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Dr. Simon Jackson is the man behind a unique range of natural skincare products. The ethical brand uses nature’s most unique ingredients from the deep rainforests and benefits communities harvesting them.

The brand has been many years in the making. What triggered the idea of starting Dr. Jackson’s?

Pharmacognosy is the study of medicines from plants. Whilst studying for my PhD in Pharmacognosy I specialised in African medicinal plants in the treatment of malignant melanoma and solar keratosas. During this time I worked alongside the Melanoma unit at Charring Cross Hospital, London. It was here that I witnessed both the terrible impact of skin cancer and the dangerous level of ignorance in the UK. I made it my objective to cut through the increasing complexities of the skin care market to formulate a single natural, unisex daily moisturizer that would deliver the needs for all skin types and all ages, and importantly, ensure it contained the highest quality SPF.  This is my signature skin cream No. 1. This way people needn’t chop and change their moisturizer according to changing symptoms (which can happen within hours due to environmental and biological factors) or age group, leaving periods where they may be exposed to lesser quality, or even no SPF protection. I journeyed across the world, to ancient rainforests and the African plains, with the belief that such extreme, hot, harsh and varied conditions would provide plants with the most effective regenerative, healing and protectant properties. I lived with local tribes and learnt from local healers of the plants they used to heal their tribes. Many with uses and medicinal properties not known to the West. And finally, following 20 years of research, I formulated the Dr Jackson’s 01 day moisturizer.

How important is it for communities to benefit from farming the natural resources used in the range?

Simply put, you aren’t putting chemicals into your body. Many chemicals may have possible side effects that have not yet been discovered. Take parabens for example. Parabens are used as a preservative to prevent the growth of microbes in cosmetics products. Even though you might only apply these topically, parabens can actually be absorbed through skin, blood and the digestive system. Parabens mimic estrogen and are known to disrupt hormone function, causing serious concerns that they are linked to increased risk of breast cancer and other health issues. Natural ingredients have been used for centuries however. Indian Ayurvedic medicine for example,  is one of the world’s oldest medical systems, originating more than 2,000 years ago. So whilst some people do have allergies to a few natural ingredients, in general, centuries of knowledge mean the effects are much more understood than the effects from synthetic ingredients. Not only are natural products better for your health, they are better for the environment - with fewer chemicals being produced and contaminating the air and water. The rising awareness of the benefits of natural products does have its downside however.

Many cosmetic companies are capitalising on this trend and are either “greenwashing” or “Fairy Dusting” products. By greenwashing products we mean they add a miniscule amount of a single natural ingredient and then position that product as “natural”. Both of these “deceptions” are really detrimental to the natural products industry. Their products’ results, or lack of them, compound the common perception that natural products aren’t as efficacious as synthetic products. Natural products can be just as efficacious as synthetic products, or even more so. In fact the efficacy of natural ingredients such as Digitalis for example, or Foxglove as it is more commonly known, can’t yet be replicated synthetically, and is still used in heart surgery today. Efficacy is about natural ingredient quality and concentrate. As a Pharmacognosist, I also believe the fewer products and ingredients applied to the skin the healthier.

How important is it for communities to benefit from farming the natural resources used in the range?

Our ingredients are currently being FairWild certified, which means they are not farmed intensively but harvested from the wild. This means the local community can harvest and profit directly from the ingredients. (It also means the ingredients are organic – no pesticides used.) However it is more than just a marketing box to be ticked for Dr Jackson’s. I spent years on my research expeditions in Africa living with, and learning from, local tribes and communities and then through my work on behalf of the UN, researching indigenous plants. During this time I developed strong bonds with local communities. 

Understanding how an extra £250 (doubling the salary) a year can send their children through school made giving back to these communities a key focus for me. Therefore, as part of founding Dr Jackson’s Natural Products, we created the Natural Products Community (NPC). This is a not-for-profit foundation set up to channel a percentage of our Dr Jackson’s profits to the communities that surround our supply chain to ensure that they benefit from our company’s success. We do this in a number of ways, primarily focusing on financially benefiting communities and providing opportunities for a future income (through planting initiatives), trying to prevent deforestation and protecting plant species of pharmacognistic value.

Harvesting is an activity all of the generations that share a household can participate in and benefit from. The additional income means the grandparents can receive the additional healthcare they might need and the children get an education and what seems an absolute luxury, such as glasses if they need them. And we only use natural products that are sustainable and in plentiful supply – so there is scope for potential. And again, it helps prevent deforestation and protects plant species of pharmacognistic value. Therefore it delights me that Baobab, a key ingredient in our products, has become more popular as its many powerful health benefits are being recognised. I am really working toward Kigelia, another of our core ingredients, gaining a similar status. Kigelia, a tree from sub-Saharan Africa has been long used by local women for its deep tissue firming and smoothing effects and to restore skin elasticity. So effective, it is used pre and post pregnancy and as a breast firming remedy. Powerful compounds also help block melanin production and diminish pigmentation spots, minimize blemishes, and reduce redness. It was even used traditionally to treat psoriasis and many other skin irritations. 

What was the thinking behind the packaging and branding?  

I wanted it to be aligned to Pharmacognosy and the refinement of natural science, my passion for nature and sharing the wonderful healing powers of the natural world. I also wanted the branding to be contemporary, minimalist and gender neutral (as our products are). It was also important to us that all packaging was in line with our company ethos – therefore it is biodegradable or recyclable. We use traditional pharmacy bottles and powder storage jars for a number of our products, these are what we use in the laboratory as well as in our products (the amber glass is used traditionally to prevent light causing the compounds to deteriorate, blue and green glass, was only used to store poisons). It has been challenging at times though. Whilst we really liked the premium feel of the popular linen reinforced packaging of some other brands, this isn’t biodegradable or recyclable – so not an option for us.  We listened to what our consumers wanted, so we didn’t foil or use synthetic dyes, instead soya based ink pigments and recyclable card stock. We are proud of the fact however that we have achieved biodegradable or recyclable packaging at every level – including our tea bags. They are made from corn starch which biodegrades within 30 days, so easily compostable. Also all the off cuts from our packaging go into making re-cycled cardboard for our packaging boxes.

Are the plans to expand the range?

We actually have a number of cosmeceutical formulations ready to be brought to market.  It normally takes about 2 years to bring a product to market, and Ive got over 20+ products so I’ve been busy. However we are currently focusing on driving our existing range, to which we have added our recently launched 05 Face and Eye Essence and our newly launched 06 Body perfecting Gel (initially exclusive to Net-a-Porter), and will soon launch our 07 Face Wash this Fall/Autumn. We are also entering the luxury spa arena, through agua Bathhouse & Spa, at Mondrian London. Our Dr Jackson’s unique formulations not only nourish, repair and revitalise but also have the ability to penetrate deep tissue - so are ideal for a range of treatments. So, in answer to your question, as I’m constantly researching plants, I’m sure there will be future products we create as we discover amazing new plant properties. How we can best harness these properties to improve peoples’ health and wellbeing will shape the direction of our future products.

The Dr Jackson range is available at Drjackson.co.uk and exclusively at Mrporter.com and Netaporter.com. Also available at Celestine Eleven, Liberty, Harvey Nichols, Beauty Mart and Droog Amsterdam. The Agua Bathhouse and Spa at The Mondrian London features treatments with the brand.