Australian native plants are becoming very popular in skincare at the moment, with ingredients such as Kakadu Plum becoming highly sought-after by clean beauty brands.
As an Expert Panellist for the Clean + Conscious Awards, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to trial many beautiful, clean skincare products. Many of my favourite products in the 2021 Clean + Conscious Awards featured Australian native botanics. Something that I was very interested to learn, however, was that high-demand for native ingredients can have devastating consequences for Australia’s ecosystems and indigenous communities.
First Nations people have long revered Australian native botanics for their healing and protective properties. For generations, they have cultivated and harvested native plants in a way that respects the land and its people. But what happens when skincare (as well as food) brands across the world all start bidding for these sacred ingredients?
As consumers, we have the power to choose conscious skincare products that support the local environment and First Nations communities when sourcing native ingredients.
Here’s a rundown of three of our favourite native ingredients in skincare, with tips on how to check if ingredients are grown responsibly and in line with First Nations practices.
Kakadu Plum has been used by First Nations people for centuries, mostly as bush food and medicine. This flowering plant grows in north-western Australia and is also known as gubinge, billygoat plum, mimarral, and many other names. The fruits are handpicked by First Nations farmers who care for the land and draw on generations of knowledge.
Today, Kakadu Plum is proclaimed as a superfood – and deservedly so! You’ll likely notice it appearing as a star ingredient in many clean beauty products, including many of the skincare finalist products in our Awards. I personally love it for its high levels of vitamin C.
So why is this locally grown superfruit in such high demand by skincare companies?
Kakadu Plum has the highest vitamin C content of any fruit in the world, measuring up to 7000mg per 100g of fruit. That’s around 100 times that of oranges! Its high Vitamin C content stimulates the growth of skin collagen, something that our body slows down the production of as we grow older. Kakadu Plum also contains a high level of antioxidants, which protect against free radical damage caused by the sun and environmental toxins.
When choosing a skincare product containing Kakadu Plum, make sure you read the label. First Nations farmers should be fully integrated into the supply chain, and they should always benefit directly. The fruit should also be cultivated sustainably and according to traditional practices.
The leaves of the Lemon Myrtle tree have been used by First Nations people medicinally and in cooking for thousands of years. Today, it is loved for its lemony fragrance and flavour. Its oil has antiseptic, calmative, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties, and its germicidal properties have been said to be higher than that found in eucalyptus and tea tree oils.
When Lemon Myrtle is used in skincare, it works as an astringent to help tighten pores and reduce irritations. Its antibacterial properties assist with inflammation, breakouts and oily skin.
Despite growing naturally within the coastal hinterlands of central and south-eastern Queensland, Lemon Myrtle trees have been commercially farmed in Australia for over a century. In fact, British settlers started farming Lemon Myrtle trees as early as 1888.
The good news? Lemon Myrtle is perfectly suited to sustainable commercial farming. It knows how to live, adapt and thrive in the harsh Australian climate. This makes it a fairly safe pick when seeking a sustainable native ingredients in skincare.
It is, however, important to look for organic certification and to ensure that Lemon Myrtle has been sourced from a farm with sustainable farming practices, such as low water consumption and no use of chemical fertilisers or pesticides.
Tasmanian Mountain Pepper Berry
Mountain pepper berry or Tasmanian native pepper is a shrub that grows in the alpine regions of Tasmania and southeast mainland Australia. It is traditionally used by First Nations people in cooking and medicine, and is exceptionally high in antioxidants – four times that of blueberries!
In skincare, its exceptionally high levels of antioxidants help to protect skin from free radicals and cell damage. Its active compound Anthocyanin helps promote collagen production, while bioflavonoid Rutin regenerates Vitamin C.
Mountain Pepper Berry is not easily commercially farmed like the Lemon Myrtle tree. It can take several years for the trees to begin to fruit, and only half the plants bear fruit. Fortunately, most skincare products only contain extractions from its leaves, not its berries.
Mountain pepper berry is alpine, so it must be harvested in a way that doesn’t affect its surrounding environment. Its trees are also very susceptible to heat and dryness – making them extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
When seeking a product containing mountain pepper berry, ensure that it has been sourced sustainably in consultation with First Nations practices.
Emma Freeman is the Content Director at Clean + Conscious and a regular Expert Panellist for the Clean + Conscious Awards.