The Secret To Icelandic Beauty Is In The (Free, Hot) Water

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Björk
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Eygló Lárusdóttir
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Hilda Gunnarsdóttir
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Björk by John Baptiste Mondino, 2001
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Reykjavik Nights, 2012
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EYEGLO F/W 2012
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EYGLO
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Karen Mudler by Hans Feurer, Vogue November 1990
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Karen Mudler by Hans Feurer for Vogue, November 1990
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Kirsten Owen by Hans Feurer for Vogue, november 1990
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Sif Agustsdottir by Silvia Olsen, ELLE UK

Today's Iceland is not unlike the Tokyo in Lost in Translation: exceptionally cool without sacrificing that authenticity which made it cool in the first place. The little island in the North Atlantic is covered in sprawling mountains and meadows, where palomino horses run free and the midnight sun shines overhead. Half of the population in Iceland believes in elves. It also happens to be home to Björk, Kit Harington’s hair (while he's filming Game of Thrones), and life-changing hot dogs.

But walking down Laugavegur, in Reykjavík’s knockout shopping district, one thing is abundantly clear: Icelandic women have a specific kind of ethereal beauty. Like, Botticelli-Birth-of-Venus style. Katrín, my glacier guide, was a dead ringer for that glow-y young Kate Moss that's having a never-ending moment under the #tbt section of Instagram—and there was a Katrín or two on every corner. This might have to do with the fact that, according to The Independent, Iceland is the best place to be a woman. They enjoy the greatest measure of gender equality when you take into account politics, education, health, and employment indicators. Which, you know, is probably the secret to perfect skin.

Visa-less, I scouted the city's shops and pharmacies to find a more attainable key to Icelandic beauty. There was one store in particular that caught my eye, thanks to the ruffled sheer chiffon tee in the window—think Comme des Garçons meets Delpozo—and I was lucky enough to meet its designer, Eygló Lárusdóttir of EYGLO [3], who was working behind the counter that day. A former intern with Jeremy Scott, Eygló is one of nine designers that co-owns Kiosk, Reykjavík's fashion co-op (like a down-to-earth version of Dover Street Market). We got to talking after she caught me admiring one of her cropped and darted sweaters, and I fell in (sartorial) love after she offered to custom make one in my size at no extra cost. After that, I knew Eygló would be keen to reveal the secret to her amazing waist-length hair, and she kindly looped in another Kiosk designer, the similarly ethereal Hilda Gunnarsdóttir of Milla Snorrason [4](a former Erdem intern), to chat about a typical Icelandic beauty routine.

Skincare

Thanks to the many active volcanoes and natural steam vents, hot water is free and plentiful in Iceland. Even hordes of tourists can’t keep locals away from Blue Lagoon, the country’s most popular spa, probably because of the wooden crates filled with free mud masks. Then there are the public pools. These are not your average American neighborhood public pools. Inexpensive but luxurious, people frequent them weekly. The country is also crazy for all-natural everything. Most local brands tout their pure, organic products—particularly coconut oil (or kókosolía). Icelandic women really love their coconut oil.

Hilda: "In the morning, I always splash my face lightly with cold water straight after I wake up. I think it's important to not wash away all the natural oils that have built up during the night. I try to use mostly organic products. For the face, I use Lavera New Basis Moisturising Cream With Jojoba & Aloe Vera, or the Weleda Almond Soothing Facial Lotion. Every night, I use the Lavera Cleansing Milk, and I use organic coconut oil to remove mascara. Coconut oil is something I use a lot. I also use it on my body after I shower, instead of an expensive body lotion. There are a lot of nice Icelandic beauty products now. If I want to treat myself I buy the Bioeffect EGF Serum. I also have a bottle of  Sóley Organics Lóa Krem hand lotion in my studio. It has an amazing birch scent. The Blue Lagoon products are great, of course, especially their Silica Mud Mask. I also take Lysi everyday, which is the Icelandic cod liver oil. This is very important for healthy skin and hair."

Eygló: "I think the most important thing is to keep my skin well moisturized. I feel more comfortable when I have less makeup on, actually. We’ve had quite a few cosmetic brands popping up in Iceland over the last couple of years. First, I want to mention Sóley Organics GLÓey Purifying Exfoliator. It’s almost like my name! They also have a day cream called eyGLÓ. The exfoliator has wild Icelandic herbs and peppermint in it—no preservatives, parabens, or other weird things—and is good at getting dead skin off your face. Bioeffect makes really good daytime cream. I haven’t been using too many active creams on my face, but it’s good occasionally. I’m over 30 now, so I’ll probably be using more of those soon. I've never been a fan of body lotions, but if I feel like moisturizing my body, I just use a little bit of cold-pressed coconut oil. For a mask, I would recommend using the Blue Lagoon Algae Mask. It makes your skin feel super-duper soft after each use."

Hair

Thick, waist-length hair in perfect waves is everywhere (and I mean, everywhere) in Iceland. There is a subset of Icelanders that likes to dye theirs Khaleesi platinum, but many prefer hair that captures the spirit of the island’s untrammeled nature. Sadly, the secret seems to be something in the water, or, again, the coconut oil. 

