Every fifth breath you take can be traced back to the Amazon, the South American rainforest that spans nine countries, generates 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, and is currently in flames.
The global impact of the nearly 9,500 deforestation fires that have been burning for weeks—a sizable portion of the 73,000 fires tracked by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research in 2019 alone, a year-on-year increase of 84 percent—is incredible and incalculable. Besides being “the lungs of the planet” and one of our greatest defenders against climate change, the Amazon is home to 35 million people and 375 indigenous groups, 1 million species of animals, and 40,000 species of plants. It’s also the birthplace of some of nature’s most miraculous skin saviors.
This has put a spotlight on beauty brands that source their star ingredients from the Amazon: Francisco Costa’s Costa Brazil, with its breu and kaya; Rahua Beauty, with its ungurahua nut oil; Tarte, with its Amazonian clay and maracuja oil. What, consumers want to know, are they doing to protect the precious lands that boost their profits?
All have faced backlash on social media for not yet making timely donations to organizations on the frontlines of Amazon preservation. But experts say a one-time donation, while certainly helpful in times of crisis, may not be the way to affect long-term change. It is imperative to bring value to the land itself—a mission that’s always been at the heart of Costa Brazil and Rahua Beauty. “This means working with communities to create sustainable livelihoods so that they can thrive economically without having to burn or cut down forests,” Daniela Raik, the Senior Vice President, Americas Field Division at Conservation International, tells Vogue.
The Brazilian economy is tinder for deforestation fires (about 60 percent of the Amazon is within the borders of Brazil). The fires currently burning have likely been set by farmers and cattle ranchers to clear more land for use. This year’s increase in deforestation aligns with the election of Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has significantly rolled back rainforest protections since taking office in January, referring to them as “an obstacle to Brazil's economic development,” as the New York Times reported. To combat this, “We need to ensure the forest is worth more standing than it is cut,” says Valeria Cole, the Brazlian entrepreneur behind Teadora Beauty, a line that utilizes heirloom Brazilian botanicals, and plants a seedling in the Amazon for every product it sells.
Raik and Conservation International work closely with Costa Brazil in this respect, and have since the brand’s beginnings in December 2018. “By sourcing ingredients from the Amazon, Costa Brazil is bringing value to the standing forest,” Raik explains. Every sale funnels proceeds back into the land, increasing its economic power. The brand also runs continuous conservation campaigns centered around restoration. “Since we launched, we have helped plant 6,000 trees,” Costa tells Vogue. “Our goals are to create awareness, as well as being proactive on how to help the people who inhabit the region to value and protect the endangered ecosystem.”
Of course, appreciation and protection cannot exist without sustainable production—in this case, “sustainable” means working with the Amazon’s indigenous people, within nature’s timeline, and without disturbing the land.
Costa describes the moment he met with the Yawanawá tribe and was introduced to “a natural resin from the indigenous Almacega tree from the Eastern Amazon called breu, which they were using in a variety of ways.” The resin—an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory material with “energy cleansing” properties, employed in tribal ceremonies to open the sixth chakra—soon became the foundation of the Costa Brazil’s range. “What is beautiful about this ingredient is its pace… we must wait for the resin to come from the tree, crystalize, and fall in order to use it,” Costa says. “We must work with nature’s existing cycle and take from it when it is given to us.” This ensures the land isn’t ravaged, and the soil stays fertile—and profitable.
Clean hair care company Rahua Beauty was founded on a similar principle. “I have been traveling to the Amazon since I was a small child,” founder Fabian Lliguin tells Vogue. “As an adult living in New York, I wasn’t able to visit the Amazon, and in 1990 I returned to discover the forest that I knew as a child no longer existed. The destruction over the years made the forest unrecognizable and it was here that I made it my lifelong mission to save it.” In 2004 he started Ecoagents, a nonprofit dedicated to defending the Amazon; the work inspired him to launch Rahua Beauty in 2008.
“Rahua, or ungurahua nut oil, is a traditional ingredient handmade by the many Amazon tribes, particularly by the many tribes that live in the Ecuadorian part of the Amazon,” Lliguin says. In addition to supporting local communities through the production of rahua, the brand operates in tandem with Ecoagents to preserve acres of jungle—enough to “balance the carbon footprint of approximately 1,000,000 Americans” in the past year, according to the founder. Rahua Beauty’s funding has also helped the Chichira people obtain private ownership of their land. “This is my plan of action: To give indigenous Amazonian tribes their title of private property, so no companies can invade them, let alone set their property on fire for other purposes,” says Lliguin. In light of the recent devastation, the company is directing additional proceeds from its online sales to the Land is Life organization.
