Q&A with Botnia founder, Justine Kahn, on botanical skincare, why she doesn’t use clay in her masks and the power of hydrosols

botnia skin care

Terms that describe botanical skincare: plant-based, nontoxic, chemical and synthetic-free, locally sourced, and eco-friendly. All apply to spa-born, San Francisco based botanical line, Botnia, with one kicker: customization.

“With our back-bar items (Botnia skin care used during spa services) especially, we can be specific to the skin’s needs,” explains aesthetician and founder, Justine Kahn, who developed her line like a deconstructed palette with plant biologist, Clayton Coker, while he was working at Stanford.

The Botnia skin care back-bar items, now used in more than 30-spas nationwide, soon to be fifty (there’s a long spa waiting list), can be mixed and matched; stir up their powdered kale and chamomile hydrosol with a few drops of oil and goat’s milk and you have a potent mask. Now, if the skin is breaking out, Justine says, one can swap out the chamomile hydrosol for our antibacterial geranium one to find it’s better suited.

This level of accuracy is what makes Botnia skin care so effective. While not everyone has access to a Botnia spa, tapping into the science-meets-farmer-esque line with their curated selection of at-home products is an option.

In my interview yesterday with Justine, we chatted about Botnia’s use of anti-inflammatory goldenseal -“America’s turmeric;” why she thinks clay is “dangerous” and doesn’t use it in any of her products; and her thoughts on how Botnia skin care compares to their synthetic, chemical laden competitors. The conversation has me itching to pick up a bottle of their chamomile hydrosol (you’ll want one too after reading this) and locate the nearest Botnia skin care spa. Read on for excerpts from the interview.


It’s all about expectation setting. When we are talking about advanced sciences, micronized chemicals and genetically altered ingredients, like TEA-salicylate or hydroquinone or some of these other ingredients in a brand like Obaji, you are going to get a much more dramatic result because you are changing cells and DNA. You are going in and circulating through the blood system.

But what we are doing with botanicals is building up the health of the skin. I love the term slow beauty. I believe you get the same results with our products as chemical products it just takes so much longer the way we are doing it. But we are doing it with the health of your body and skin in mind. I think it comes down to asking yourself what resonates with you and what you feel comfortable with and your health plan. And I think a lot of women are deciding that these carcinogens and chemicals, while they have an immediate effect, aren’t necessarily what they want to be doing with their bodies.


Hydrosols are my favorite thing ever! We make all of our own hydrosols in-house. Hydrosols are the immune system of the plant. While on the very surface of the plant we get essential oils, underneath the essential oils is all of the water byproduct that comes with it that includes the flavonoids and the terpenes which is the immune system of the plant. We get this incredibly beneficial matter out of the plant that is super clean and sterile and has all of these amazing benefits.

And each hydrosol is different. We use the geranium hydrosol as part of our preserving system because it is so awesome at killing bacteria and killing fungus and making sure our products stay clean, but we use juniper hydrosol as an exfoliant because juniper hydrosol acts a lot like glycolic acid and is able to liquify bonds that hold dead skin cells in place.

We’re launching tomorrow a chamomile hydrosol which is incredible for anyone, especially pregnant and breast-feeding women because you can use it for teething; for the baby’s bath; you can use it to soothe baby acne since it’s totally baby safe; you can use it on your nipples for thrush by spraying your nipples before you breast feed; its amazing for the baby’s linens and sheets; and it also has amazing benefit of taking down inflammation in the skin. It’s a very rare hydrosol. The reason you don’t see it a lot is because of the sheer amount of flowers you have to utilize to create a small amount. It took us twenty-six hours to harvest enough flowers for just five gallons of hydrosol. It’s pretty special stuff.

As for our preservation system, well, we worked really hard on it. We utilize hydrosols with ferments to create a microbiome inside all of our products themselves so that it preserves itself and is great for the skin.


Almost all skin issues stem from some form of inflammation in the skin. I would say the thing that is most important is to really focus on keeping your skin hydrated. We have a lot of products that are really hydrating like our hyaluronic acid serum. Hyaluronic acid holds 1000x it’s weight in water. Ours is soy and what it does is it penetrates into the epidermis and delivers with it other ingredients. We paired our hyaluronic acid with vitamin B which is really anti-inflammatory and with the hydrosols which are also anti-inflammatory.

As far as our other products go, we utilize a complex that includes something Native American people were using for decades – goldenseal; its basically American turmeric root. It’s very similar to turmeric. It’s really strong, takes down inflammation and kills bacteria. Our complex has goldenseal and arnica together. Arnica is topically wound healing and takes down inflammation. We utilize this complex in all of our retail products. We are very focused on reducing inflammation.


It’s so important to utilize sunscreen every time you go out in the sun. I love Suntegrity’s sunscreens. They have a baby SPF that is formulated with large molecule zinc oxide that won’t penetrate into the skin. Also, hats are important. But topically for skincare, I recommend our Renewing Face Wash; it has green tea in it which is an antioxidant to combat free radical damage. I also recommend our Flower Powder Mask which contains natural vitamin C to brighten pigmentation. It contains oats and anti-inflammatory chamomile. If you mix the mask with goat milk, you’ll also get the brightening benefits of natural lactic acid.


I’m not a proponent for using clay. Clay to me is a pretty dangerous powder to use since there are trace amounts of lead in clay. Lead is naturally occurring in the earths crust and in clay, which is not the healthiest, but on top of that, I really feel like clay can be dehydrating and pull too much from the stratum corneum – the outer surface layer of the skin – which disrupts the barrier function. The barrier holds onto the trans-epidermal water and you just want to be sure that you aren’t dehydrating this surface layer of skin because doing so can lead to dehydration and inflammation.

Discover Botnia skin care at www.botniaskincare.com.

Written & photographed by Amy Chang

For more on botanicals – check out “Essential Oils for Acne, Wrinkles & Pregnancy,” and my review of this cellulite reducing body oil.