There’s been a lot of talk about farm-to-table food in the last decade, but Nina LaBruna believes that what we put on our skin is just as important as what we put in our body.
That’s why she started LaBruna Skincare, an all-natural line of serums, moisturizers, masks and other products that are cooked up with all the care and intention of a five-star meal to create mixtures so potent in vitamins and antioxidants, LaBruna likes to call them “food for your face.”
Since launching the company out of her college dorm, LaBruna has been picked up by Nordstrom and Anthropologie, becoming a fast fan-favorite by health and environmentally conscious shoppers around the country.
We spoke to LaBruna to hear more about her unique approach to skincare, which products are total must-haves in your routine, and what’s in store from LaBruna in the future.
I was reading your bio, and I love the story about how your mother's garden sparked this lifelong fascination with plants, their life cycle and how they impact our life cycle. Did your mother teach you about plants and their uses?
My mom is really knowledgeable about botanics and plants. We went to a botanical garden a few weeks ago, and she could name almost all of the plants. It's like walking around with an encyclopedia. That's definitely where my love and inspiration for nature and botanics came from. My grandmother also was a big gardener, so it was the three of us, three generations just always gardening and cooking together.
When I entered college at NYU, I wanted to start studying nutrition. I have always been interested in the power of foods to heal us from the inside out. I was also teaching yoga and became immersed in the wellness world, and I thought, “I'd love to have some skin care that is just as phytonutrient dense as the smoothies I'm making, as the juices I’m pressing. I want goji berries. I want chaga mushroom. I want sea buckthorn in my skincare.”
I tried to find products that had all of those ingredients, and I couldn't find something that really had everything I was looking for. I also wanted to know where the ingredients wre coming from? Where are they sourced? I'm pretty crafty, so I was like, “let me just start making my own stuff.”
All while you were still in school?
My dorm basically became an apothecary. My roommate actually loved it. She was a photographer/filmmaker and was always filming me do stuff. I started calling up different farms and vendors. I tried eight different moringas from eight different farms and picked one that felt the most concentrated, thickest, most vibrant in color. I made my first face oils and face masks, and from there, it just took off.
I launched LaBruna skincare at the end of my senior year, and I went on to get my master's in nutrition, which I just finished up. We launched, and things went really quite successfully. We got reached out to by Nordstrom's. They were doing a clean beauty pop-in, and we were one of the top four performing brands out 100-something that they brought on. They brought us on as a full time vendor after that, and we recently got picked up by Anthropologie.
It’s no small feat to earn your Master’s degree, and to start a business on the side must have been tough. How did you balance those two things?
It seems daunting when you have all these big goals in mind, and I still have so many that I want to achieve. If I look at the big picture of it all, it can seem a little scary, but if you pursue passion, it no longer feels like a daunting task. It's something you actually want to do. All of a sudden you're doing a lot of it, because you like it.
Secondly, take baby steps. I have a checklist with me in my purse at all times. I'm very forgetful, so I always write down everything I need to do, and I'm super satisfied when I check things off my list, even if they're really small. Over time, you get those little tasks done and those little tasks become bigger projects, and bigger projects become tremendous.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome, and what were some of the most important lessons?
I think the biggest challenge is just the struggle of being an entrepreneur. It's very emotional, and there's lots of ups and downs. It's not as fluid or stable as having a salary job. When things don't seem pan out the way you expected or you're not hitting your sales goals—like the first order with Nordstroms. There was a mistake in the shipping, and I had to call the shipping company and figure it out. I thought it was going to be the end of it, but I figured it out. Every mistake is solvable, and didn't make that mistake again.
A business is only going to succeed based on how much you put into it, which can be a lot of pressure. As the owner, there were times where I would get stuck working nonstop because I felt like when I stepped away from my work or hung out with my friends, I was not giving my business the attention it deserved. I learned that taking care of myself is just as important and necessary, because I'm then able to give better and more effective attention back to the projects.
Talk to me about “farm to face.”
We have two ethos; farm to face, and food for your face. I love the alliteration of it, and I use farm to face because that's kind of where the stem of our business began; me reaching out to all of these farms and vendors. We have a farm out in California that supplies all of our moringa. I also have a farm out in Cyprus near Greece that supplies my St John's Wort oil and Calendula oil. I really do have all of these relations with farms all over the world that have helped supply, grow and make these beautiful ingredients that I'm then able to craft into my products.
