Beauty shopping abroad – Iceland edition
My other great passion besides all things beauty is travelling. I love exploring different places. And if everybody else buys souvenirs, I buy beauty products from all over the world. I love to explore drugstores and beauty departments in other parts of the world and if I have the time, I love to snoop around and buy a product or two. Now, it’s quite easy to find some gems abroad if you’re an avid reader of international beauty blogs. Kiko in Italy, pharmacy brands in France, Illamasqua or Charlotte Tillbury in Great Britain, Inglot in Poland and Physicians Formula or Milani in US drugstores (oh, and an US Sephora?! Heaven on earth for us European girls!) – easy peasy. Just browse some blogs and you’re good to go with a shopping list consisting of ‘best ofs’ in your hand.
Beauty shopping in Iceland
Recently, though, I was in Iceland, and my research didn’t came up with a lot of hits. I kinda shrugged it off and decided to have a look around once I was there. Iceland is a small country with a population of 320.000 and there aren’t a lot of cosmetics brands that are unique to Iceland. Or so I thought. It turned out that there’re a lot of organic skincare brands that you’ll find not in the department store, but in the better tourist shops in Reykjavik – like Kraum and, astonishingly, the gift shop at the Hilton I was staying at (Hilton Nordica – also has a great restaurant). My recommendation, though, would be to browse and have a look at anything that might interest you and then buy it at Keflavik airport, where prices are much lower than in the city. The four brands you’ll see again and again are Soley, Dr. Bragi, Bioeffect and products from Blue Lagoon Iceland. Be warned though – all products are rather pricey.
The Blue Lagoon between Keflavik and Reykjavik is the number one tourist attraction in Iceland, and due to a lot of bad luck, I couldn’t visit it. I was quite sad about that (because have a look at some pics on their site! Doesn’t it look amazing?!) I decided to treat myself to some of their products. When you book one of the pricier packages at the Blue Lagoon, you can sample some of their products like their masks, so I was set to get some for me for a DIY spa experience at home. I got my goodies at their little shop in the duty free area of Keflavik airport.
I just came back from a vacation in Reykjavik and thought I’d do a short update on my recommendations above. Of course, Reykjavik has changed a bit over two years, and sadly, I can no longer recommend Kraum. What was once a lovely little unique shop has become now just another one of numerous tourist-y shops with exactly the same offers as every other tourist-y shop. What makes Icelandic products unique are still the Icelandic ingredients and the organic claims, so a good stop if you want to browse an Icelandic beauty selection a health food shop is a good destination. Have a look at Heilsuhusid that’s situated at Reykjavik’s main shopping street. I also realized that there’s a major controversy around Bioeffect – before you buy the famous and incredibly expensive serum, look into it here and here. (Also note that I didn’t find it to be cheaper in Iceland than in the online shops over here.) I browsed through the products on display and left empty handed. The reason is the steep price point, and I wasn’t convinced that the quality and results of the products might justify that. What’s definitely worth it – go on tours. Experience the awesome nature. Collect memories. While the country is breathtaking, I’m not sure its beauty offerings are worth it.
Blue Lagoon product review
The first item I got was a sample sachet of the algae mask (10ml, ISK 1520). I also got the Starter Size Treatment (ISK 3825) that comes in a little travel Ziploc bag and contains a package of mineral bath salts (100mg), a tube of mineral intensive cream (30ml) and a tube of silica mud mask (30ml). (To give you an idea about the prices, 1000 ISK are about 6,60€, so my haul was about 32€.)
A disclaimer about my skin first: I’ve combination skin with a bit of rosacea on my cheeks. Also, those pesky fine lines are starting to appear and have become hard to overlook.