Eygló: "Occasionally, I put cold-pressed coconut oil on the tips of my hair. I also like Moroccan oil for hair, and skin too, but the coconut oil is just much cheaper. I don’t have any particular hair thing going on, except for the oils."

Hilda: "I use coconut oil as a hair mask. About twice a month, I cover my hair in oil and sleep with it in. It sure ain’t sexy, but it works wonders. My hair routine is pretty low maintenance, and I even cut it myself. I have a simple haircut—straight bangs, long hair—and I don't dye it. I use any type of shampoo, but I always use quality conditioner. Usually Aveda Scalp Benefits Balancing Conditioner, but if I'm abroad, I try to find Kiehl's Superbly Smoothing Argan Conditioner. I always let my hair air dry, and I don't flat iron it. I use The Body Shop Coconut Oil Hair Shine for flyaways and a bit of shine, and Aveda Pure Abundance Volumizing Hair Spray if I want volume. I don't know if Icelanders have better hair than others, but if they do, I think they'd say it's the cod liver oil. Most of us are brought up taking it every day. Also, I do think we drink a lot of water since the tap water is so clean here."

Makeup

In Reykjavík, where two-thirds of Iceland's population lives, the weather is mild and often misty—not right for a heavy face. Icelanders tend to sport a clean look. The pharmacies mainly stock BB and CC creams—which is to say, traditional foundation can be hard to find. It seems that a common goal is to look like you’ve just finished hiking a waterfall, or that you live on a small ranch in the mountains where you roam misty fields amongst wild horses. There is one product, though, that you’ll find in every Icelander’s bag: a good balm, to protect your lips from the biting Arctic winds.

Eygló: "I don’t spend a lot of time doing my makeup. Usually I just put on a little mascara and that’s it before work. Then, of course, when I go out, I add a little more. I use this Kanebo powder—I don’t even know what it’s called [laughs], and a bright-colored lipstick. I feel better with very little makeup on; otherwise I don’t feel like myself. We have girls that use too much makeup and almost-no-makeup girls like me, just like anywhere else. The number one thing for me is to keep my skin in balance."

Hilda: "For everyday makeup, I use the bareMinerals Original Foundation Powder in Fair, since my skin is so white, but I use very little. I have freckles and don't want to cover them. Then I use Bobbi Brown blush, a tiny bit of brown eye pencil smudged on my eyelids, a bit of light brown eyeliner, and sometimes Lancôme Mascara. I prefer a natural look, so very often now I skip the mascara. I think the product I am most attached to is the Villimey Lip Charm Balm, which includes wild Icelandic herbs. I'm a lip balm junkie, and this is the best one I've ever tried. If I want a bit of color I use the tinted Elizabeth Arden Cream Lip Protectant with SPF 15 in Plum, or a bit of Aveda Nourish-Mint Lip Liner and lip balm over it. I also like MAC lipstick, like Plumful or Craving. If I'm going out I do the same, but sometimes add a bit of mascara and black eyeliner, maybe do a cat eye. If I'm in the mood for a strong red lip, I use MAC in Brave Red or Chanel Lipstick in New York Red [ed note: discontinued]."

Verdict 

On city tours and when chatting with locals in cafés, nine out of 10 Icelanders told me that the best thing about Reykjavík is its proximity to the wilds. Water surrounds you on every side, and mountains lie in easy distance. The city itself is filled with green space—horse rides and bike races in the parks are common—and real fields and tundra are a short drive away. Then there’s the diet. Organic tea, particularly when made with wild herbs like Icelandic moss and birch leaves, is a staple drink (Hilda makes her own), and fish is their staple food—not to mention those cod liver oil supplements. All water in Iceland is not only drinkable, but clear and delicious. Perhaps the answer is as simple as leading a healthy, active life in a city with decent infrastructure—at least when it comes to the water supply. Or maybe it's the elf magic.

—Monica Kim

Monica Kim is a travel writer living in New York. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and Condé Nast Traveler.

Photos via VogueReykjavic Nights, and ELLE UK.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Taylor

    well goodbye I am moving to Iceland (you had me at Kit Harington's hair)

  • a67penguin

    my closest friend, Palina, is Icelandic and owns a hair salon in Reykavik (Haarflik in case anyone wishes to visit on their next trip there!) I agree with, and have witnessed all of the advice shared here. The Icelandic diet includes lots of fish, clean dairy and lamb, is low in trans fat and generally "anti" artificial everything. In the late summer/ fall, Iceland has the best tasting blueberries in the world (another anti inflammatory for skin). The Blue Lagoon is lovely- but has been redone in a manner that is very Disney-like. Previously, it literally was a spa in the ground next to an electrical plant (running from geothermic heated water). The local swimming pools are similarly lovely-- most have naturally occurring heated water from geothermal sources (the country is, at heart, two big volcanoes). Nice place to visit, nice people, great food, fun nightlife. And everyone is descended from Vikings.