Food for Face stems from my love for nutrition. I'm very mindful not only of the quality of the raw ingredients, but also the percentages. I remember seeing that a lot of base oils were not as luxe or high end, and weren’t as dense with superfood ingredients. Our face oil, the number one ingredient is sea buckthorn and St John's wort. Calendula takes up a huge percentage of the ingredients. I do think of our skin care as going to a juice shop and taking a shot of ginger. You're really getting a boost of those ingredients into your skin.
What are the benefits of natural skin care products? What does it really mean to get that boost of ingredients for your face or the skin around your eyes?
So many of the ingredients are made up of micronutrients and vitamins that supply beneficial aid to the skin. Vitamin C is found naturally in citruses as well as goji berries, and that helps with collagen production, and helps to brighten your skin and even out skin tone. Vitamin E as well is extremely beneficial in reducing inflammation and helping with elasticity. Each of these naturally occur in plant-based ingredients and have a surplus list of benefits to the skin from a visual standpoint.
One of the main benefits to using natural ingredients as well is that they're highly packed in antioxidants, and antioxidants help to fight free radical damage. Free radicals cause damage at a cellular level, stealing electrons from your cells which kills the cells off. We get free radical damage from the sun, so antioxidants help to reverse a lot of that damage.
Arnica is one of my favorite ingredients. I use it in my eye serum, and I haven't seen many products come out with that, but it's kind of a no-brainer. Arnica is used by a lot of physicians or plastic surgeons to help reduce any bruising or swelling effects. It's very potent and effective to use under the eyes to help with swelling, which is just blood pooling under the eyes, which can create that dark, bruising effect. Sea buckthorn, too, is a magical ingredient. It was used to help treat Chernobyl burn victims, so it's really good for scarring.
Are there essentials every person should have in their skincare routine?
Definitely cleansing every morning and night to take off any debris and give your skin a fresh slate. We offer a water-based cleanser and an oil-based makeup remover. I'd say exfoliating is also under looked but is a really important step in a routine, similar to cleansing. It helps to remove any stubborn dead skin cells that are on the top layer of your epidermis. That helps to stimulate some collagen production from underneath the skin.
Finally, a serum that's very potent in antioxidants, phytonutrients and all the ingredients we talked about. That's going to give your skin a vitality boost. It's going to help make it healthier, more elastic looking, more youthful. And of course, lastly is SPF. That's very important. Our ozone layer is very depleted right now, and skin cancer is on the rise. Making sure you protect your skin preventatively and then take care of your skin with those antioxidant rich products [is really key].
Do you have favorite products in the lineup?
I like all of my products for so many different reasons and fluctuate between the ones I'm using more consistently. I'm using my arnica eye serum all the time. I've been a little extra tired lately, and it gives my eyes that extra boost, and it smells like cucumbers.
Also, my face oil. It has a very strong red tincture to it because of the sea buckthorn, so it's kind of like wearing makeup when I put it on. It gives my skin a soft glow. I like to put it on at night and let it seep in. In the morning, my skin looks—I can't even begin to tell you, it works so well.
What does the future hold for LaBruna?
I would love to expand into wellness, maybe even with event space to share more of an experience with consumers. I’m not really how that's going to look, whether that's a brick and mortar store or hosting retreats. In terms of my personal goals, I love painting. I love jewelry making and pottery, so I want to immerse myself into new hobbies and maybe have some side businesses that will also grow to a level like LeBruna.
Your mom must be proud!
She's definitely my biggest supporter! She's a doctor as well, so she helped me come up with some formulation ideas. She's definitely been a big part of this business’ growth spiritually and hands on. It's definitely come full circle, and I hope she acknowledges that a lot of this was her influence.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
The biggest thing I take away from all of this is that, when you put your mind to something and it's followed with passion and positive energy, you can achieve anything. That's a reminder I have to tell myself every single day, too, because sometimes I can have self-doubt, anxiety and insecurity about what I'm doing and where I'm going. I think that's a really normal feeling that everyone feels, but just reminding yourself to do something you love, do it with purpose and with intention, and to have a bigger vision of where you want to take it—but take it with baby steps—that’s the key to achieving anything you can set your mind to. And do it with balance!
Learn more about LaBruna skincare’s commitment to plant-based healing from the outside in, and shop its stores at labrunaskincare.com.
Photography by: Courtesy of LaBruna skincare