The success story of an anti-ageing flower has inspired a French skincare brand to come up with a new formula.
On a hill slope in northeast Corsica, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, a field of bright yellow flowers is in full bloom. It is early summer, and the flowers which give off a strong fragrance, are ready to be harvested. This comes from part of the 50ha of immortelle flowers cultivated by L’Occitane for its essential oil, a key ingredient in one of the French skincare brand’s most popular ranges.
The immortelle plant grows naturally in the wild in Mediterranean areas. The variety in Corsica, however, has been found to have the highest concentration of active ingredients, and this spurred L’Occitane to launch its immortelle face care range in 2001.
“It was a big success but we realised that if we took the immortelle only from the wild, it would degrade the natural environment, so we decided to try and plant it.
“Our technicians noticed that immortelle was similar to lavender. We tried cultivating it using the same system and it worked,” L’Occitane agriculture engineer Jean-Charles Lhommet said.
In 2004, the company then set up a large-scale immortelle plantation programme in Corsica. Working in partnership with local growers and distillers, it started by planting 50ha of immortelle in the Balagne region of Corsica.
Before the programme began, immortelle had never been successfully domesticated. Ten years later, L’Occitane is now planting 53ha and harvesting over 100 tonnes of flowers annually.
“Each farmer cultivates between two and 10ha of immortelle. The flowers are harvested once a year. Young plants are harvested by hand and the older plants by machine,” Lhommet said. According to him, one hectare produces about 3.5 tonnes of immortelle flowers, which in turn yields up to 7kg of essential oil.
“One tonne of immortelle is needed to produce 2kg of essential oil, compared to lavender which yields 8kg of oil, so immortelle is very precious indeed,” he commented.
The immortelle is farmed using organic methods to protect the environment and encourage biodiversity.
“We take seeds from the wild rather than from cultivated plants because we want to preserve its natural characteristics. We also make efforts to maintain the biodiversity of the area, so we are carrying out research on beneficial plants from the wild which can be planted with the immortelle to discourage damaging weeds,” Lhommet said.
In recognition of its efforts to respect the environment, L’Occitane received a biodiversity award from the French Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Ministry last year.
In addition, the company emphasises a strong relationship with its local partners, giving them contracts to supply different ingredients. Partnership contracts of five to seven years are given to the producers of immortelle flowers.
“We have to ensure that they can make a living from cultivating immortelle,” he added.
L’Occitane is currently working with nine producers of immortelle in Corsica.
Among them are Noelle Irolla and Milou Corteggiani, who run a small distillery where they have been distilling oil from aromatic plants for 30 years. They started cultivating immortelle with L’Occitane in 2008.
At their distillery, the harvested flowers are loaded on to a platform into two large vats. Steam is then injected into the bottom of the vats to distil the essential oil from the plants.
“After that, the condensation process produces floral water and essential oil. The oil floats on the water. It’s dark in colour because it is distilled in copper vats,” Irolla explained, adding that the oil is then filtered.
According to L’Occitane prospective and innovation director Laure Pierrisnard, immortelle essential oil from Corsica has a higher concentration of neryl acetate, an anti-ageing molecule.
As such, the Divine Cream from the immortelle range that was first launched in 2009, the company’s top-selling product, registered a higher turnover than the previous bestseller, shea butter hand cream.
“We relaunched the cream last year with a new formula to boost the immortelle effect. The new formula combines the anti-ageing properties of immortelle with seven other plant-derived active ingredients,” she said.
Another new product to be introduced this year is the Divine Youth Oil, which combines seven natural plant oils with immortelle essential oil for anti-ageing and repairing effects.
The seven plants are borage, evening primrose, camelina, echium, sea buckthorn, apricot and rose hip, said to have soothing and regenerating properties as well as the ability to protect the skin’s barrier function.
“The Divine Youth Oil protects the skin from environmental stress and dryness. It complements the existing Divine Immortelle skincare routine,” Pierrisnard said.
The oil is touted to have a fine, light texture which sinks gently into the skin, leaving behind a non-oily finish. After using Divine Youth Oil, the texture of the skin is said to be visibly transformed to feel plump and supple.
Prices: RM469 (Divine cream) and RM469 (Divine Youth Oil). Available at all L’Occitane counters.
How L'Occitane is helping to preserve an age-old Corsican tradition