The algae mask is faintly green with a creamy texture that doesn’t drip all over your sink and doesn’t smell like algae (what a relief!). Instead, it has a slight ‘cosmetics’ smell to it that I can’t describe properly. It says on the sachet to leave it on for 5 to 10 minutes, but I slapped it on after my bath in the evening and when I remembered to remove it again, maybe 15 minutes were gone with water and a muslin face cloth. The little 10ml sachet lasted me for three applications. It mainly consists of water, glycerin, some oils (almond, evening primrose, sunflower and jojoba) and their famed silica and algae extract. There’s also perfume and artificial colouring in there, which don’t bother me, but might bother others for their possible irritant properties. It says that the mask ‘nourishes, lifts, enhances radiance’ on the front, and the blurb on the back says that it ‘helps the skin rebuild and protect itself’. Directly after removing I could certainly see its effects. My skin was quite glowy and looked quite plumped. Not ‘I had some injections and fillers’-plumped, but healthy and youthful. Sadly, that effect was gone by next morning, and maybe it was a bit too rich for me or some ingredient didn’t agreed with my skin, but every time of the three times I used it, I got one or two spots a day after I used it. It’s a good product for people with dry and mature skin, and while I enjoyed using it, I wouldn’t buy it again.
The second mask I got was a totally different animal. The silica mud mask ‘deep cleanses, softens and soothes’ and is the Blue Lagoon’s star seller. It’s mainly made from the Lagoon’s geothermal silica mud with water, some emollients and preservatives thrown into the mix. There’re some studies claiming that the silica in conjunction to the algae from the Lagoon have some benefits on collagen and could help from moisture loss. Please take note that the Blue Lagoon seems to have reformulated their products, because if you’re looking at older reviews, they remark that there’re parabens in this mask, while there aren’t in mine. I again used this after my bath in the evening, and it tingled a lot after application. It didn’t hurt, but it was that feeling you get when using a quite potent chemical peel at home. I left it on my face for about 10 minutes. It dried down like a clay mask, and you’ll look like Casper the friendly ghost, because it dries down starkly white as well. My skin was definitely soft, but also quite parched for moisture. The pores on my nose looked like they always look (but then, there aren’t products that will diminish your pores. At all.). So, again, not a real hit for me. If you have oily skin, I can imagine it quite good for you, though.
The next one up in my sample pack was the mineral intensive cream for very dry and sensitive skin. I’ll say at once that I don’t think it’s suitable for me right now, but I can imagine situations when I’d love this. And that would be, for example, in Iceland in early spring (or winter, or autumn). Iceland is windy. And I really wish I’d have tried that cream when I was there, because I sometimes thought the icy wind would strip the skin on my face away. This cream is mainly water, petrolatum and paraffinum, and I can already hear the cries of outrage at this. And while I understand it from a shopper’s point of view (very cheap ingredients, high price point), there’s something for a formula that locks moisture in and protects skin from drying out which this one does. There’re mainly emulsifiers and emollients on the INCI list with some skincare ingredients nearly everybody loves – squalane, tocopherol, and also the obligatory mineral salt from the Blue Lagoon. Right now, this does nothing for my skin. It doesn’t feel to rich upon application – meaning it sinks in immediately on top of my serum. But after a while I felt my rosacea heating up under it, so I’ll give it a shot come winter where it’ll be able to show it’s true capabilities. Recommended for seriously dry skin that needs protection from the elements.
The mineral bath salts are said to ‘balance and revitalize’. The first ingredient here is Sodium chloride, which is your run of the mill table salt. I can’t honestly see what minerals are ‘praised for their beneficial action on the skin’, like the blurb on the package says. Bath salts are generally said to be softening and exfoliating, but the price for that is the serious drying action this has on the skin. I have to add a super moisturizing body butter or something similar after using this, and I rather have my bath with a great scent and some bubbles.
So, this is kind of a mixed bag for me – some products didn’t suit me, some I didn’t like, and some weren’t suitable for me at this point. I feel rather sad about that but am confident that maybe you’ll like them if you find the right product for your skin, are on board with their claim that silica and algae are good ingredients and aren’t too concerned on spending money.