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The life of a Liz Earle Beauty ethnobotanist

James Wong explains how he harnesses the power of plants to create botanical skincare that works

As an ethnobotanist, James Wong studies the fascinating interrelationship between people and plants. And for the past eight years, he’s also been an expert ambassador for Liz Earle Beauty, helping to source botanicals for the brand’s products.

James believes it’s vital to consider the provenance, variety and cultivation technique of every ingredient used. “It's not about using plants because they sound nice on a bottle, but because they're genuinely effective,” he says. “For example, we source our lavender oil from a high-altitude farm in southern France, because evidence suggests many of the aromatics and bioactive compounds in lavender are produced in reaction to UV light. It’s more expensive to buy, but you can really smell the difference.”

Of course, the efficacy of naturally-powered skincare was never in doubt, as some of the most widely used ingredients, such as vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, are taken from natural sources. But the Liz Earle Beauty team is now working towards using even more natural alternatives to synthetic ingredients in their formulas. And thanks to people like James, they have the expertise needed to source and extract those ingredients most effectively.

An ethical approach

Like the whole Liz Earle Beauty team, James is passionate about sourcing ingredients as responsibly as possible. For instance, the cranberry seed oil used in the Superskin™ range is extracted from food waste. “This is a great way to get hold of the most potent part of the plant, as the protective chemicals are concentrated in skins and seeds,” he explains. “And at the same time, you’re using far less land and resources to get that ingredient.”

In the past, this dedication to ethical and sustainable sourcing has even resulted in the reformulation of products. James recalls this happening six or seven years ago, when the team had a major sourcing issue with the yangu oil in one of their bestselling conditioners. “We had a good understanding of where the oil came from,” he says. “But because there were so many steps in the production chain, it was difficult to get good evidence for ethicality and sustainability as we had to rely on so many intermediaries. So, we decided to stop using it.”

“It took a lot of time and effort, but we did it because we knew it was the right thing to do”

This was how James really came to appreciate Liz Earle Beauty’s commitment to its ethical ethos: “I thought it was great because we didn't have any proof that the ingredient was a problem, but we were unsure, and that was enough to withdraw the product for several months while we found a replacement. It took a lot of time and effort, but we did it because we knew it was the right thing to do.”

Supporting small

Where possible, James and his team also try to source ingredients from small businesses and communities that really need the support. Take the roses used in some of Liz Earle Beauty’s signature scents, for example. These could easily be bought from one of the larger suppliers in Bulgaria, but instead they source them from a small family-owned producer in south-east Turkey.

“It's a traditional crop that's really under threat,” says James. “It was the centre of rose cultivation for centuries, but now it's undergoing increasing amounts of competition from commercial tomato growing, which involves ploughing up fields and covering them with plastic polytunnels. We wanted to support a local producer, so we chose a female-owned, fourth-generation family business. They still use the same copper stills they've used for hundreds of years, and I think you can really see that in the quality of the product.”

James’ top Liz Earle Beauty picks

Cleanse & Polish™ Hot Cloth Cleanser

Enriched with cocoa butter, rosemary, chamomile and eucalyptus, this British beauty icon deeply cleanses, gently exfoliates and boosts hydration for radiant, clearer-looking skin.

“The cocoa butter gives the formula a really thick, rich consistency that instantly melts into your skin,” James says. “Instead of stripping away your natural oils, it blends in with them and removes everyday grime, pollution and makeup.”

Instant Boost™ Skin Tonic

Gentle and non-drying, this alcohol-free toner refreshes, soothes and brightens the appearance of skin, and replenishes it with hydration to prep for the next step in your routine.

“This formula is powered by calendula and chamomile,” James enthuses. “These flowers have been used for thousands of years for their cooling and soothing compounds. To me, this proves that we should never overlook tried and tested solutions.”

Men’s Face and Body Wash

Formulated with aloe vera, soap bark extract and natural source vitamin E, this body wash is gentle enough to use on both your face and body, leaving skin feeling smooth, clean and fresh.

“Aloe vera is intensely hydrating,” James explains. “It’s also one of the world’s most prized plants as it’s a cultigen, meaning it’s been cultivated for so long that scientists don’t know where it originates from and have never found it in the wild.”

*Receive 20% discount on Liz Earle products, when placing your first qualifying order through or via the Customer Centre. Available until midnight Sunday 31st December 2023. Discount may only be used once per customer and code 20FORYOU must be entered at checkout or quoted when ordering via the Customer Centre. Excludes travel sizes, accessories, flagship store treatment vouchers, kits, bundles and timed or limited stock offers. For a full list of exclusions visit Cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer or discount unless specified. The discount cannot be retrospectively applied to previous Liz Earle orders. Delivery Charges may apply. Discount code will not be applied to any applicable delivery charge.