I have this text chain going, in which we often alert each other “Skin Food is on sale at Whole Foods again.” Before becoming a chronic user, I’d heard about the little green tube of skin salve that supposedly cured everything and never left the medicine cabinet once it found permanent real estate there. Friends of mine are so into this product that their praise about its supposed effects seem to crescendo once a tube has been polished off — their feelings about its virtues tend to sound like something of a eulogy.
Yes, we’re talking about a cream.
“If Victoria Beckham uses it, it’s good enough for me,” one friend texted me after using the stuff for more than a year. Another fired off a litany of praises: “The scent is amazing, fresh and fruity, almost addictive. It kind of doubles as a perfume. I love that it has all clean ingredients — no scary chemicals in it!” This point about the smell is really contentious among chronic users. So I asked Rob Keen, the CEO of Weleda North America, to describe the smell. He pauses, and replies: “That’s the hardest question I’ve ever been asked.” Like everyone and their mother who has an opinion about the cream, he presses on: “It’s a vibrant, floral, [with an] almost vanilla and almost citrusy undertone to it. Every time I smell it, my blood pressure drops.”
This citrusy wizard paste, also known as Weleda’s Skin Food, has had massive success in recent years. “It’s a little gem. When I was first introduced to Skin Food, it was explained to me as the best-kept secret in the industry,” Keen tells Teen Vogue. It’s affordable at around $19, and its price per mileage is pretty astounding; I’ve used my tube every day over the course of six months.
But Keen says a lot of the success of Skin Food, and by extension, the entire brand, has to do with greenwashing, a kind of marketing tactic that has been used to convince buyers that a product and its policies are eco-friendly. “People are so confused by what's on [their] shelf. It’s hard to tell what’s really natural, what’s not natural. When somebody finds a product that they can really trust like that, that is, you know, the real thing, is it has a big impact,” Keen says.
It can also be hard to know if something is environmentally friendly when its value is essentially determined by how many influencers are telling you it is. Even so, the popularity of Skin Food has reached new heights in recent years, something Keen and the company are proud of: “You know, when you see somebody like Gwyneth Paltrow — who we love! — or like a Rihanna or, you know, some of these makeup artists…Katie Jane Hughes…they say that this is a ‘must carry’ in their bag. It just blows us away."
According to its website, Welda is certified by Natrue, a Brussels-based nonprofit “committed to promoting and protecting natural and organic cosmetics worldwide.”
The cream is made with a few key ingredients: “viola tricolor, calendula, and chamomile, in a rich, thick base of oils and beeswax,” according to the product listing on the company’s site. Keen says the cream is supposed to mimic whatever the skin needs when it falls out of balance; the product promises to give skin a healthy, hydrated glow. “People are just searching for products that they can trust. Once they find it, it becomes almost [vital],” Keen says.
There’s a backstory to Weleda that’s worth noting: The company was founded as a pharmaceutical lab in 1921 by Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner and physicist Ita Wegman. The two of them developed an ethos for the brand that is still maintained by the company today: “a fusion of the body and the natural.”
“Steiner developed these philosophies and theories around how plants and people can work together,” Keen explains. “Ita Wegman was one of the first female doctors in Germany and Switzerland [at that time] who took Steiner's approach and applied it to medicine and health care.”
Wegmen was a pioneer. She put herself through medical school at the University of Zurich because she couldn't get into medical school in Germany (women there were not permitted to study medicine at the time). In 1911 she received her diploma, specializing in women’s health. Wegman started her own clinic in 1921 in Arlesheim, and she used that as a way to bring more female doctors into the fold, according to Keen. Steiner and Wegman worked together for years at the clinic, developing a kind of “anthroposophically advanced” medical practice, per the brand’s site.
Steiner had developed a philosophy in the early 20th century called Anthroposophy, which observes that there is a spiritual world accessible to humans. According to the International Federation of Anthroposophic Medical Associations, the practice “is an integrative approach to treatment that extends and enhances health outcomes by looking outside of isolated symptoms toward a more holistic conception of health. This conception includes physical, psychological, and spiritual health, as well as the impact of a person's environment and social context.”
Wegman is said to have believed that this kind of medicine treated the mind. She developed a massage treatment called rhythmic massage and thought that the human body was connected to the cosmos, and therefore plant and mineral treatments could work on the human body. “I think about her as a European pioneer of equal opportunity for women. I mean, she really busted through. It was more than glass ceilings, it was like brick ceilings back then,” Keen says.
Today, Weleda is having a moment. In a culture obsessed with natural remedies, mineral powders, essential oils, dry brushing, green juices, and a $4.2 trillion wellness industry (according to the Global Wellness Institute in 2017), Weleda products are a popular cult favorite among consumers. Of the cream’s popularity, Keen tells me, “We sell a tube of Skin Food every 23 seconds.”
I recently bought another Skin Food for myself…as well as the Skin Food lip balm. From personal use, I think it smells like a creamsicle. Tonight, I’m going to slather it under my eyes thick like a goop of Elmer’s glue before I go to bed and pray it makes me look like I’ve slept for a week by the time I wake up.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue