Photos by Erin Falter
“AS EARLY AS THE FIRST GRADE, I LOVED POTION AND NATURAL SKINCARE,” RECALLS JENNA LEVINE, FOUNDER OF THE CULT NATURAL BEAUTY LINE, LINNE BOTANICALS. “When studying ancient Egypt, I had elected to recreate some of the beauty rituals practiced by Cleopatra. And while the edible face masks I crafted were designed to make my mother feel nourished and beautiful, I believe it was an attraction to the alchemy and a desire to uncover ethnobotanical histories that truly fueled this experimentation.” Levine, an alum of Regenerative Design Institiute at Commonwealth Garden became an expert on the human relationship to plants. “I considered my own family and how despite their clean diets and relatively healthy lifestyles how they all struggled with their skin in one way or another,” explains Levine. “My sister had painful cystic acne and was using harmful ingredients to resolve her issues, my mother slathered her skin in ‘anti-aging products’ despite knowing what was actually in them, my dad had his own issues from constant use of a surgeon’s mask and I had psoriasis. I saw a need to help my family and thus started making products for them.” The result? A streamlined collection of 8 superstar skin products that have become must-haves among natural beauty junkies, myself included. We caught up with the Chicago native to discuss the relationship between food and skin, at-home fermenting and how to navigate the world of adaptogens.
Your products are so well thought out and the ingredients play a major role in each vial. Are there certain ingredients that are amazing for oily/problem skin versus dry?
My favorite oils for oily/problem skin are jojoba, hazelnut and shiso though all of these too work well for dry skin as they are readily-absorbed powerful emollients with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. Jojoba oil is particularly special as its closely resembles human sebum. Its properties allow it to work with the body to control excessive oil production, thus making it a key ingredient in our BALANCE face oil. For super dry skin I love meadowfoam and avocado. As someone susceptible to psoriasis I have a special place in my heart for avocado. Its high content of sterolins work with the autoimmune system to prevent and treat eczema and psoriasis. And because its occlusive it slows the evaporation of water from the skin’s surface. Oils themselves can’t hydrate skin, but they can create a barrier that can help to keep water in, thus protecting the skin from potential dehydration.
How does your own diet play a role in your own skin health? Do you avoid certain things or emphasize others?I’m not dogmatic by any means but I enjoy a diet rich in plant nutrients and have little interest in processed foods. I think there are few rules that every person should follow. Generally we should just be good listeners and observers and see what works for us and what doesn’t. I do nevertheless think sugar is naughty and recommend that it be eaten in moderation – mostly in the form of fresh fruits – though I do love good honey, maple syrup and dark chocolate! I also know proper hydration is vital for all beings and to keep things interesting I like to sip water infused with herbs, fruits and tinctures throughout the day.
Take us a day through the life of meals and drinks from wake to bedtime.
Every day is different as I love to experiment with whatever is in season. Generally I start the day with apple cider vinegar in room temperature water. Then I may sip on some herbal tea or make a matcha or a raw vegetable juice. Regularly I’ll make a smoothie with a silly list of ingredients. For inspiration check out @linnebotanicals insta-stories as I regularly post pics of what goes into my superfood smoothies – think wild berries, algae, bee pollen, mushrooms, adaptogens – fun witchy stuff. A good smoothie will last me until about 3pm which is usually my first opportunity for a proper break. This time of year for lunch I may make a quick saute of veggies, a hearty soup of beans and greens or a big salad loaded with nutrient dense goodies (ie. roasted delicata squash, avocado, nuts, sprouted legumes, crispy tempeh…). Pretty much everything savory gets finished with seeds in my house and I love to throw something fermented into the mix whenever possible. Snacks often consist of a handful of nuts, too many olives, or a slice of my addictive seeded bread topped with pesto, babaganoush or other creamy spread. If I’m not out and about dinner is at home with my fiance Duncan. He too loves to cook and we have stacks of books we use for inspiration- though we rarely cook directly from a recipe. We love to entertain and our favorite way to eat is more mezze/tapas style with lots of little yummy dishes that incorporate a range of textures and flavors. Before bed Duncan likes to make us an evening potion using digestive teas and other curative herbs. It’s been so fun sharing all of this with him and seeing how he’s taken to it.
You ferment your own vegetables. What is the secret to making the best kimchi? Love the addition of Asian pear.
