Meet Dr Lori Bystrom, PhD: the brains behind the beauty at Dr Jackson’s.
As our Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Bystrom works hard inside and outside the lab to develop our products, whether that’s testing new ingredients or seeking out sustainable packaging materials.
With over a decade of scientific research under her belt, Dr Bystrom is the authority on natural skincare. We sat down for a chat, so that you can get to know her better - and steal some insider tips on the secret to healthy, glowing skin.
Dr Lori Bystrom at Dr Jackson's UK headquarters
What inspired you to pursue a career as a scientist?
I have always known that my future career would involve nature. I was a curious child and wanted to know everything about it - especially plants. My family were very connected to the natural world; my grandfather was a farmer, my mother an avid gardener, my father a lover of the outdoors. My parents actually used their talents to create landscape art (elaborate gardens of stone and flowers). All of this had a big impact on me.
Where did your studies take you?
All over the place! As an undergraduate, I studied at the University of Wisconsin - Madison in the States, as well as the University of Queensland in Australia. I then went on to graduate school at Cornell University in upstate New York, where I conducted phytochemistry research in the laboratory. During the summer months, I did plant collections and conducted ethnobotanical research in the Dominican Republic.
My postdoctoral studies started briefly at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, where I conducted research on the chemistry of cranberries, and then I went off to do pharmacognosy/oncology research at Weill Cornell Medical College in NYC.
From all of this education and research, I became an expert in pharmacognosy, especially in the area of fruit chemistry.
So what exactly is pharmacognosy and why did you want to specialise in it?
Pharmacognosy is the study of medicinal substances of biological origin and especially those obtained from plants. Often, this overlaps with ethnobotany, which is the study of the traditional uses of plants.
My two best subjects in school were history and chemistry and, with my long-time interest in plants, this naturally evolved into an interest in pharmacognosy (or, more precisely, ethnopharmacognosy: the combination of pharmacognosy and ethnobotany).
When did you start working at Dr Jackson’s? Why did you decide to branch out from academia into the beauty industry?
I started working with Dr Jackson’s about two years ago. I first discovered Dr Jackson’s after reading a review about the baobab tree in Herbalgram, a magazine under the umbrella of The American Botanical Council that I was writing for at the time. I have been creating skin and hair potions in the kitchen since I was young, and I conducted research on medicinal teas during my time in the Dominican Republic, so it wasn't much of a stretch to consider working for Dr Jackson’s when the opportunity was offered.
What is your role at Dr Jackson’s today?
As Chief Scientific Officer, I am in charge of developing new products and herbal tea blends, making sure all of our ingredients are of the highest quality, efficacious, work in synergy with other ingredients in our formulations, and that they do not come from endangered species. I collaborate with other chemists testing ingredients and developing the formulations of our products, using green chemistry and other environmentally friendly technologies.
I always aim to stay one step ahead of the curve, so I keep up-to-date with the latest pharmacognosy and skincare research. This helps with both new product development and reformulations to ensure all our products are effective, safe, and free from ingredients that may not be kind to either your skin or the environment.
I also manage the clinical trials we conduct on our products to confirm their efficacy, as well as researching and sourcing innovative and sustainable materials for our packaging.
Oh, and I keep the rest of the team educated about botanical names, ethnobotanical uses of plants, and science in general so that this knowledge can be passed on to the final consumer of Dr Jackson’s products.
“We evolved with plants and it only seems natural that our skin benefits from them.”
Why do you think it’s important to use natural ingredients to care for our skin?
We evolved with plants and it only seems natural that our skin benefits from them. Of course, natural does not always mean safe, but that is where traditional knowledge comes in handy. People have been using plants to treat various skin conditions and ailments since ancient times. Ethnobotanical research can help guide us on how to best use a specific plant species.
Taxol® (paclitaxel), for instance, is a cancer drug first derived from the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) tree, successfully used to treat breast, lung and ovarian cancer. Previously, the bark of the Pacific yew and other yew species were used to create weapons, partially because of its elasticity and strength (perfect for making longbows) but also because it was known to be very poisonous (an ideal arrow poison). Interestingly, the Native people of the Pacific Northwest also boiled the bark and drank the liquid as a lung medicine. Such effects indicate this plant has potent chemistry and cytotoxic effects, and in smaller doses could potentially be effective against diseases such as cancer. Fortunately, this turned out to be the case.
Traditional knowledge essentially provides us with data from long-term human trials, many of which have been ongoing for centuries. This information helps us weed out (pun not intended!) the less effective plants, and directs our focus to the more promising plants, which can be further investigated in the laboratory or in human trials.
Dr Lori Bystrom at Copenhagen Botanical Gardens
Tell us a bit more about the star ingredients in Dr Jackson’s products. What makes them so effective?
Two of our key ingredients come from the baobab and kigelia trees found in Africa. Dr Jackson has conducted extensive research on these African medicinal plants and became one of the world’s’ experts on the Kigelia species. Dr Jackson has published papers and articles about the uses and properties of these natural ingredients. After discovering the numerous benefits these botanicals have on the skin, he became inspired to launch the eponymous range of Dr Jackson’s skincare products.
