If you’re a longtime reader of In Spades you know that organic beauty is close to my heart. Using healthy ingredients has transformed my skin, so when a college friend introduced me to Justine Kahn, creator of Botnia skin care and Skin Remedy spa in San Francisco, I knew we’d hit it off.
Using locally sourced ingredients that are handcrafted in their Sausalito lab, Justine’s mission is to heal each client’s skin with natural remedies that work.
For the past two months I’ve been using Botnia’s face wash, hydrating serum and anti-aging face cream. The difference in my skin is incredible. If you know what it’s like to crave a product, my skin literally craves what’s in these little bottles. I’ve achieved an overall even tone – no more splotches or sallowness – supple texture, and calm, balanced skin that glows.
I sat down with Justine to chat about which ingredients are all hype and no action, the hero products you should be using and what simple, free steps we can all take to dramatically improve our skin.
Tell me a little about Botnia and Skin Remedy. How did you start?
I started Skin Remedy in 2010, after years of working as an Esthetician in the treatment room. My aha moment was really years of working with natural and synthetic products and seeing how I was never able to truly affect the kind of change I wanted in my clients’ skin. Most facials say they are customized and all that means is that the Esthetician is picking from the 3-5 products in her treatment room, not that the service is actually correct for your skin. So this led me to a school outside of Berkeley that teaches organic chemistry.
Botnia is a very simple line of skin care made from only remedies that I have seen affect positive change and none of the fillers that you see in conventional products. The first and most important jumping off point for me is that your skin is an organ and it’s job is to take care of itself, so having a product line that uses stripping ingredients and fragrance will not only take years off your face, but I find doesn’t work either.
What was the first product you created?
Face cream. Personally, I break out a lot and I felt like there wasn’t anything out there that was gentle, but also had good ingredients. It’s still my daily face cream. The formula hasn’t changed. If you go to my spa, this product can be customized to your skin type because it’s a base and you build on it from there.
What key ingredient are you loving right now?
Hydrosols – right now they are very hot. It’s a new science. It’s a plant protein that’s suspended in water. They have a lot of nutrient value for such a simple ingredient. The amazing thing that’s left after you kill off the more delicate proteins is all the different Terpenes. Terpenes fight acne and bacteria while being free radical scavengers. We use hydrosols as part of our preserving system due to its ability to kill off unwanted microbes. We also use it in our facial treatments for the same purpose – to kill bacteria and maintain healthy skin. All Botnia’s hydrosols are made in-house with our alembic still with plants we grow or source locally. We could not be more excited about hydrosols and what this powerhouse ingredient can do for skin while being gentle!
Are there any ingredients you feel are all hype and no action?
So I think there are two different angles to this question. First, yes, there’s a lot of collagen out there – which is inaccessible to the skin. Your skin can’t just take in collagen and then have more of it. Collagen is made from the inside out.
Snail mucus is another one. There is no way that a human body can look at this by-product and start to produce it or benefit from it. The process for having to preserve snail slime is counterintuitive to how it’s made and preserved.
Second, there isn’t a huge body of research being done in the beauty industry. It’s whatever the company decides is the messaging right now. I don’t see the science matching the claim.
What is your process for creating a new product?
Usually what happens is there is an issue to solve. From that place, I work it backwards. I look at what’s available locally. This is important to me to craft natural ingredients that are accessible (i.e. a fantastic ingredient out of Africa may be great, but not easy to source).
Right now I’m trying to develop an eye makeup remover. This is really lacking in organic skin care. We’re trying to create something effective that doesn’t make your eye area a total grease ball. We looked at cooking videos last week to test methodologies. We look at everything that’s available to us! Initially I thought of creating a paste, but that didn’t work. We’re still developing it.
What would people be surprised to learn about organic beauty?
There is no government agency overseeing any of it. It’s the number one thing that needs to change in our industry. That’s one of the different things about Botnia – we have a lab classification code. Clayton, our biologist, managed a lab at Stanford and brought Botnia to code. When people say it’s “handmade in their kitchen” people don’t realize that could mean the kitchen where the maker eats! Organic beauty can be dangerous too because there is no oversight. No one regulates any of this.
Several Korean skin care lines use a 12-step process. In your eyes, what is the perfect skin care routine?
In my mind it’s different for everyone. We’re all unique snowflakes. For the majority of women, simple is better. Our skin is an organ and it knows how to take care of itself. From there, I talk to my clients about diet – how are you interacting with your organ (sleep, exercise, alcohol, cigarettes)? From how they treat their body, you can usually deduce what they need. People who burn the candle at both ends need more, but for the average client I recommend a cleanser, toner, moisturizer, night-time serum and eye cream. Use a mask once a week – not like crazy.
Are there any application techniques you recommend that make products work better?
The big secret of skin care is “stimulation circulation” – massaging your skin to achieve lymphatic draining. This increases cellular regeneration and it’s free! Everyone should be doing it. It’s so easy to do. Set your iPhone timer for a full minute while your washing your face. If you do this for 30 days I guarantee you’ll see a difference. Most people don’t spend enough time.
I developed my moisturizer with the idea that I wanted it to be emollient enough so it took time to get it into your skin and absorb. I wanted it to feel natural to keep massaging it into your face.
What does your “typical” day look like?
I have a lot of different roles within my world and that’s awesome. My day usually starts with making an amazingly delicious green smoothie and drinking it with my daughter. Spending time with my family is so important. It’s important to create those spaces for the things that truly matter. I’ve built this into my everyday life.
Beyond that, the next thing is going to the garden, doing some weeding, going to the lab and jumping into the day. Right now we’re making our daily face wash. I’m going to go add labels to the products now. I was at the spa earlier doing facials. It’s a pretty jam-packed day. It’s also so exciting because I’m never really doing the same thing each day.
What is the best part of what you do?
My ability to actually help people. When I have a client that has struggled with her skin for years and I’m able to effect change and make her a more confident person with the ethical background that Botnia has brought to the table… that makes me the happiest. When clients say, “I’ve never had skin like this and I’ve been using chemicals my entire life!” That makes me so happy.
Stranded on a desert island – what cocktail would you take with you?
Straight tequila with a lime on the side. Agave plants are pretty magical. I have a love for all things agave.
For more information on Botnia, visit their website.
Leader image by In Spades. Remaining photos by Joe Montana.