Over the weekend, a handful of beauty brands joined Rahua in pledging a portion of proceeds to Amazon protection.
Cocokind, which sources its organic sacha inchi oil from the rainforest, donated a full 100 percent of profits from sales of its Golden Elixir to the Amazon Conservation Association. Tata Harper redirected 15 percent of its Sunday sales to the Rainforest Alliance, and Moon Juice pledged $1 of every purchase made last Friday to protection efforts. B3 Balm has created a $100 “Save The Amazon” set with all proceeds going to Rainforest Trust and WWF, Pacifica is donating 5 percent of its sales to ACA through Sept. 1, and The Fullest will continue its efforts through the end of September, with 10 percent of proceeds from its Saffron Latte going to Socio Ambiental. “One of the main ingredients in our Saffron Latte is coconut, which is harvested from our earth’s forests—it only makes sense for us to give back to this cause,” Nikki Bostwick, the brand’s founder, tells Vogue.
Of course, there are holes to be poked in the “buy more, donate more” model; namely, that it promotes an ethos of overconsumption that, on some level, fuels the depletion of precious natural resources like the Amazon in the first place. But if it’s a product you plan on buying anyway (like a restock of Tata Harper’s Resurfacing Mask), or a brand you’ve been meaning to try, let the philanthropic angle to inspire you to action.
Others have taken to social media to raise both awareness and funds. “We plan to make a $1 donation for every comment on our Instagram post to the Amazon Conservation Association—so far we have over 10,000 comments,” Nudestix co-founder Taylor Frankel tells Vogue. Just-launched skincare brand Kinfield has pledged $1,000 to Rainforest Alliance pending publicly-accountable Instagram comments; and Innisfree donated $3,000 to the same organization over the weekend with the help of its followers. “We decided to donate to the Rainforest Alliance because they work directly with frontline groups,” says Kinfield founder and CEO Nichole Powell. “Those partnerships allow our dollars to get straight to where they are needed most.”
While beauty is one way to give back, it’s far from the only way. Ahead, six steps you can take right now to protect the Amazon.
Make a Donation
“For just $25, you can help Conservation International protect an acre of forest,” Costa says. “Every acre of healthy forest ensures a home for wildlife and well-being for indigenous peoples who rely on forests for their livelihoods.” ACA, Amazon Watch, Rainforest Alliance, Socio Ambiental, Land is Life, Rainforest Trust, WWF, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance are also worthy organizations.
Get Politically Active
Vote, write letters to your representatives, attend a demonstration, protest at Brazilian embassies—anything to “let your elected representatives know that these issues matter to you,” Raik says. “If things are going to change, action by governments will be key.” This was proven this weekend when, after mounting international pressure and a threat from French President Emmanuel Macron to rethink trade agreements with Brazil, President Bolsarno finally authorized the deployment of 44,000 Brazilian military troops to help contain the fires.
Sign a Petition
A Change.org petition organized by a lawyer in Rio Branco aims to launch an investigation into the fires. Greenpeace’s asks the Brazilian government to protect the lands of indigenous communities. Both take less than ten seconds to sign.
Offset Your Carbon Footprint
“Eating less meat is one of the most effective things you can do day-to-day; unsustainable agricultural expansion for cattle is a top driver of deforestation in the tropics,” Raik shares. Cutting meat and dairy from your diet not only demotivates deforestation, it also reduces your carbon footprint, according to a study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Why is that important? “When forests are cut down, carbon stored in the trees is emitted into the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming,” Raik says. Your own carbon emissions do the same. She suggests calculating your footprint and learning how to offset it here.
Be a Conscious Consumer
Protecting the rainforest is a long game, so it’s important to support brands that continuously support the Amazon—and not just when disaster strikes. Costa Brazil, Rahua Beauty, Teadora Beauty, and Tarte all have long-standing relationships with tribes in the area. “We work directly with cooperatives in the rainforest not just to source ingredients like Amazonian clay and maracuja oil, but also to ensure that they’re sustainably harvested while supporting the local community at the same time,” Tarte tells Vogue.
Outside of the beauty category, support companies that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or the Rainforest Alliance to ensure products are sustainably produced in a way that benefits the Amazonian economy. “We are showing that investing in nature is not only good for the planet, it’s good for the bottom line,” Raik explains.
“Greater awareness speeds results,” says the Conservation International exec. “Share climate news with your friends and talk about it to your networks. Raise your voice.” It’s time, as Costa declares, to “fight like hell to protect the earth.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue