When we heard about Jennifer Hirsh, Beauty Botanist, we couldn’t have been more intrigued. Because, first off, what in the world is a beauty botanist? We reached out for all the details on this #goals career, what exactly she does, and how she got there.
“Technically, what I practice is ethnobotany – the study of people, plants and culture,” clarifies Jen. “I’m fascinated by the relationship we’ve had with plants across our millennia of existence as a species. For the most part, my practice is focused on collaborating with the beauty, food, and beverage industries. I work with brands to help them use the plant ingredients in their products to tell stories,” she says, noting she helps educate customers about why certain plant ingredients are effective.
“I work with different brands in different ways. I’ve been lucky enough to be at the conception of some brands where I’m contributing the plant part of the brand DNA, and get to see the germ of an idea blossom into products that people love and share with each other. For other brands, I might help identify the right ingredients from the right source for a product, or train their team on the ingredients, or contribute content, or share the stories of key ingredients (and the people who grow them) with the press and customers. The diversity of roles I play, brands I collaborate with and, of course, the plants feed my passion.”
Breaking Into Ethnobotany
Jen attributes breaking into beauty botany to her passion for plants, a never-ending quest to answer the question why, and a little luck.
For her formal training, Jen spent 3 years studying plants at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “Learning about the relationship between plants and our skin, hair, and bodies has come through working and constantly educating myself – I read an average of 15 pieces of published scientific research a week. And all of it relates to plants, our bodies, and people who have been connecting the two,” she says. “I love to learn and what keeps me fascinated and engaged to the point of obsession in what I do is the constant pursuit of the why of things.”
Botany and Hair Products
“The best example of how my work relates to new hair products is my relationship with the British brand Noughty, who make high-performance natural haircare that is 97% plant-derived,” explains Jen. “I contribute ingredient ideas, help to ensure formulations meet sustainability standards, and then translate all that information into a form that’s meaningful for training the team who then work to communicate with and educate their customer.”
This means she’s always on the look out for new ingredients, whether it’s a plant she hasn’t seen before, a new format, more traceable source or increasingly a high science active with great data behind it for performance on hair. “There are plenty of types of ingredients or activities that couldn’t be replaced by plant derived ingredients because the performance wasn’t there. Today, that number diminishes with every new ingredient launch, so I’m kept on my toes and hunting for new solutions,” she says.
Best Plant-Derived Hair Ingredients
It’s hard for Jen to pick just one plant-derived ingredient that she loves for the hair, but notes she gravitates to oils. “Plant oils like avocado, shea, and coconut will always hold a special place in my heart for their performance on the hair in terms of improving overall condition – moisturizing, enhancing shine, suppleness, and a healthy-looking mane. But I’m being swayed by some of the outstanding high science actives, like the wheat bran extract we’ve used in Noughty’s Wave Hello range,” says Jen.
Wheat bran is a by product of the milling of white flour – if it wasn’t used as the feedstock material for an extract, it could end up as valueless waste, so using it is great for the planet. Jen explains that it’s great for curls, too, helping to define and retain them.
If Jen wants you to keep one thing in mind, it’s to ask brands questions, especially about ingredients. “When we, as customers, start asking about plants, about sourcing, about sustainability, that we make brands small and large start to look for answers – and since I think the answers lie in plants…”
Educate future generations on the power of plants. “Sow seeds with your kids – kids who grow vegetables eat vegetables, kids who grow know how forests happen. Help them understand our connection to the plant kingdom and to see the magic. We’re still discovering new plant species out there, new medicines, new beauty ingredients.”
And finally, don’t underestimate your purchasing power. “Look for brands that share your values – when you make a purchase, you’re making a choice and that choice has power. Don’t be afraid to use it because you make a difference”