Dara Kennedy, founder of the Pacific Heights clean-beauty shop, Ayla, thought a lot about freedom during the wildfires of 2017, when many Bay Area residents bunkered inside their homes for a week to minimize contact with the toxic smoke darkening the skies. She craved a seaweed soak, having previously experienced the purifying wonders of Irish seaweed baths (“thalassotherapy” in Ireland dates back to the Edwardian era), and ultimately decided to develop one of her own, not just as a countermeasure for days when the air quality is so poor you wish for a hazmat suit, but as a remineralizing, anti-inflammatory treatment whenever a restorative mood strikes.
Prunes harvested outside Sacramento form the basis of new skincare line Le Prunier’s plum beauty oil, $72, leprunier.com.
“I started looking at what possibilities our coastline could offer,” says Kennedy, “and I wanted this product to have an authentic California story.” Her long R&D process lead her to a seaweed forager named Ian O’Hollaren of Seaquoia Wild Seaweeds, who hand harvest nutrient-dense giant kelp off Santa Cruz shores, and Carlo Overhulser of Big Sur Salts, who brave the crashing waves to collect mineral-rich, naturally crystallized salt from the central coast’s scenic, rocky cliffs. The luxurious, two-ingredient Ayla Sea Soak, with its promises to detoxify and replenish skin, not to mention sooth the likes of eczema and rosacea, makes its inaugural splash this month.
As a former product developer and global marketing manager at Elizabeth Arden, Kennedy says that creating a sense of place in the beauty industry is not necessarily a new concept, but rather one that comes with the territory in simple ingredient-driven formulations. If the botanicals and minerals within have a single source, a place on this Earth where they naturally grow and thrive, then, theoretically, might we also get a vibe—a subtle atmospheric transmission—from their land of origin?
Featuring hand sifted volcanic ash, the facial mud from Indian Springs in Calistoga is a jarred version of the resort’s iconic mud bath—a dark and rich combination of mineral geyser water and antibacterial minuscule rock, mineral and glass particles, both sourced on property, and both products of a volcanic eruption that happened 20 miles away and millions of years ago. “The ancient Wappo tribe considered the area’s natural resources gifts from their gods,” says resort owner Pat Merchant. “Their mud baths from 10,000 years ago were a cleansing experience for body and spirit. That hasn’t changed.”
Similarly, a 2,000-acre family farm in Sutter County, just outside Sacramento, has been reaping the unique alchemy of its Mediterranean climate and fertile alluvial soil—made of rich sediments washed down from nearby Sutter Creek—for more than a century: Taylor Brothers Farms Inc. is the largest organic prune grower in the world, and using the seeds from its fruits, the Taylor sisters—Allison, Jacque and Elaine—cold-press a luxurious, single-ingredient plum beauty oil called Le Prunier. Loaded with nourishing vitamin E and antioxidants, the amber-hued oil has a faint almond fragrance and a coveted stamp of approval from Gwyneth Paltrow’s ever-discerning lifestyle brand, Goop. “There’s a hundred years of agricultural integrity in that oil,” says Allison.
While potency is a natural perk of these origin-centered products (“They hold the promise of nutrient density,” says Kennedy), their sustainability is a more thoughtful effort that returns favor to the land. The plum seeds, for example, were once a waste product of the fruit harvest. Taylor Ranch is also 100% solar-powered and uses a revolutionary filtration system that recycles irrigation water with the help of worms. And at the end of each late-summer harvest, 1,000 goats are set free on the farm to eat their weight in cover crops, eliminating the need for gas-guzzling tractors.
Oakland-based perfume company Juniper Ridge, a pioneer in products that conjure a strong sense of place, wildcrafts a steam-distilled Redwood Mist essential oil from sustainably harvested trees along the Northern California coast. With its notes of piney Douglas fir, peppery bay laurel and musty redwood, the aromatherapy oil evokes memories of fragrant Northern California’s coastal forests. (As owner Hall Newbegin says, “You see more with your nose.”) Sometimes, Caltrans tips off Juniper Ridge to the location of a downed tree; other times, the company obtains a permit from the U.S. Forest Service or California State Parks to prune the bottoms of tall trees, keeping them healthy and tidy. Juniper Ridge’s new Western Wilderness Defense Program donates 10% of profits to such nature conservancies as the California Wilderness Coalition and the Conservation Alliance.
Using proceeds from the Ayla Sea Soak, Kennedy is helping fund the Reef Check Foundation’s pilot study on giant kelp forests since another species found along the coast, bull kelp, has been diminishing at an alarming rate due to warming waters and the explosion of a very hungry purple urchin. O’Hollaren, the seaweed forager, is only sourcing the tops of wild giant kelp—the most abundant, resilient and fast-growing seaweed on the California coast—for the Ayla Sea Soak, carefully avoiding marine protected areas and only harvesting where the perennial, which grows up to 2 feet per day, is thriving. “We’ll stop harvesting long before the Santa Cruz kelp forests start to thin,” says Kennedy.
The boldfaced tagline on the Juniper Ridge packaging reads, “Bring Nature Home,” but it’s an enticing call to action for anyone who might resonate with a wildcrafted experience that promises of the coastline in a bath, the forest in a bottle, or the sun and soil in a golden drop of seed oil. These extraordinary connections to the Earth could also be considered prayers for loving acts of sustainability. After all, the best part about making sense of place is having a place to make sense of.