The Inside Look at How L’Occitane Takes Ingredients Straight From the Farm to Jar

Rachel Adler
Sustainable ingredients found in the L'Occitane factory, photographed by Rachel Adler

Sustainable ingredients found in the L’Occitane factory; Photographed by Rachel Adler

As we become more and more aware of the negative effects that food can have on our bodies (and appearance) a new trend in food has blossomed across the country that is often referred to as “farm to table.” In a nutshell, this trend is about supporting local organic farmers and bringing their fresh ingredients right to our tables for us to enjoy. L’Occitane, the beauty brand that we all know and love for their iconic Shea Butter Hand Cream, actually works with this same method that we appreciate for our food, but brings those fresh from the land ingredients straight to their beauty products.

We had the opportunity to visit their factories in Provence, France recently and learned a great deal about the inner-workings of the company. Founded by Olivier Baussan in 1976 by making shampoos with essential oils (dabbling with rosemary and lavender in the beginning, and expanding from there) and selling them at the local markets, Baussan always knew that he wanted to give back to Provence, where he was born.

As the company grew over the years, he constantly worked to ensure not only that the ingredients came from the surrounding land (Provence and the Mediterranean region) but also that the brand also made sure that their partners – the farmers and the women working to source the shea butter – were paid fairly as well. Due to these qualities, the brand flourished and gained a worldwide reputation for not only having quality products but for also being charitable, even leading to recognition from the U.N. for its work in Burkina Faso, where their partnership for fair trade has greatly improved the lives of the local women.

MORE: 10 Things No One Ever Tells You About: Your Skin

While speaking about the shea butter project in particular, Baussan told us that he spoke with the now-renowned scientist who was working on the formula for the shea butter hand cream, Yves Millou. Baussan told Millou to work on getting as much shea butter into that formula as possible, so that he could make sure that the women in Burkina Faso would have as much work as possible, and thus be able to improve their livelihoods. Millou succeeded of course, and the 20% shea butter formulation was created in 1993 – upped from the just 5% original formulation – and hasn’t changed to this day.

We spoke with Yves Millou, Jean-Louis Pierrisnard, R&D Group Scientific Director, and Laure Pierrisnard, International Skincare Marketing Director, in the L’Occitane factory labs about the process they go through for each of the ingredients that they want to use in their products.

They first explained that for all of their sustainable ingredients, the department works on sourcing them from growers, extracting the plants, learning about the plants and how they will work with the skin, and then they create formulation processes for each. From there, they make sure the formula is safe by submitting it to several microbiology tests, and then once it is determined that the product’s formula is bacteria-resistant, they go through clinical testing on volunteers to test the true safety and efficiency of the formula. Once the formula’s safety and effectiveness is approved, the company can then file for any patents or regulations and registrations it needs in various countries in order to be sold.

Below are some of the most vital ingredients that L’Occitane works with for their products, how they source them, and what benefits they have for our skin.

Lavender Fields

Lavender landscape, photographed by Richard Romenville, Courtesy of L’Occitane

L’Occitane is well-known for its use of lavender in its products, but what many people don’t realize is that the brand is one of the few to use fine lavender rather than lavendin. Lavendin has a similar look but yields a different scent, and is actually a heartier plant so is often easier for the farmers to grow. Because of that fact, lavendin is often found in detergents or household products because it can be grown in such mass quantities. L’Occitane currently has partnerships with 23 different lavender growers (consisting of 20,000 acres of lavender) to ensure a good crop each year, making them the leader in lavender production around the world. 

Immortelle Landscape

Immortelle landscape, photographed by Simon Tanguay, Courtesy of L’Occitane

The immortelle flower grows in Corsica and was discovered in 2001 by L’Occitane, after a local told them that they had to look into what these flowers might be able to do for the skin, because after they are picked they actually never wilt. After much research, the anti-aging Divine Cream was launched (and just recently relaunched) combining the immortelle flowers and 7 plant-derived active ingredients.

shea butter

Courtesy of L’Occitane

Shea Butter:
As mentioned earlier, the brand’s 100% fair trade shea butter has transformed the lives of many, many women in Africa – impacting 200,000 people to be exact. Picking the shea nuts is a tradition that only women are allowed to work on, thus guaranteeing them jobs and ways to help their families. Due to their shea butter products, L’Occitane orders 600 tons of shea butter from Burkina Faso each year, creating a quality ingredient for the brand and ensuring that these women improve their lifestyles.

Almond trees

Almond Harvest, photographed by Richard Romenville, Courtesy of L’Occitane

L’Occitane works with almond farmers to gather the broken pieces of the almonds from their harvest each spring. Farmers will often wind up with 20% of their crop broken in pieces due to the harvest machinery, and although this crop can’t be sold as whole almonds, it can be used for almond oil – perfect for L’Occitane.

MORE: The Secret Beauty Benefits of Almond Oil

Verbena Landscape

Verbena landscape, photographed by Richard Romenville, Courtesy of L’Occitane

Verbena is nicknamed the “enchanter’s plant” due to a legend that witches used it for medicines. L’Occitane uses it because it is extremely moisturizing and refreshing – the verbena line not only has a lemon-y fresh scent, but the scent can also relax you. Plus, the plant is said to have healing qualities if eaten raw too!