It is not altogether surprising that Hawaii is at the forefront of our current golden age of natural skin care, in which botanical face oils and mushroom-infused elixirs abound. Few places on Earth contain such a diversity of plant species, and Hawaiians have been using this bounty — including nutrient-rich varieties such as hibiscus, coconut, ferns and kukui nuts — as a source of nourishment and healing for generations. Indeed, plants have been prized on the islands since the first millennium A.D., when the ancient Polynesians arrived by canoe, bringing with them life-sustaining crops such as taro, breadfruit and sweet potato. And though centuries of colonization have done their best to erode this deep-rooted connection to the natural world, it has endured. In fact, for many of the founders of the latest wave of Hawaii-based skin-care lines, using locally sourced botanical ingredients is simply common sense, part of a reciprocal, age-old relationship between the islands and their inhabitants.

Ke’oni Hanalei, a native Hawaiian, spent much of his early childhood in the garden of his grandmother, a medicine woman, on Maui’s southwestern coast. As he watched her tend her plants, she would teach him about their therapeutic properties (hibiscus for purifying the blood, kalamoho fern for sparking creativity) and how to, as she would say, “Ka nani pūlama,” or “cherish their beauty.” Today, these lessons inform Pōhala, Hanalei’s Maui- and Kauai-based range of oils and tinctures made with indigenous Hawaiian ingredients including both hibiscus and ferns. The brand’s Lākana Medicinal Body Spray ($17), for example, is infused with handpicked lā’au kalakala, a thorny shrub with small yellow flowers that has long been believed to support the nervous system. “We have this code of conduct in our culture, huna, which means ‘secrecy,’” says Hanalei, referring to the safeguarding of ancient Hawaiian traditions. “Our families lived by this through the Western influence, and it is why a lot of our records are well preserved.”

“Sustainability is already a part of the tradition here,” says Leala Humbert, who has run the natural beauty line Ua Body with her husband, Blaine Kusler, on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast since taking the 30-year-old company over from her mother in 2019. In an effort to support the island’s ecosystem, the couple collaborates closely with the Hawaii Sandalwood company, a family-owned reforestation business working to replenish the Big Island’s sandalwood forests — which have been depleted by invasive species and overharvesting — in part by extracting oil from dying trees, a process that naturally prompts the growth of new ones. The liquid, which is believed to aid relaxation, is a key ingredient in Ua Body’s Iliahi Dry Oil ($48), a nourishing body moisturizer with a subtle, earthy aroma.

Similarly, the inclusion of macadamia oil in the antioxidant-rich ‘Ōpio Anti Aging Mano’i elixir (from $16) and intensely moisturizing Mohā Beautifying Concrete Gelèe (from $14) from Oshan Essentials arose from founder Shelley Leemor’s desire to work sustainably, repurposing the imperfect nuts discarded by a local processing factory. “Macadamia oil is a nourishing, essential fatty acid that isn’t comedogenic,” says Leemor, who moved to Hawaii from the mainland 10 years ago, and launched her company in 2017 on a seven-acre farm on Maui’s North Shore. Powered solely by the sun and using water collected from rainfall, her entire manufacturing process is carbon neutral, and she grows many of the company’s botanicals, such as turmeric, papayas and guavas, on site.

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