Founder Q&A - Dr. Simon Jackson & John Murray of Modern Botany

Modern Botany was co-founded by Dr. Simon Jackson and John Murray in West Cork in 2016. They create beautifully minimalist, clean skincare from carefully selected botanical ingredients, for maximum efficacy and sustainability. Their skincare is designed to be fuss-free and suitable for both men and women, with all products 100% COSMOS Natural certified, vegan and cruelty-free. 

This week, as we launch Modern Botany on The Clean Beauty Edit, we sat down to ask them more about the story of their brand, their latest launches, and their passion for natural living.

 Modern Botany Founders Dr. Simon Jackson & John Murray

John Murray & Dr. Simon Jackson, of Modern Botany

Simon and John, together you have created something very special with Modern Botany. It’s a skincare brand that radiates honesty and authenticity, while bringing customers truly natural skincare that is inclusive, nourishing, and sustainable. It’s not hard to see why it’s been a Worldwide success since you launched in 2016.

Tell us a little bit about how Modern Botany came to be, and how your interests and passions came together to create it, and your journey so far.

Both John and I had taken some time out in 2016 and moved to West Cork having been inspired by the rugged beauty of the Wild Atlantic coast. We had just exited my pervious skincare company, Dr Jackson’s, and were on a spot of gardening leave. Whilst walking the long beaches here, we chatted of our next life moves and dreamed of building an ethical, sustainable company, being born out of the beauty and botanical diversity of the land and the soil. It was a ‘back to nature’ moment whereby we envisioned the makings of a universal and accessible brand that put quality natural ingredients, grown regeneratively at its heart, and create efficacious and innovative formulations and preparations, for all skincare needs.

It was important for us also to put the principles of Pharmacognosy as a foundation of our product creation (as a Dr. of Pharmacognosy, the science of medicines derived from plants). Likewise, sustainability was always going to be a central element to the brand DNA in terms of ingredient sourcing, production, and packaging. Inclusivity is also very important to the brand as the universal flavour of our products were designed to keep the focus on skin and problem skin and not gender per se.

The name, ‘Modern Botany’, aims to position Botanicals and plant-power at the centre of our brand, but telling the story in a modern way, to inform our customers that there is a better natural and truer way to care for your skin while also looking after the planet.

Modern Botany Multi Tasking Natural Oil

Modern Botany's award-winning Multi-Tasking Oil

You have been celebrated for your signature Multi-Tasking Oil and award-winning Natural Deodorant, but you recently added two new and delectable skincare products to you range – the Cleansing Balm and your new Recovery Cream. Could you tell us a little bit more about these new arrivals?

Sure, it took us over 2 years to bring these high-performance skincare products to market. I have been working on these products, using innovative natural ingredients, for some time and wanted them to be hard-working and easy to use for all skin types. Like all our products, I wanted to capture a natural synergy between science and nature to give the customer a real therapeutic effect on the skin using ingredients that have traditional medicinal properties.

For me, its all about the ingredients first and the scientific formulation next, as we say ‘led by nature and backed by science’. It took me a long time to develop the consistency and the luxuriousness of this balm. Like in our Cleansing Balm, I wanted to add some powerful botanical extracts, so this is the first of our products to contain the root of the marshmallow plant, a fantastic ingredient known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It also has horsetail extract, which naturally exfoliates as it cleans, and it is one of the first products to use our organic foraged seaweed extract, locally sourced in West Cork.

Our Recovery Cream is a deep moisturising and balancing cream for the skin microbiome and is also the most organic product I have made, containing about 14 organic ingredients. Again, designed to be a unisex, frequent-use, multi-tasking product for face hand and body. It’s a great all-rounder for everyone in the family to use; and smells great too. Again to note, we never use artificial parfums or fragrances, all the scents in our products are there by default natural present in the actives we select.

Modern Botany Multi Tasking Oil  Modern Botany Natural Cleansing Balm Modern Botany Recovery Cream

 Modern Botany's sustainably-sourced, minimalist skincare collection

Simon, you are the master formulator at Modern Botany, where each product features a handful of active ingredients to care for and nourish the skin. Tell us about your background in Pharmacognosy, your extensive knowledge of plants and the key ingredients you love using to create your versatile, multi-tasking products.

Back in the day I studied ‘Applied Biological Sciences’ and specialised in ‘Drug Discovery and Toxicology’ at Manchester Metropolitan University.  It was there that I first learnt about Ethnobotany, and how traditional cultures use plants. I found it fascinating and so as part of my degree I undertook an expedition to Indonesia in 1992 to learn more. We lived on an island called Sumba and I took part in what was one of the first conservation projects in an Indonesian primary rainforest. I was cataloguing species of plants around the island and understanding from the locals any economic uses they had, medicinal or otherwise. I learned form the elders there first-hand about the traditional uses of plants and it was on this journey that I had my cathartic moment realising it was traditional plants I wanted to study… I was hooked.