    • JW

      The Blue Lagoon is still a spa clinic/hotel and I am currently here right now in room 6 :) there is a bigger tourist lagoon 5 minutes down the walking path. The clinic spa is so peaceful and beautiful. It's a shame that it is being expanded and they are also adding a 5 star hotel to the bigger lagoon. There are also 30 active volcanoes in Iceland! It's an amazing place and I am sad I'm leaving for Norway soon.

  • http://4districtstyle.wordpress.com District Style

    Loved this article! Would love to see more of these beauty travel posts on ITG. I was surprised there was no mention of Skyn Iceland products. I used to use them a few years ago and really liked them.

    • http://twitter.com/monicamkim Monica Kim

      I love Skyn Iceland! Tried to include them, but Hilda and Eygló aren't currently using their products. I highly recommend the Pure Cloud Cream, Glacial Cleansing Cloths, Nordic Skin Peel, and the Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels, but all their products are great. Plus, the packaging is delightful.

  • octopop

    BJOOOOORK YAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSS

  • Tary

    Oh GREAT article! I'm going on vacation to Iceland on the end of June and I´m so happy to read about beauty over there! Makes me even more excited to go now! Thank you

    • sabe

      I went for my honeymoon last year, and the hot dogs really are that good! The Blue Lagoon is touristy and pricey but still worth the experience. Enjoy!

    • http://4districtstyle.wordpress.com District Style

      That's the time of year I went and I loved it. Enjoy!

    • http://twitter.com/monicamkim Monica Kim

      Iceland is amazing, and the people are unbelievably nice. The best trip I've taken in years, you'll have such a great time!

  • bijoux

    ohhhh, I want to "roam misty fields amongst wild horses". Also, I want to start using the word "amongst"

  • http://twitter.com/monicamkim Monica Kim

    So glad you enjoyed it! I'm no expert, but I just started taking Carlson Labs Cod Liver Oil and like it a lot so far. They have one specifically formulated with low vitamin A, and are supposed to be one of the safest brands mercury-wise.

  • http://twitter.com/monicamkim Monica Kim

    Hi, thanks for the info! I figured that was the case, as per Hilda and Eygló, but that doesn't make me like the products any less!

  • http://twitter.com/monicamkim Monica Kim

    Perhaps Iceland-inspired is more apropos? Regardless, I still like their products!

  • http://twitter.com/monicamkim Monica Kim

    I heard that Skyr is going to be the next Greek yogurt in the States. Personally, I can't wait.

    • a67penguin

      skyr rocks. Get the real Icelandic skyr though Siggi's is also good-- Whole Foods. It has more protein than greek yogurt. OMG I am becoming an Icelandic tout.

  • http://twitter.com/monicamkim Monica Kim

    Hi Gudrun, so glad you liked it! You're lucky to live there, it's now one of my favorite places in the world.

    Ah, I'm starting to regret bringing up Skyn Iceland. They may not be Icelandic, but the real good Icelandic stuff can be hard to find over here! I still think their products are nice, and not a bad alternative (at least they use Icelandic glacier water?).

  • http://twitter.com/monicamkim Monica Kim

    I didn't do a comprehensive search, but I noticed BB and CC creams by GOSH Cosmetics (based in Denmark) at one pharmacy. I'm sure there are other brands, and they also stock the usual suspects, like Lancôme.

  • a67penguin

    That's Iceland-- that sky. You don't see that anywhere else.

  • Sophia

    Moving to Iceland. It was nice knowing y'all!

  • Erica Rae Deutsch

    This makes me want to move to Iceland...and start taking cod liver supplements

  • Anita

    What type of cod liver oil do they take?

    • Rakel

      We mostly take cod liver oil that is made in Iceland - from companies like Lýsi (the biggest brand here): http://www.lysi.eu/

      So happy with all the positivity coming our way. It is a beautiful and clean place and Icelanders are exposed to a lot of nature. There is also a lot of wind here, perhaps that helps with the beauty in some way?

      • Anita

        Thank you <3. There's definitely something in the air/water.

PRODUCTS MENTIONED

Villimey
Villimey Lip Charm Balm
Weleda
Weleda Almond Soothing Facial Lotion, 1 oz
Lavera
Lavera New Basis Moisturising Cream With Jojoba & Aloe Vera
Lavera
Lavera Natural Cosmetics Gentle Cleansing Milk
BIOEFFECT
Bioeffect EGF Serum
Sóley Organics
Sóley Organics Lóa Krem
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon Silica Mud Mask
Sóley Organics
Sóley Organics GLÓey Purifying Exfoliator
BIOEFFECT
Bioeffect Daytime Cream
The Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon Algae Mask
Aveda
Aveda Scalp Benefits Balancing Conditioner
Kiehl's Since 1851
Kiehl's Since 1851 Superbly Smoothing Argan Conditioner
The Body Shop
The Body Shop Coconut Oil Hair Shine
Aveda
Aveda Pure Abundance Volumizing Hairspray
bareMinerals
bareMinerals Original Foundation
Bobbi Brown
Bobbi Brown Blush
Lancôme
Lancôme Definicils Waterproof High Definition Mascara
Elizabeth Arden
Elizabeth Arden Cream Lip Protectant Stick Sunscreen SPF 15
Aveda
Aveda Nourish-Mint Lip Liner
MAC
MAC Lipstick
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