How Regenerative Farming Could Lead to Better Beauty Products
The beauty industry's glossary is growing yet again. "Regenerative farming," the latest addition, seems to have significant meaning for our skin and the planet. Drawing on traditional and Indigenous agricultural practices, regenerative farming aims to improve the quality of soil while growing plants. "It's trying to farm in a way that is simultaneously improving the landscape that you're producing upon," says Jason Rowntree, PhD, director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at Michigan State University.
Regenerative practices might involve covering land with living plants year 'round, creating pollinator habitats, minimizing soil disturbances, and/or adding compost to fields. Crucially, farming regeneratively means embracing biodiversity over monoculture crops. For example, instead of rotating a single crop with another individual crop — think corn, alfalfa, or wheat — regenerative farmers might rotate a mix of multiple plants. "If we can broaden the biodiversity in those rotations and get more cover crops in between them, really good things begin to happen," Rowntree says. A varied group of plants "talks" among one another, exchanging sugars and other nutrients via microbes in the soil. "The soil wakes up, we have less need for fertilizer, and we have a more resilient system," Rowntree says. (Better still, there's also evidence that regenerative practices can help lock carbon into the ground, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.)
So what does this have to do with a jar of moisturizer? Carefully tended soil produces stronger plants, and "data indicates that plants grown off of healthier soils tend to have more phytonutrients," says Dr. Rowntree. Indeed, a 2022 study assessed vegetables grown from regenerative farms and found that they had higher levels of B vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals than their conventionally grown counterparts. Although studies haven't focused on plants grown for beauty products specifically, in theory, regeneratively farmed plants can lead to a cream formulated with more potent — and effective — botanical extracts.
Unlike USDA organic certification, regenerative farming doesn't have a federal standard for labeling; the new Regenerative Organic Certified label is just beginning to roll out. In the meantime, a few beauty brands proudly tout their regeneratively grown ingredients. Ahead, discover three that have all found common ground in this approach.
Nestled in a vast agricultural landscape just outside Parma, Italy, the new European Regenerative Organic Center incorporates practices such as companion planting (growing two crops close together) and composting across its 25-acre research garden (above). A partnership between the Davines Group and the US-based Rodale Institute, its aim is to share regenerative practices with farmers who grow plants like elderberries used in products such as Comfort Zone's Sacred Nature Hydra Cream. "This approach strengthens the local farm economy," Dr. Rowntree says. "Taking soil health principles from a small farm and implementing them on big farms is a win-win."
"It's imperative for us to solely use regenerative farming techniques to help the planet," says cofounder Tata Harper of her 1,200-acre organic farm in Vermont (above). To grow the calendula and lavender in her namesake brand’s Superkind Refining Cleanser, workers monitor the soil daily to assess water needs and prevent weeds from growing, and rely on resident bees to pollinate the flowering plants. And, of course, they compost. Dr. Rowntree praises the farm’s "thoughtful" process: "Those are great examples of using an amazing level of biodiversity and circularity," he says.
Thrive Natural Care
At this skin-care brand's lush farms in Costa Rica, regenerative practices are transforming degraded land into a verdant paradise of bees, birds, and plants. Farmers use crop rotation and ground cover to grow herbs such as Fridericia chica and Hamelia patens for Thrive’s Skin Recovery Serum. Cofounder Alex McIntosh says that these methods produce more potent extracts than a conventional approach. "You can grow the same plants, but have very different outcomes for skin," he says. A 2022 study did find that regeneratively grown crops boast a higher nutrient density.