I returned to London and then got my PHD in Pharmacognosy. Pharmacognosy is the study of medicinal drugs obtained from plants or other natural sources. Herbal pharmacy is another way of describing it or Natural Product Science. Think science crossed with the plant world. In setting up skincare brands like Modern Botany, I was able to use this as a vehicle to transfer this knowledge of the natural world, and the wealth of learning I had obtained through the years both academically and also first-hand from ethnic communities from around the world. My training was specialised in skin conditions like skin cancer, eczema, rosacea and psoriasis and studying particular plant species that can be used to treat or alleviate these conditions.

As an eco-company we wanted to lead on ‘stripped-back’ products or multi-tasking products that could be used for multiple functions and not just for one skin territory. This is cost saving for the customer but also means it cuts down on the need to buy multiple products, when a good quality skin preparation can do it all. So our Multi-tasking oil and recovery cream can be used on the entire body, the oil can be used even on your hair. Similarly, our Natural Deodorant can be used as an antiperspirant and a body mist.

Modern Botany Natural Cleansing Balm

Modern Botany's new Cleansing Balm with wild-foraged seaweed extract

You are both personally passionate about sustainability, soil health and slow living, and this is clearly reflected in everything that Modern Botany creates – from your ingredient sourcing to your packaging and manufacturing methods. Every product is made to be multi-tasking, purposeful and of the highest quality. The past couple of years have shown many of us just how unsustainable and unstable a lot of our lifestyle habits and systems are. What are your thoughts on creating a truly sustainable and fulfilling lifestyle in 2022?

Yes, good question. We feel it’s all about learning, and that we have not all the answers but learn as we go in our community. I think adopting a mindset for purposeful and reflective living is the first step to awakening to how we can live more sustainable lives. I know when I look back over the years at my younger self, I can see how far I have evolved in terms of my eco-lifestyle.

It’s good to review all our daily living processes, like from car use, to energy and waste output, personal care and leisure, we can then see how we can make small changes that will lead to a big change for the planet in the long term.

What about your own daily self-care routines? What does 'a day in the life' of Simon & John look like? We'd love to hear your tips.

[Simon] For me, I try to not use my car as much and even though we are becoming more international in terms of business I try to keep my overseas travel to a minimum by using more conference calls more; the one good thing that came out of Covid. Also, in terms of how I purchase I tend to reflect more on what I need, rather than want, and select products that are high quality and last longer, to cut down on disposable goods. I also upcycle more now, and I have taken up more crafting skills so I recreate rugs, cushions and various gifts from old clothing, so we don’t throw away any clothing anymore but repurpose.

[John] For me, I compost and recycle all household waste, so our actual waste output is negligible. I also do not shower every day, 3 times a week, which conserves energy and water; I flannel wash on the other days. We also have reduced our weekly clothes washing by making wearing our clothing longer and washing heavy fabrics like towels once a month rather than weekly. Finally in cooking I tend to steam more and reuse the water to cook rice or pasta and vegetable water in soups and sauces for example. We also use only eco personal care products and household agents.  I also tend to walk more and like Simon I have taken advantage of conference calls to reduce car use and international travel. We have a long way to go but we learn as we go.

 Modern Botany Use Natural Plant Ingredients like Calendula

Natural Calendula is one of the soothing, antioxidant-rich botanical extracts used regularly in Dr. Simon Jackson's formulations

What else would you like us to know about Modern Botany? What does the future hold for the business?

We have great plans for the future, but our plans always focus on our customer and what they want from Modern Botany. Having listened to customer's needs, we are very excited to be launching 20 products over the next 2 years, which again are purposeful, efficacious, and made with great natural ingredients. Watch this space!

We are now starting to incorporate our home-grown herbs into these products too, like our Roman and German Chamomile, Calendula and wild foraged seaweed. We plan to expand on this to develop our regenerative farming capability and learning. This is a very exciting project for us which means that we have control on the quality of our ingredients and origins and also reduce our carbon footprint in not having to import these key ingredients.


Want to see more from Modern Botany? You can shop the COLLECTION with us and discover their range of effective, minimalist skincare, formulated to be used by all skin types. 

Their incredible, award-winning natural spray deodorant will also be coming to TCBE in May 2022, when the newest version launches.