A Scientific Approach To Natural Skincare
Belfiore Herbal was founded by Zehra Murthy, a UCSF scientist with 40 years of cellular and molecular biology experience, whose work on genetics is published in multiple scientific journals. Zehra was motivated to challenge the current buzzwords misused in skincare today (creams that contain collagen will not penetrate your dermis, and mainstream products have ingredients that can clog pores) and instead revert to the first principles of human biology: healthy skin comes from proper cell division, healthy collagen production, and efficient dead cell removal supported through vitamins delivered to the dermis in a non-comedogenic medium.
The company is currently run by the tag-team mother-son duo of Zehra (who just turned 72) and Rohit. Belfiore Herbal is based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. All their products are formulated to have the highest level of vitamins A, B, C, D, and E derived from botanical sources grown on the Belfiore Herbal farm. Eleven acres of land were recently purchased in Brentwood to be the fertile ground for all the lavender, marigold, orange, carrot, and rosemary plants that are used for the lavender essential oil, lavender hydrosol, marigold hydrosol, and other ingredients in the creams, serums, and hair oils.
“Each ingredient within each product should have a function to build healthy cells and a healthy extracellular matrix for new cells to thrive in.”
The Belfiore Herbal team cares for the growth of all the plants from seeds to harvest, always maintaining full control. Currently, Zehra uses these plants to create seven infused oils, three essential oils, and four hydrosols.
Belfiore Herbal is proud to be truly vegan and botanical based and takes a firm stance against using bacteria-derived or animal-derived hyaluronic acid. Instead, they use a formulation of ingredients that promote healthy hyaluronic acid production from your own skin cells and use aloe vera and guar gum for plant-derived polysaccharides. For this same reason, Belfiore Herbal products contain carotinol (vitamin A from plants such as carrots, pumpkins, and marigolds) instead of animal-derived retinol. Each ingredient used in any Belfiore Herbal product is plant derived.
Being a socially conscious brand, Belfiore Herbal works with Augustina and Janet Boachie to purchase and import authentic Ghanaian shea butter from the markets of Accra, Ghana. Through their arrangement, Augustina and Janet buy directly from a collective of female farmers who harvest, process, and sell the shea butter to earn extra income on top of their current farming duties. This extra income funds educational opportunities in the farming village. In addition, once the import with Augustina and Janet is complete, Belfiore Herbal donates 20% of the final cost back to the female farm collective.
This up-and-coming natural skincare line was started as a backyard science experiment. Zehra and her family have grown a variety of vegetables and flowers in their back yard for decades. Farming for the family has always been not only a hobby, but a passion. Upon turning 70 years old, and after 40 years of working on cellular and molecular biology research at UCSF, Zehra decided she needed to apply her extensive knowledge of biology and her love of farming toward helping people. To start, she knew that consumers were getting ripped off by modern skincare companies and their claims, and that didn’t sit right with her. Zehra knew she could use botanicals and science to help people age gracefully and protect against wrinkles, dark spots, discoloration, and acne by formulating skincare products that help at the cellular level. She centered Belfiore Herbal’s vision on a simple formula: proper cell division in the dermis and epidermis + healthy production of hyaluronic acid + healthy production of collagen + proper dead cell removal = beauty at the cellular level, or in simple terms, beauty from within. By achieving those proper conditions for skin cells, skin health will return to a youthful level.
Zehra dove deep into research and came to three important steppingstones for formulation of her products. She already grows all the botanicals required to create plant-derived vitamins A, B, C, D, and E (which are all integral to cell health). Each ingredient within each product should have a function to build healthy cells and a healthy extracellular matrix for new cells to thrive in. Each product should match the skin’s lipid structure, be pH balanced, and non-comedogenic (will not clog pores) to allow the nourishing vitamins a pathway into the skin cells.
The science community is tight-knit, and Zehra loved sharing her formulations with her fellow USCF scientists to get their input. She valued their feedback and brought all her test and lab notebooks to explain her methods and formulas to ensure her three steps of formulation were correctly executed. Clearly, Zehra was going in the right direction, as some of the top dermatologists and professors at the cutting edge of research were impressed with the quality, content, and methods of her formulations.
“The Belfiore Herbal team cares for the growth of all the plants from seeds to harvest”
“Always maintaining full control.”
Building a skincare line during the pandemic was no easy task, but Zehra found creative ways to allow her friends and family to try her formulations and provide feedback. She hosted social-distance skincare parties in her back yard with the neighborhood ladies—they could see the plants she used and her formulation method, and then try the creams, oils, or serums. Product was shipped to India to allow the extended family a chance to use it, and the wonderful results were communicated through Whatsapp. The immediate family got into it as well, sending trial products to their friends and communicating feedback over Zoom. By the time the Belfiore Herbal online store went live in October 2020, over 500 friends and family had tried Zehra’s formulations, and an initial recurring customer base was born.
With positive feedback on her products continuing to roll in, Zehra took a trip to a few brick-and-mortar stores around the Bay Area and found retail partners in the Health Hut in Brentwood, Diablo Foods Market, a hair salon in Aptos, Back 2 Perfect Wellness Spa in Pleasant Hill, and Plant Renu in Walnut Creek. She also attends many farmers’ markets and makers’ markets to spread the word of her new beauty line.
Always a fan of getting her hands dirty, Zehra still does all the behind-the-scenes work herself. She plants, tends to, and harvests all the lavender, rosemary, marigold, oranges, and carrots, distills all the essential oils and hydrosols, creates the infused oils, and blends and formulates all creams and serums. In fact, it is the serum that is currently their best-selling product.
Next up for this blossoming brand will be attending the Natural Products Expo West Convention in Anaheim, March 2022. Taking meetings there will be an opportunity for this product to really ignite and get into the hands of influencers and distributors everywhere!
Photos by German Siu