sustainable farming and land conservation.

Omega: You refer to yourself as a "ruralist." What exactly does that mean?

Brenda: It means I mine disciplines, philosophies, and practices found in rural kitchen cultures, specifically American, for their logic and methodology. This influences how I formulate products and create protocols and skincare regimens. Kitchen chemistry is an oral tradition and apprenticeship, something I learned growing up from my family in Texas, and working with this approach allows me the opportunity to pass along what I am learning. It is quite the experience, bringing these rural values into the world of beauty and cosmetic manufacturing.

Omega: Do you think the idea of beauty is shifting?

Brenda: Yes. The word "cosmetic" is giving way to the term "skin health." The former is focused on external appearance; the latter is focused on the condition that creates the external appearance. In cosmetic circles there is a lot of "use this and your skin will look its healthy best." In green skincare we say, "Use this and your skin will be its healthy best."

Omega: The skin care and cosmetics industry traffics in appearances. Sustainability and health concerns are secondary, if considered at all. How can we move beyond appearances and get people to care about the real costs of beauty?

Brenda: We have to get people to see it's not either/or, it's both. You can have quality without compromise. You can look great and be your most vital beautiful self and still make consumer choices that reflect your values and commitments.

The "big beauty" industry tends to tell us that plants are weak and pharmaceutical ingredients are strong. But that is not so. What is strong is "big beauty's" marketing muscle. Green skincare brands must contend with what the natural product market has been dealing with for years--heavy marketing for products that claim to be natural, when in fact they are not. Simply having a flower on the label with a tagline about the beautiful scent of lavender does not mean there is any lavender in the formula. This kind of marketing has made it hard to communicate the message of sustainability and has allowed synthetics to saturate the beauty industry as well as our environment.

Green beauty brands are more than the contents of the products they make. They are the whole process of what it took to get that product to you. Mainstream cosmetics tout the "latest and greatest" secret patented ingredient, but premium green beauty brands practice truth in labeling and position products in a straightforward, transparent way. This approach is as much a part of green beauty as the product itself.

Omega: Farmaesthetics has been around since 1999. Was it originally your goal to bring a new level of consciousness to the cosmetic and beauty industry?

Brenda: When I started the business there wasn't even a "green beauty" category. The market did not exist. There were natural and organic products, but they weren't rooted in farming, land conservation, or clean manufacturing. I didn't know anything about the cosmetic or skincare industry then. I just knew how to make herbal formulations with whole organic plants, oils, grains, and dairy--products made without synthetics, artificial dyes, fragrances, petroleum-based preservatives, or talc. By the time I crossed paths with the cosmetic industry, I was already established and there was no need for me to compromise. What I was doing was working, so I held tight to those values and still do.

Omega: Can you explain what it means to use whole, infused, herbs?

Brenda: Whole herbs contain thousands of constituents that work together to deliver more than one isolated ingredient can. So rather than using parts of plants, we use the whole herb and put it in large glass vats of oil and let it sit. I think Deepak Chopra said it best, "Isolating an active constituent from a plant is an affront to nature. It is like taking the intelligence and leaving the wisdom behind."

Omega: What is an easy, farm- or garden-derived cosmetic item people can make themselves?

Brenda: Start with something easy, like calendula. Calendula is an annual and is known in herbal circles as the "skin-mending herb." You'll need dried calendula flowers. Try growing it yourself, then harvest and dry the flowers; or buy fresh flowers from a farm in summer and dry them; or buy dried flowers from a farm or herbalist. Fill a glass jar halfway with flowers, then pour in an organic almond or sunflower oil and fill to the top. Cap the jar and let it steep for 2-4 weeks. Strain out the dried flowers before using, and you'll have a beautiful and effective herbal oil for your face, body, bath, and baby.

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