Since flavors intensify overtime I like to underseason my kimchi – that means less garlic and no fish sauce or dried shrimp. I prefer to flavor with shredded carrots, daikon, scallion, ginger and asian pear when its in season. They don’t get mealy like regular apple or pear and they add a welcome sweetness which helps to balance the heat of the korean chilis. I also like to give my kimchi at least 24 hours on the counter before going into the refrigerator – helps jump start the fermentation process.
What are your top favorite ingredients in your pantry?
I cook mostly with olive oil and I have a friend whose family produces a range of varietals at their Rio Bravo Ranch in California. This year he gifted me freshly-pressed Frantoia, Piqual and Coratina. It’s fun to have a variety of flavor profiles on hand when preparing food. In a pinch, olive oil has also always been my go-to choice for body oil – I really can’t get enough of the stuff – maybe something to with my Spanish heritage.
I also love to have homemade harissa on hand. It’s such a versatile and vibrant condiment and rather simple to compose. I start by toasting a couple teaspoons of seeds- I like to use a mix of coriander seeds, fennel seeds, maybe some cumin and caraway. I grind them in my mortar and pestle with some dried chilis then add them to the blender with four whole roasted peppers (the jarred variety work well should you not want to make your own). I then add roughly one half of a rinsed preserved lemon, a little water and blend with plenty of olive oil until I have a creamy, zesty sauce. I also like to have vinegars on hand: apple cider, sherry, rice wine, chinkiang, ume plum and champagne. I keep threatening to make my own red wine vinegar but I have to finish other projects first.
What is the water filter that you have and what do you like about it?
I’ve love my Berkey water purifier because it removes the bad while keeping the good (minerals). The filters remove bacteria and parasites, heavy metals like lead and mercury, chemicals such as benzene, chlorine and chromium-6, pesticides and pharmaceutical drugs and many other toxic elements. Its relatively easy to use and clean and the filters last a long time before needing to be replaced.
Adaptogens and supplements are so hard to navigate. What are your top 3 favorites and what do you like about them/how do you use them?
I love marine plant life and am thus a big fan of phytoplankton- aka spirulina and blue-green algae (Aphanizomenon flos-aquae). I like to source it fresh-frozen from E3 Live and put it in my smoothies. It contains 65 vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids and is known to support the immune, endocrine, nervous, gastro-intestinal and cardio-vascular systems. As per powders and such it’s easy for me to recommend Mucuna Pruriens. It’s sometimes known as the ‘dopamine bean’ due to its source of Levadopa, a precursor to dopamine. In addition to elevating mood it is known to improve cognitive function and energy levels and to support the central and peripheral nervous system, thus alleviating stress. I put Mucuna in both my warm beverages and smoothies. Finally I feel it valuable to mention probiotics. I prefer to get them through fermented food and beverages but still will take a supplement, especially while traveling to ensure that I have a healthy and happy gut. And a happy gut means clearer skin. As with all supplements and adaptogens, consistency is key – better to use a few in small doses daily than an overwhelming array every now and again.
What is your favorite self-care practice?
Walking and swimming in nature. I also will do anything for a foot massage.
What are some tips to maintaining hydrated skin while traveling?
I take a travel size REFRESH mist with me everywhere. Its hydrating, revitalizing, oxygenating and protects against pollution and bacteria. I also like to travel with a water bottle. The aluminum ones are great as they are light and unbreakable but I’m also a fan of the folding water bottle bags. They may look goofy but when they’re empty they take up no room and so are great for travel. To add flavor and nutrition, into my bottle I’ll add a selection of various drops such as chlorophyll and yuzu juice. I hope to soon launch a blend of skin-supporting liquid extracts with LINNÉ.
Do you have a daily wellness non-negotiable?
I have to wash my face and brush my teeth before going to bed. No matter what. The rest of me can be crusted in ocean salt and I can have a pound of sand in my hair; but as long as my mouth and face are fresh, I can be ready for bed. I like to use neem, charcoal or seaweed infused toothpaste. And when it comes to face wash I really love our PURIFY clay cleanser. The aroma has a therapeutic effect, its gently exfoliating, lathers ever so slightly and removes impurities without drying out my skin. It just feels so good to ceremoniously remove the day from my face.
Do you wear makeup? If so, what are your favorite products? What about for hair?
I don’t wear makeup daily but when I do I like to use Jane Iredale mascara, Kjaer Weis under my eyes and RMS for a bit of cheek and lip color. There are so many new fantastic clean makeup brands that I would like to try. As for my hair, I use Rahua and Briogeo (their coconut/charcoal scalp mask is lovely, as is the owner, my friend Nancy). I’m eager to try True Botanicals shampoo and conditioner. I use to work for them years ago and they make beautiful products.