Weleda's Jasper Van Brakel Talks Biodynamic Beauty

Inside the World of Organic Glamour

Weleda's calendula garden in full bloom in Germany. (Photo: Weleda)
Sal holds a Political Science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

These days all natural is the trend in beauty products. Paraben-free this. Sodium laureth sulfate-less that. The movement has spread beyond beauty stores like Sephora and Bare Escentuals too. Entire supermarket aisles—yeah, we’re looking at you, Whole Foods—are now devoted to toxin-free beauty products.

This awakening, this need for pure—raw, even—wellness, must surely be amusing (or ironic…or both) to Weleda, the company that invented sustainable, natural beauty products—in 1921.

Founded by the father of biodynamic agriculture, Dr. Rudolf Steiner, Weleda produces a wide assortment of products—body wash, moisturizer, and even something called skin food—from ingredients grown in gardens where particular care and devotion is paid to planting methods that heal the planet.

TakePart caught up Weleda’s North American CEO, Jasper Van Brakel, to discusses why, when it comes to beauty applied to your body, the only true way to grow it is in the ground—and not in a laboratory.

TakePart: Weleda prides itself on using only the purest, wild-crafted, organically and biodynamically cultivated ingredients for its products. Wild-crafted and organically are two terms that our readers can understand—but explain what biodynamically means?

Jasper Van Brackel: Let me step back to organic: organic agriculture obviously does not use the pesticides and herbicides that are commonly used in conventional agriculture. That sets organic apart from the non-organic. Then if you take the step from organic to biodynamics, you're taking it to another level.

Biodynamic agriculture is all about treating the farm as a holistic entity and actively working with the energies of the Earth. For instance, a biodynamic farmer would plant plants in a certain space next to each other so that the different plants can support each other. He would use manure only from his own farm. He would look at the moon phases and take that into account. It really opens up the farming methods to another level.

Summarizing, you can say conventional agriculture pollutes the planet, organic agriculture does not pollute, and  biodynamic agriculture tries to heal the planet. It actually works with the forces of nature and plants and takes into account the bees and the animals that live on the farm too. It's purpose is to actually leave the planet in a better state than when we found it.

TP: How does Weleda do its due diligence on this?

JVB: Not only do we have our own biodynamic gardens in Germany—and that really sets our company apart from almost any other skincare company—but we also work closely with fair-trade partners across the globe with whom we have long-term partnerships, and long-term means that it starts at seven to eight years. That’s the minimum— we do not have any partnerships under that.

We do annual audits of the gardens and facilities, and we quality control on every single raw material shipment that arrives at our facilities. What you should know is that Weleda is not only a natural and organic personal care brand but we also manufacture and develop natural holistic medicines. All of our facilities and all of our quality processes meet good manufacturing practices for medicine.

This means our quality levels are a lot higher than you would expect of a natural and organic personal care company, per se—because we need to meet these medicinal farm standards as well.

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Something to smile about: Weleda's North American CEO, Jasper Van Brakel. (Photo: Weleda)

TP: Please make the case that natural ingredients for skin products are as effective, if not more so, than their conventional counterparts.

JVB: You need to define effective and what you mean by effective. If you’re talking about how effective holistically, taking the planet and the health of the whole human being into account, I think there is a very strong case to be made for natural and organic personal care.

But let me focus more on what you probably mean: effective as in reducing wrinkles. Weleda is all about being transparent, being open, and being fair.

I’m not going to say that a natural, organic product does the same as Botox. It just doesn’t; you cannot expect anything like that from a natural product. But you cannot expect that from any chemically made product either. So what I can say is natural products are as effective as their conventional counterparts because nature really has what our skin needs to be its most healthy and beautiful.

You can make Vitamin A or C chemically in a lab, but that’s not the same as a chemical found in nature, in plants and seeds, in nut oils, plant extracts, etc. And those ingredients of the plant’s base ingredients are loaded with vitamins and essential fatty acids that our skin needs to protect its natural barrier and to stay in balance and be healthy.

Unlike petroleum derived oils and chemical ingredients, the ingredients from nature are highly compatible with our own skin, which makes them very effective.

TP: Talk about Weleda’s long history with fair trade?

JVB: Weleda was founded in 1921. We have worked with farmers and gardeners all over the world for decades, even before the term fair trade existed. One good example is our organic rose project in Turkey, where we helped around 350 farmers convert from conventional to organic agriculture. We now buy our organic rose oil from them.

TP: According to The New York Times: “While most skincare and hair care is filled with potential allergy triggers, it turns out that organic versions are, to green parents’ dismay, among the worst offenders.” How does Weleda safeguard its consumers against this? And, what advice would you give to a person who is a big fan of Weleda’s products, but who has allergies?

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One of Weleda's newest products, Pomengranate Firming Facial Care, made with organic pomegranates from Turkey. (Photo: Weleda)

JVB: Allergies are a major issue today and we totally understand that. This is really where the premium quality personal care really distinguishes itself from the lower quality products.

At Weled we heat our nut oils about 400 degrees and we filter them, thereby removing the protein that houses the allergen. If you don’t do that, you get enough oil that does house the allergen.

However, I have to give this disclaimer: We recommend that people who have a severe nut allergy do a spot test, or just avoid using them all together to be on the perfectly safe side. 

TP: Weleda recently celebrated its ninetieth birthday. What’s next for the company?

JVB: Exciting product launches coming in the next couple of years. We will continue our dedication to sustainability worldwide. Weleda prides itself in having pioneered sustainability in 1921. Again the word wasn’t even invented and it’s so ingrained in the DNA of this company. We will continue to do that, and what really drives us is that the more people who purchase products that are made with the benefit of the planet and people in mind, the more we will all benefit in the long run.

And growth means more of the good stuff for us, more giving back, more healing the planet, more healthy people, and just doing more good, and that’s our future. 

TP: What’s one thing a consumer can do for five minutes or for under 5 dollars to be green or sustainable in the cosmetics sphere?

A consumer can take a shorter shower or close the tap when you wash your face. The one I came up with is, you cannot buy a Weleda product for 5 dollars, but you could tell your friends how our biggest organ, which is the human skin, deserves the best natural ingredients. I think people will understand that, after all what you put on your skin is absorbed by your body. Whether they buy Weleda after that or not, that’s really secondary. This piece of education is huge and it only takes 5 minutes.

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