Before Iceland was featured in an American Express commercial, it was Gigja Hlín Wesneski’s home. “It’s super trendy now, and it used to be my secret place,” said the Northern California resident born to an Icelandic mother and American father who moved to the U.S. from the Nordic island nation as a youngster.
Hipsters are drawn to Iceland by qualities Wesneski long understood and that underpin her new skin-care brand, Root Science. “Iceland is a place of purity and raw energy as the volcanoes and geysers there show. The purity and energy inspire the way I formulate,” she said. “I look for really pure, powerful and raw ingredients. We take organic and natural to a whole other level.”
Root Science has nine products priced from $20 to $120 made from unrefined, unadulterated organic ingredients to net concentrated essential oils, nut and seed oils, clays, minerals and vitamins. The products are formulated by hand when the ingredients are at the peaks of their nutrient power, according to Wesneski. She advises customers to apply the products within six months of their completion for best results.
“The reason we named the brand Root Science is that all of our ingredients are from the earth,” explained Wesneski. “We look for ingredients that have scientific backing. We don’t pick them just because they’re pretty, smell good or have a specific color. We pick them for their skin benefits.”
Root Science manufactures in micro batches, and Wesneski is adamant the approach yields better skin-care products. “We don’t do large batches that will make enough products for a year. We make our product weekly or biweekly, which is fresher than something made once a month once a quarter,” she said. “Everything is delivered fresh, made fresh and the end product is fresher and more potent.”
The filler-free formulas aren’t the usual white or clear skin-care serums and lotions with vaguely floral or fruity aromas. “They are going to be richer in color and usually are a dark hue of yellow,” Wesneski said. “The final products come out smelling delicious. The essential oils we use have wonderful scents as well as skin-care benefits.”
Products are formulated with four skin types in mind: sensitive or acneic; combination or oily; dry or mature, and normal or balanced. Wesneski doesn’t believe in a one-size-fits-all skin-care philosophy, so her brand created four serums to address the issues facing people with the various skin types. There are also kits and masks targeted toward certain skin types.
“Each skin type has unique needs,” she said. “Someone with sensitive skin and someone with mature skin, they are going to need different minerals, vitamins and levels of moisture.”
Root Science’s bestseller so far is the facial serum Youth. “It is a two-in-one multifunctional product,” Wesneski said. “You don’t usually get an antiaging product and a blemish product in one, and it does both.”
The formulas are encased in violet glass bottles for protective purposes, and minimalistic, black-and-white boxes that reflect the Scandinavian aesthetic of Iceland. Graphics on the boxes are abstract references to the topography of the country. “We wanted something that was really clean. It appeals to me and background, being from Iceland,” she said. “The packaging has been getting a nice response. We are so far outside of the earthy, crunchy packaging that people are used to.”
For distribution, Root Science is aiming at upscale natural beauty boutiques. Industry sources estimate it will generate $750,000 in first-year retail sales. “You are definitely seeing stores popping up more frequently now that are the natural version of Sephora. That’s in our wheelhouse,” said Wesneski, elaborating Root Science’s core customer is a woman who “values quality. She shops at Whole Foods, and enjoys yoga and Pilates. She puts a lot of thought into making conscious decisions for her health, and she wants to do the same for her skin care, but she doesn’t want crunchy options.”