How (exactly) Icelandic women get such glowing skin
There are certain places you visit and leave a little different. From France, it might be a heightened sense of elegant nonchalance (i.e., Chanel mules and dry shampoo). From Italy, I usually bring back new pasta recipes, chic Marvis toothpaste, and a few token blemishes (blame all that irresistible dairy). From England, I stockpile tubes of Berocca seltzer multivitamins to make up for the lack of nutrients following nights at the local pub. And from Iceland, a place I visit often, I bring back a duty-free haul of the most divine smoked salmon, blackest licorice, and a bundle of local skincare finds to keep my newfound Nordic glow intact back in my home of New York.
But more than just new lotions and potions, I’ve learned there are some across-the-board habits that Icelanders practice that set them apart. With Icelandic roots on my mother’s side and a super-Scandinavian upbringing, I know that some of their secrets are second nature (like steamy saunas and freezing plunge pools). But for other insights into the healthy and youthful complexions that are a krona a dozen up there in the Northern Atlantic, I called upon Icelandic skin-care professionals and my Icelandic girl gang, or “elskan” as we call each other endearingly, to enlighten me on how they maintain that ice-queen glow despite the harsh conditions. Their tips and tricks have served me well and are definitely worth sharing. Skal! —Mosha Lundström Halbert
There’s Something In The Water
If you’ve not been yourself, you’ve seen the Blue Lagoon pop up your Instagram feed, all milky blue and otherworldly. Beyond its photo ops, the mineral-rich waters are proven to be beneficial for psoriasis patients, and its algae-rich silica also aids in anti-aging, attests Dr. Jenna Huld Eysteinsdottir, a Reykjavik-based dermatologist who studied the Blue Lagoon for her Ph.D. “The lagoon itself and the skincare products actually have real science behind them,” she says. Glamour Iceland’s beauty director and makeup artist Harpa Káradóttir recommends keeping these handy individual silica mask cubes in the freezer for a quick de-puffing treatment. “They are perfect when you need something extra,” she says. Model Alisa Helga Svensdottir also swears by the brand’s Foaming Cleanser and Mineral Moisturizing Cream for maintaining her icy pallor post-shoot. “It leaves my skin fresh and clean,” she says, “and the fragrance-free moisturizer gives me a beautiful glow.”
It's the Creme de la Mer of Iceland—pricey, science-y, and highly coveted.
What do Karl Lagerfeld and a reported 30% of Icelandic women have in common? They all use BioEffect’s little vial of epidermal growth factor (EGF) serum. With promises of a brighter and more youthful complexion, it’s the Creme de la Mer of Iceland—pricey, science-y, and highly coveted. “We grow our EGF in barley, which I discovered was the perfect closed biological system for it to thrive,” says co-founder and chief scientific officer Dr. Björn Örvarto. “The tiny isolated proteins we create in the barley make your skin stronger and thicker over time,” he says.
Makeup artist Sunna Björk Erlingsdóttir, known for bringing out an ethereal glow on everyone from footballers to pop stars, also touts BioEffect’s broad appeal. “The serum is such a staple in Icelandic homes. It helps rejuvenate, hydrate, and repair your skin cells,” she says. “It’s also free from all of those extra ingredients that you don’t want, like parabens, preservatives, and mineral oils.”
Icelanders benefit from their environmental and geographic advantage. With less sunlight comes fewer skin-damaging UV rays, some of the cleanest air on the planet, and magnesium-rich water that is naturally heated from active volcanoes. And those Icelandic bathing rituals run deep. The country has more swimming pools per capita than any other, ranging from the luxurious thermal bathhouse Laugar Spa in Reykjavik to the rustic, yet rigorously clean public pools scattered around the island.
Icelanders are notoriously prone to feats of strength, which means subjecting myself to the hottest saltwater tubs and the coldest plunge pools until my skin tingles and I can’t stand it any longer, like a local. I’ve also run into the ice-cold ocean in the name of proving my Viking roots. Added bonus: a flushed glow, tiny pores, and bragging rights.
More of a tranquil bath person? One of the rosiest Icelanders I know, architect Iris Laxdal, recently launched Angan, a sustainable line of bath salts made with birch and arctic thyme. I rely on the salt scrub for when I return from a trip to slough away airplane grime. It contains handpicked moss and raw Icelandic salt to detoxify the skin, with nourishing oils to hydrate. “The bathing culture here is always linked back to nature, which is something we could all use more of in our busy lives,” she says. “Especially in the winter, it’s so important to take time to be in the water to flush out impurities, cleanse, and restore skin’s moisture.”
New York-based top Icelandic model Sigrún Eva Jónsdóttir’s lovely face is plastered all over billboards at Keflavik airport. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get back as much as she would like. “When I miss home, I put the Angan bath salts in my tub and pretend to be in a hot spring with mountain herbs and flowers,” she says. “Works like a charm.”
"The bathing culture here is always linked back to nature."
When it comes to natural Icelandic ingredients, almost every elskan I spoke to had a hero product shoutout from cultish local label Sóley Organics. Jónsdóttir uses the herbaceous Fersk foam cleanser in the shower to wake her up. Fashion designer Hildur Yeoman recommends the springwater and neroli Nærðtoner. Reykjavik It girl Sandra Gunnars uses the GLÓey scrub with peppermint, Birta serum with Arctic sea buckthorn, and EyGLÓ moisturizer with evening primrose.
Luminous London-based model Thelma Torfa tipped me off to the most intriguing product of them all: Penzim, a face gel she swears by to treat dry skin and rashes. Its star ingredient: an enzyme from deep-sea cod fish teeth. Pick it up at the local apothecary if you dare.
Nearly everyone in Iceland shares one secret to good skin, strong nails, silken hair, and immunity that, for me, is pretty hard to swallow: shots of fish oil. “Icelanders grow up taking Lysi every day,” says Laxdal, who notes taking a shot of this pure, pungent cod liver liquid omega-3 is as standard as a morning coffee. If you can stomach this old-school staple, more Scandi-power to you. I cannot.
Thankfully, designer Katrin Alda introduced me to a new line of ingestible beauty products that promises more glow, less gag. It’s called Feel Iceland and was co-founded by her sister Kristin Yr Pétursdóttir, using collagen derived from wild deep-sea cod skin for drinkable powders and capsules. “The collagen increases our skin elasticity and helps reduce signs of aging and inflammation, while the enzymes are extremely exfoliating and help the skin regenerate faster,” says Pétursdóttir. “It has been one of the main food sources in Iceland for hundreds of years and has played a big role in how healthy we are.” Wait, could the Nordic glow all be down to cod? If so, I’ll have what Icelanders are having.
Feature images: Labyrinth of Collages featuring photographs of Lameka Fox and Kim van der Laan.