The road to better beauty is lined with well-provenanced ingredients.
Whether it’s a tub of aloe vera, iterations of rosehip oil, niacinamide or the beloved vitamin C, beauty shelves are resembling apothecaries. They’re flush with the buzziest new derma discovery or a tried and tested favorite even your elegant grandmother swears by.
Suddenly beauty bottles with a slew of ingredients listed at the back have instead displayed the product’s provenance, proudly citing villages and towns of the source.
With beauty’s celebration of traceability comes a need to recontextualize how brands treat the source of their bottled creations. Brands like UK-based Lush have ethical buying codes that commit to purchasing sustainably, investing in farms and people, and safeguarding biodiversity across the globe.
“It makes up a critical part of our business plan to create a cosmetics revolution and regenerate the planet,” offers Cadi Pink from Lush’s supply chain and environmental impact office.
Working with Green Releaf Initiative and its founding executive director, Sarah Queblatin from Cebu, the two are in the early stages of identifying ways to support typhoon resilient growing systems and facilitate dialogues and relationships with Philippine stakeholders and growers.
“We are currently specifically focusing on the Philippines as it’s at the forefront of climate change with intensifying typhoons,” Queblatin points out. Discussions on agriculture are sometimes just limited to thinking about the plot of land.
“We forget to pay attention to where our water goes, what inherited social systems are present, and what the consumption and production [of the product] look like,” she says. She has studied the intricacies of supporting climate vulnerable communities and shifting the paradigm of sustainability into that of regeneration.
The new aspiration in the beauty business isn’t just making sure brands do no harm to the environment, it’s finding a way to do actual good for it.
Enter a new bloom of botanicals and the people who have brought the message of traceability, restoration, and sustainability to the dialogue.
In the pantheon of skincare ingredients, the pili tree, which is native to the Philippines, is the source for two rarefied oils: pili and elemi.
The latter is regarded as the elder statesman of essential oils, known as the key ingredient in a library of perfumes and the ultimate oil for detoxification. On the other hand, pili oil itself taken from the pulp of the fruit has been credited for nourishing and moisturizing the skin while fortifying the skin’s barrier. It’s a skin superfood that is rich in vitamins A and E to help combat fine lines and wrinkles.
Discussions involving pili almost always warrant a mention of organic farming pioneer Rosalina Tan. She is the founder of award-winning Bicolano beauty brand Pili Ani, an enterprise rooted in creating opportunities for farmers to learn.
Tan brought local and foreign scientists to study how to properly tap the trees for elemi gum without harming the pili, ensuring that the resources are able to survive for generations to come. According to the brand, her efforts have managed to raise the gate price of pili and elemi oil so that farmers would have a dignified way of earning a living.
Whether it’s the fruit, sap, bark, or even the pulp, the Pili tree is poised to take global stage with its oils’ high performance properties—with careful eyes looking to ensure that the ingredients don’t become a cautionary tale for exploitation.
Lending complexity to scents, the Ylang Ylang comes in a golden flourish of blooms.
“I call this the empress of fragrances,” offers Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan. He is the co-author to countless books on health, botanicals, and medicinal properties and a consultant to the World Health Organization and the United Nations Development Programme.
Ylang Ylang, widely known as a vital component of Chanel No. 5, Dior Diorissimo, and Rouge Hermès Eau de Toilette, is said to reduce anxiety and lift moods.
In terms of skincare, Ylang Ylang is an anti-inflammatory ingredient known to smoothen fine lines and clear impurities.
“There’s a need to look at the parts of the landscape that are governed by people who play a role and honor the local knowledge and culture bearers,” says Queblatin. This sentiment is echoed by Galvez Tan, who has spent years practicing medicine in far-flung communities.
He understands the need to tap this wealth of knowledge passed down from generations.
Situated in ABS-CBN Eco-village in Zambales is Iba Botanicals, a new export producer of essential oils. Th e Zambales-based company wants to bring the Philippines back in the global narrative of Ylang Ylang.
It works in partnership with hundreds of displaced indigenous people, among them the Aetas of Zambales, and has taken an organic approach to farming. Iba Botanicals goes beyond harvesting to actually safeguarding the environment the Ylang Ylang, Vetiver, and Elemi thrive in along with all the people involved.
“You take care of the people and they take care of the land that is protected and cultivated,” says Queblatin, pointing out that we must study the entirety of the systems in place when it comes to agriculture.
Our natural ingredients represent the stories of the farmers and their families who have dedicated their lives to them. By reintroducing our native botanicals and protecting the country’s rich resources, that heritage is preserved. The next generation walks on.
Makeup: Raffy So. Hair: Arvee Yadao.
Nails: Elinails. Set Design: Justine Arcega.
Model: Kahlea Raymundo Belonia
A version of this article appeared in the Vogue Philippines September 2022 issue.