Against All Odds, This Clean, Potent Sunscreen Serum Leaves the Earth Better
We've probably all heard the Mr. Rogers quote: When things feel bleak, look for the helpers. Today, between our rapidly disintegrating abortion rights and climate change, it's hard to go online without feeling slapped in the face and kicked in the gut. So when an offer popped up in my inbox to tour Thrive Natural Care's regenerative Costa Rican farm cooperative, I leapt at the chance to learn about a company rooted in the belief of leaving the environment better, which creates more powerful skincare as a result.
If you've paid any attention to the beauty space over the last five years, you're right to be skeptical of brands that seem too good to be true. Thanks to the lack of government regulations, green-washing abounds; companies are money-making enterprises by definition, and the best many do is skip petrochemicals and endocrine-disruptors, use biodegradable or post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic packaging, or donate some proceeds to charity (laudable, but not paradigm-shifting). But after spending five days learning the ins and outs of Thrive's approach, the brand's regenerative model seems profoundly different.
As Alex McIntosh, Thrive's CEO and co-founder, and Mario Garcia Quesada, Founding Director of Regenerative Operations, explain, they collaborated with leading restoration ecologists Drs. Alicia and Zoraida Calle to replicate and scale up the ecologically diverse environments native to their star Costa Rican ingredients. That's a marked change from traditional agricultural wisdom, as our group saw while driving past other farms' fields of monocrops and burned or tilled land.
Traditional techniques, per ethnobotanist Garcia Quesada, rely on pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer — and the cycle often ends with soil bereft of nutrients and crucial microbial life, native pollinators pushed to the side. By working with the rural, Costa Rican agricultural cooperative Coopecuna in Limón, Thrive's regenerative farm instead preserves the soil, water, solar, ecosystem, and social dynamics that allow plants to flourish with minimal intervention, which restores the biome and puts carbon back into the ground. Per Coopecuna president Guiselle Monge, the partnership means less handling of harmful chemicals, and that annual earnings are up over 300 percent since the relationship started six years ago.
If you're more interested in skincare than farming, here's where it gets fascinating. According to the brand, two factors increase their plants' antioxidant content: The soil's balanced microbial activity provides more nutrients and minerals, and the lack of chemical intervention forces crops to defend themselves from natural pathogens and other attacks. Garcia Quesada compares it to exercise: A little bit of damage, repeatedly, makes them stronger over time.
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The preliminary science backs it up. A peer-reviewed 2022 study found that regenerative farming produces plants with 20 percent more phenolic antioxidants and phytosterols than conventional farming, and a 2019 study in the journal Nature likewise found that micro-wounds in organic plants led to significantly increased amounts of healthy phytochemicals.
So where vitamin E is often referred to as the "gold standard" of antioxidants, researchers have found that one of the brand's botanicals, lippia alba, has up to 84 percent more antioxidants than the compound. Another, fridericia chica extract, has 12 times more antioxidant capacity than vitamin C and 17 times more than Vitamin E, per an independent lab test commissioned by Thrive.
That potency comes through in the brand's $27-and-under, PCR-packaged products, especially the sunscreens, moisturizers, and face scrub (the latter is a favorite of the brand's Director of Research and Development, Laura Arce). Speaking of the scrub, one Amazon reviewer wrote, "My skin is so different…It is literally tighter and smoother. [I] don't know how that happened, since this is not an anti-aging product, but that is the truth." The same effects are at work in the brand's Face Balm for Sensitive Skin, per a fan who said it's made their skin look younger, brighter, and more even.
Personally, I can't get over how astoundingly pleasant the Daily Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin and Bodyshield SPF 50 are to use (also personally, I'm impressed the company co-invested in the co-op's essential oil distillery, which allows the farmers to work with more businesses). I've tried hundreds, if not thousands of mineral sunscreens, and have come to accept that most non-nano zinc formulas will take a minute or so of blending to sink in. Thrive's absorbs within 10 seconds, doesn't feel greasy, and even reviewers with "very dark" brown skin commend the lack of white cast.
The proof is in the pudding: The Bodyshield 50 sold out last summer, with sales seven times higher than the brand said it expected. It's rare to find a mineral sunscreen that doesn't suck, and even rarer to find a company doing right by their workers, customers, and the Earth. Shop the rest of Thrive's skincare offerings, below.
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