When it comes to beauty, there are a growing number of U.S. brands that share a philosophy of "less is more." One such company is Wildcare, a Ventura, California-based skincare brand that produces natural, organic, additive-free skincare products designed to soothe and heal. We spoke with founder Cortney Herrera to get her views on skin health, ethical sourcing and sustainability, and the magic of aromatic waters.
What inspired you to start your company, Wildcare?
Wildcare first began in our sunny little California garden. There was an afternoon in particular a couple of years ago when I had focused all my energy on exploring a better remedy to comfort and heal an eczema flare-up I was having. Noticing which plants decided to grow side by side led me to intuitively craft what soon became my first Wildcare product, “The Skin Soother” Rosemary + Bay Hydrosol. After religiously misting for a few weeks and observing my skin’s fast-improved health, I realized that this ancient modality of skincare was something I fully believed in. I spent a year doing playful but conscientious experimentation with my first copper still, creating hydrosols for family and friends. The process of watching a distillation take place and seeing the effects that it had on the skin was transformative--this was my first epiphany, and I knew it was something I needed to share with others. My schooling was both in Culinary School and Herbal medicine, the perfect foundation to expand my interest in internal and external care. My sisters and I grew up with a strong influence of good skincare rituals from our mom, who worked as a makeup artist for film and television. We would concoct foot soaks and face masks using pine needles and flowers we would collect on afternoon walks. These special memories have always stayed with me.
One of the products you seem most passionate about is called a "hydrosol." What exactly is a hydrosol, and how is it produced?
It's true! Learning over the last few years from these distillations has taught me so much about the plants in my own backyard, and how we can be incredibly supported from the nature we are already surrounded by. A Hydrosol is the nutrient-rich water that results from the slow distillation of plant material — no additives, just 100% distillate. We do so in a traditional hand-hammered copper Alembic (also known as a still) from Portugal. The beauty of this incredible tool makes me feel connected to ancient times, transporting me back thousands of years and fantasizing about how this special process was done then with just stoneware, fire, plants and water. Even today, the process hasn't changed too much. During the distillation process, micro particles of essential oils are diffused throughout the Hydrosol. The heavier molecules of essential oil will typically float to the top, which are later siphoned off in preparation for bottling separately. My favorite part is watching drop by drop as these waters emerge from the still, offering a beautiful sensory story of the plant. We believe that each distillation holds the special vibration of the plant's landscape, the smell that was in the air and the elements that encouraged its growth.
You talk about hydrosols as having "magical" properties. What are the benefits of incorporating hydrosols into a skincare regime?
Distillation has been an ancient form of healing, cross-culturally, for the past 2,000+ years — think about Cleopatra and her rose water. Being an integral part of the alchemical process, watching plants transform through steam and vapor and then condense into these aromatic healing waters to me is the real magic. Besides being gentle enough for even the most sensitive beings (even babies and pets), hydrosols are extremely versatile. The plant acids make them a perfect toner, balancing the natural pH of our skin and protecting it from everyday pollutants, irritation, and bacteria. When combined directly with a face oil, they create a fresh "cream" (water + oil), increasing absorption, and leading to more hydrated, nourished skin. They may also be used as a form of aromatherapy, elevating mood, stimulating the mind and calming the spirit, which is why I carry one in my bag wherever I go. An important facet of magical attention also comes from the water we use for our distillations, collected straight from a pristine local mountain spring. We feel utilizing pure living water maximizes the energetic charge in our Hydrosols.
How do you source the natural materials you use in your products? Do you grow some of them yourself?
Our goal is to grow and support small farms as often as possible. We currently grow a handful of the organic botanicals we distill, such as lavender, rosemary, bay and lemon. Many of the other materials are ethically wildcrafted along the west coast, such as cypress and velvety white sage leaves. The vendors we do choose to align ourselves with must adhere to our strict sustainable criteria. We look for distributors who pride themselves in their natural and organic practices, are certified food-grade, non-GMO and who inspire us with their care and supreme quality offerings.
Palo Santo Hydrosol (featured) - Mist the face and body liberally with this purifying, anti-oxidant rich hydrosol to energize and hydrate the skin, or spritz in the air to lift your spirits.
Written by Ina Michel | Photographed by Alison Engstrom