Our two key ingredients have the following historical uses and proven properties:
Kigelia fruit extract comes from the fruit of what is also known as the Sausage Tree. The fruit is used locally by women in Africa to tighten the breast area and also to ensure blemish-free skin. Its main traditional use is topical. Rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa apply the pulp of the kigelia fruit on their skin before spending hours harvesting the land under the sun. Dr Jackson published a paper on potential anti-cancer (melanoma) properties of the fruit. Research studies have also shown it functions as a melanin inhibitor and helps even skin tone.
Baobab seed oil comes from the fruit of the baobab tree, also known as the “Tree of Life” or “Upside Down Tree”. The seed oil is used by African women to protect their skin and hair against the harsh savannah environment, and to prevent and treat dry skin conditions. The oil contains compounds that have very effective moisturising properties and improves skin firmness and strength.
“From start to finish, we aim to be ethically, socially, and environmentally responsible.”
One of Dr Jackson’s mottos is “We’re not just a pretty face”. Can you tell us a bit more the journey of a Dr Jackson’s product?
We go beyond beauty and aim to protect your skin, as well as the environment, give back to the communities we source our ingredients from, sustainably harvest ingredients, and work with green-credential suppliers throughout our production chain. From start to finish, we aim to be ethically, socially, and environmentally responsible.
This can be seen in our recycled paper and minimalist packaging: you won’t find foil printing, plastic wrapping, artificially coated or bleached papers or polyester ribbons. Our plain kraft boxes and glass jars can be recycled or upcycled and you won’t find our ingredients destroying the coral reefs. We are certified vegan, work closely with FairWild, never test on animals and are Soil Association certified organic. We are constantly updating our products based on the latest research to ensure that we not only keep our customer’s skin glowing but that we also keep the environment safe and clean while working ethically.
We create products for a gender-free generation addressing all audiences, hence the lack of artificial colours or fragrances in our formulations. What you see is what you get, and exactly as nature intended.
You’re a member of 500womenscientists.org. We’d love to know more about this organisation and what it means to you.
I think there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to promote diversity and equality in the sciences. 500 women aims to empower women scientists to grow to their full potential, engage with the public, and advocate for science and equality. By being a part of this organisation, I hope to give women more of a voice, help keep the conversation going about how we can improve the scientific work environment, and communicate about science better.
“In order to improve the industry, both manufacturers and consumers need to better understand the long-term effects that many cosmetic ingredients have on the skin and/or the environment.”
What would you say are the main things that need to change in order to build a cleaner, safer and greener beauty industry? What can manufacturers and consumers do respectively to make this a reality?
There are many aspects of the beauty industry that need to be changed to make it cleaner, safer and greener. The industry as a whole should focus on the responsible sourcing of ingredients, safer ingredients for both the body and the environment, as well as more sustainable, planet-friendly packaging.
I think that in order to improve the industry, both manufacturers and consumers need to better understand the long-term effects that many cosmetic ingredients have on the skin and/or the environment. Consumers are already becoming much more educated about problems in the beauty industry - from what they’re applying to their skin, to the irreversible environmental consequences of plastic use, so hopefully, this will drive manufacturers to produce better and greener products.
What is your favourite Dr Jackson’s product?
I love, love Dr Jackson's 02 Night Cream! The fragrance is amazing and it softens and moisturises my skin like no other. It’s good for quenching dry skin that results from overexposure to the sun or the harsh winter weather. The aroma of frankincense and other botanical ingredients puts me at ease. It helps me drift away at night and get my Zzz's.
What does your skincare regime look like?
I like to keep things simple. I sometimes wash my face just with water, a washcloth and a little of the 07 Face Wash or the 04 Coconut Melt. Then, depending on my day, I either dab some 03 Everyday Oil on my hair to tame the frizzies or add it to my wrist for a nice, light fragrance.
If I plan to be in the sun, especially during the summer, I use the wonderfully light and protective 01 Day Cream SPF20. Then, if I have been out in the sun too much, I find the 05 Face and Eye Essence or the 06 Body Perfecting Gel perfect for soothing overly sun-kissed skin.
Come nighttime, I like to use a little of the 03 Everyday Oil on my cheeks to give them a nice sheen if I plan to go out. Before I head to bed, I wash my face again and use the 04 Coconut Melt to moisturise the area around my eyes and then add some 02 Night Cream on any other dry areas. A cup of Relax Tea also helps me to unwind at the end of a busy day.
When you’re not working at Dr Jackson’s, where can we find you?
In the laboratory conducting research, in the classroom, teaching students about ethnobotany, pharmacognosy, global food issues and sustainability at Bath Spa University or tending vegetables or flowers in a community garden. Otherwise, you can find me exploring the English countryside, reading in a park or fruit hunting in different parts of the world.