Jenna Levine wants to preserve what’s wild.
As a child, growing up in an health-conscious, outdoorsy household, she was encouraged as she tinkered with edible ingredients to create skincare and beauty concoctions. She continued her exploration into the power of plants while studying at Middlebury College in Vermont and later, in the Bay Area, while earning certificates in California Native Plant Botany and Herbal Medicine. She also explored healing modalities including anatomy, yoga, Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine.
Ultimately, inspired by her sister’s skincare challenges and her own dry skin, as well as her passion for whole native plants, she launched Linné—a collection of science-based, natural skincare products created from a diverse collection of native, wild-harvested, organic plant-based ingredients and minerals.
Here, the skincare innovator gets serious about biodiversity, ingredient sourcing and enjoying the journey:
Live The Process: How did your upbringing influence your interest in wellness and health?
Jenna Levine: Growing up with a surgeon father and chef mother spurred my interest in healing through food. I took great interest in the nutritional quality of edible plants and this opened the door to other holistic healing modalities. My father always encouraged my curiosity and, given my love of the outdoors and wildlife, natural medicine seemed like a resonant fit. I took an interest in yoga, dance, massage and other mind/body therapies, but my true passion was plants. I took a particular interest in ethnobotany, and my travels through South America, Europe and Asia further opened my eyes to the vast and varied world of healing.
LTP: Why is a basis in science—combined with intuitive creativity—so important for skincare?
JL: To produce effective, safe skincare, it is vital to understand both skin science and plant science. Our namesake, Carl Von Linné, was both a physician and a botanist. In his time, training in botany was part of the medical curriculum and every doctor had to prepare and prescribe drugs derived from medicinal plants. In the 1800s, medicinal plant use was fundamental to human health.
Now, more than two centuries after Linné’s death, many have come to believe that natural ingredients are inferior to synthetics, and specifically that natural skincare cannot be as effective as cosmeceuticals. However, much of medical and cosmeceutical skincare is derived from the isolation of plant compounds. When a plant has demonstrated bioactivity in humans, it is typical among pharmaceutical companies to attribute that effect to a single constituent, isolate it, synthesize it and, in some cases, alter it to create a unique molecule that can be patented. This process allows for standardization and profitability and thus has gained popularity in the medical and cosmetic industries. On the other hand, whole plant medicine provides unique complexity and a synergy of compounds that is usually safer and more effective for long-term improved health. In immediate life or death situations, a fast-acting isolated drug may be the best choice, but responsibly sourced, high quality, plant-based, filler-free skincare is the wise choice for everyday skin protection, correction and maintenance.
I mention all this to suggest that the separation of natural formulation from human health is a relatively recent conception. Furthermore, I want to illuminate the power of plants. According to my chemist, you can inadvertently harm yourself with naturals, and many synthetic ingredients are less superficially reactive than natural ingredients. Ultra-gentle, super basic, natural ingredients may be safer to play with than concentrated cosmetic chemicals, thus making naturals more appealing to the hobbyist. But to make truly exceptional skincare, an awareness of chemistry, biology, farming, extraction methods and formulation is essential.
When I formulate, I often start with an intuitive approach that is more like cooking. I start with the best sourced ingredients and iterate to get the desired feel, smell and experience. I choose my ingredients based on their known constituents and assumed effects, but all my formulas are then verified by chemists to ensure that we have appropriate and synergistic levels of actives to achieve the results we desire.
LTP: How and when did you come to launch Linné and why does the use of native plants set the collection apart?
JL: I started making skincare from natural and edible ingredients for my mother and sister when I was 10 years old. My sister, then only 7 years old, had perfect skin, but years later she developed cystic acne. I had been studying California native plant botany and herbal medicine when she began a course of Accutane and I, thus, decided to focus my thesis work on improving the health of her skin through safer alternatives. Within my course, I had been exclusively researching California natives, but decided it was time to open my investigation to endemics globally. With my sister as my muse, I scoured the medicinal pharmacopeia, spoke to numerous suppliers and chemists and then iterated formulas with a plethora of ingredients until we had the antidote to my sister’s imbalanced, inflamed skin. This rewarding process organically evolved into our eight-piece product line, which we launched in April of 2016 (upon being named the “next best thing in beauty” by W Magazine).
This celebration of native plants, our obsession with ingredient sourcing and our simple step protocol (represented in roman numerals in reference to the classification system established by our namesake Carl Von Linné) have help set us apart. My passion for native plants is additionally fueled by the value I recognize in biodiversity. Even the natural skincare and food industries have the capacity to accelerate homogeneity through their use of monoculture crops. I hope, conversely, that our growth as a business will promote and protect the variety and vigor of wildlife. Environmental stewardship is an essential pillar to our business model and we support the maintenance and sustainable harvesting of native plants as a means to protect not only the natural environment from which they come, but the people and practices that protect and nourish the land.
Furthermore, my studies led me to believe that native plants grown in the wild have stronger defense mechanisms to protect themselves from their harsh environments than plants grown in a greenhouse. This struggle for survival can lead to a greater concentration of the active compounds that protect and nourish our skin.
LTP: Aside from your own line, what are some of your current beauty and/or wellness obsessions and/or rituals that keep you feeling balanced and healthy?
JL: Running my own business means I’m super busy, but I really value taking time in the morning for myself. I start my routine by cleaning my tongue with a copper scraper and a ten-minute swish with coconut oil. I like to then awaken my digestive system with a splash of apple cider vinegar in a tall glass of water. A little later in the morning, I’ll make myself a smoothie loaded with fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and adaptogenic herbs. I like to regularly include ingredients also found in my line, like wild bilberries, seabuckthorn and avocado. I tend to snack on some of my fave skincare ingredients too: sacha inchi seeds—an ingredient in our Repair face oil—is a personal favorite. I also enjoy sipping a chilled infusion made from hibiscus, rosehip and rooibos, a trio of skin-supporting herbs found in our Renew Serum.
Of course, water throughout the day is vital and other low-investment indulgences include dry-brushing and regular epsom salt baths. For both mental and body health, I practice yoga and Pilates and I love to dance. My favorite form of exercise happens in the outdoors, whether it be hiking, biking, swimming, skiing etc. Being that I currently live in Brooklyn, the propagation and maintenance of indoor plants has too become a part of my wellness ritual. I have a growing affinity for Kundalini yoga and I’m learning more about Vedic meditation. Clearing the mind and reducing stress are undeniably linked to a happier, healthier and more beautiful being.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
JL: Feeling easy and at one.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
JL: Each day is full of new opportunities and challenges. Living the process is about being open to the journey and not fixed on a destination. To “Live The Process” is to approach life with enthusiasm, openness, awareness, agility and resilience.