Califonia Bountiful

How nature nurtures our skin

An apple a day helps keep the wrinkles away

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Karen Behnke has enjoyed a long and successful entrepreneurial career in the health and wellness business. Her latest endeavor is Juice Beauty, a skin-care line based on California-grown ingredients.

Apples, grapes, raspberries, strawberries and cherries with a little honey mixed in might sound like a great fruit-salad snack. But as it turns out, those ingredients are a great snack for your skin, too—according to Karen Behnke.

After 20 years focusing on health and nutrition in corporate wellness, Behnke was ready to venture into something new, so she started researching the skin-care industry.

"Most people are astounded to learn that the skin absorbs over 60 percent of what is placed on it," she said. "After I found that out, I really thought about what I was putting on my own skin and then thought, 'Gosh, I can do this better.'"

At that point, Behnke already had a catchy name—Juice Beauty—but needed a catchy product to go with it.

Behnke and her team at Juice Beauty headquarters in San Rafael are always researching new farm-fresh ingredients to add to their product line.

"Most skin-care products are based in water, so I thought, 'Why don't we play around with that and see what we can do with products that have fruit-juice bases?'" Behnke recalled.

She discovered that all those fruit and vegetable juices that doctors have told us are high in antioxidants and vitamins might be good for skin health, too. So she teamed with local chemists and skin-care professionals and launched Juice Beauty Skin Care in 2005 ( It was one of the first product lines on the shelves made with a base of farm-fresh, organic fruit juices.

Juice Beauty COO Gerard Camme and Behnke have received one patent on their juice-based formulations, such as their Green Apple Cleanser and have several others pending.

"We really came at it from a wellness side rather than a beauty side, which was unique," Behnke said. "It was about making people's skin healthy."

Headquartered in San Rafael, Juice Beauty today has a staff of about a dozen employees who are constantly dabbling, mixing and pouring different fruit juices together to see what will work effectively to combat a variety of skin-care issues that both women and men deal with. The company now has a comprehensive line of products that includes serums, cleansers, peels and moisturizers—and each product has an organic raw-ingredient base of 98 percent or higher that is packed with juice concentrate. From berries to carrots and grapes to pomegranates, you name the fruit or vegetable and this company is seeking a way for nature to nurture our skin.

Joe Dutton, left, and his brother Steve hope that the apples from their Sonoma County farm soon will be used in Juice Beauty's expanding line of products.

As easy as that sounds, the process doesn't simply replace water with juice. But it does begin with a fruit-juice concentrated base (usually apple juice), followed by the addition of brighter or darker juices like cherry, grape or pomegranate to enhance the color (instead of using artificial colorings). Then, depending on what the product is supposed to do —cleanse, moisturize or exfoliate—products such as olive oil or avocado oil or raw cane sugar and honey are added to keep skin looking as fresh as the ingredients that go into it.

"We work with almost 29 organic fruit juices—that's our starting point—and to those juices we'll add hundreds of different ingredients that include everything from plant oils to essential oils to herbs to honey," Behnke said.

During the various harvest seasons in California, Behnke visits with farmers like Joe Dutton to see how their crops are coming along.

"Some people are shocked we use food ingredients in our products," she added. "But then, when you think about it, women have used olive oil on their skin for generations or they've used cucumbers on their eyes to reduce puffiness. We're just putting a different spin on it."

Since its launch, the product line has gained a steady stream of fans and even a celebrity following that includes Madonna and Kate Hudson. The products are now being sold in the United States at a variety of stores including Sephora and Whole Foods, and also on the home shopping network QVC. The line can be found in several international markets as well, including Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia.

As the business has grown, so has Behnke's appetite for expanding the use of farm-fresh produce. From the beginning, she and her team bought their produce from the West Coast, primarily California, and they are now looking for new farms and farmers to help expand their line of products.

One such farm is the Dutton Ranch of Sonoma County ( Past generations of the Dutton family began working the land in the 1880s. Today, the family organically farms 1,300 acres: 1,100 acres in vineyards and 200 acres in apple orchards. Brothers Steve and Joe Dutton watch over the vineyards and apple orchards, the latter of which produced about 4,400 tons of apples in 2008. They grow several apple varieties including Gravenstein, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Red Delicious, McIntosh, Gala and Rome Beauty.

At Pharmaca in Novato, Sales Manager Alaina Thompson and Behnke demonstrate the efficacy of skin-care products like Juice Beauty's Green Apple Antioxidant Serum.

For most of the last century, the hills around Sonoma County gleamed white each spring with apple trees in blossom. Sixty years ago, the area had nearly 2,700 apple farms and 11,000 acres of orchards. But today, much of that land has been converted to vineyards and fewer than 3,000 acres remain in apples. With vineyards now the regional norm, the Dutton family hopes to keep apple farming afloat with new ventures like Juice Beauty.

"It's a part of our history to farm apples here," Joe Dutton said. "And we don't want to see it disappear."

The majority of the region's apples go into making concentrate for juice—and the Duttons' apples are no exception. Their concentrate is used in a variety of ways, including going into Martinelli's Sparkling Cider of Watsonville.

But this year, some of the Dutton Ranch apples may find their way into Juice Beauty, if Behnke and her team have anything to say about it. They approached the brothers last year about the opportunity to buy some of their apple juice concentrate, and the longtime farmers were intrigued.

"It sounded like a pretty unique venture, that's for sure," Steve Dutton said. "It shows us that there are some interesting new markets opening up for our organic apples and that's exciting, to say the least."

Dovetailing on his brother's answer, Joe Dutton heartily laughed, "Yeah, a beauty product? That's something I never thought I'd be involved with in my lifetime as a farmer. I guess you just never know who is going to be on the other line of the phone asking about your crop."

In addition to the apple juice concentrate, Behnke and her staff buy a variety of products from California farms, including approximately 4,500 pounds of lemon juice concentrate, 4,000 pounds of white grape concentrate, 100 pounds of pomegranate juice concentrate, 125 pounds of red grape concentrate and about 100 pounds of raspberry juice concentrate each year.

Behnke and her team travel to every farm where they get fruits or vegetables to meet the farmers, see how the produce is grown and find out more about that side of their business.

"It's good for us to talk to our farmers and see what issues or challenges they have, like how the weather has been for them this year or if they plan on growing anything new—because that will get us brainstorming about new products we can make," she said. "And the fact that we're a California-based product and we can support more and more California farmers is really important to me."

Thanks to the Golden State's farm-fresh products, Juice Beauty has expanded, launching a new cosmetic line in 2010.

"We're just giving people another option out there," Behnke said. "We hope to show them that a healthy lifestyle isn't just what we put in our bodies, but what we put on them, too."

Tracy Sellers is a reporter for California Country. She can be reached at 800-698-FARM or

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