ICELAND’S HOMEGROWN BEAUTY

Byline: Natasha Singer

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — If Grimur Saemundsen has his way, the spa director will position Iceland’s Blue Lagoon as the younger, hipper alternative to Israel’s Dead Sea and his product line as the choice of natural cosmetics trendsetters.
The Blue Lagoon product line, which uses extracts from the blue-green algae, silica mud and minerals found in the geothermal bathing pool 30 minutes from Reykjavik, is one of several lines promoting Iceland’s healthy image to sell products made using natural Icelandic ingredients. Another, Akureyri-based Purity Herbs, offers creams and lotions that rely on domestically grown herbs such as silverweed, wild thyme, clover and Icelandic moss.
“I think there could potentially be a huge international market for the Blue Lagoon products,” said Saemundsen. “The idea is to position ourselves as geo-thermal cosmetics or cosmeceuticals that use the healing powers and properties of the Blue Lagoon. The peculiar combination of hot water and lava rock creates high silica content, which is a natural anti-bacterial. Meanwhile, the blue-green algae stimulates the immune system.”
When the Blue Lagoon introduced its first handful of skin care products in 1995, they were intended as cute souvenirs for tourists and not as the launching pad of a new national industry. Until the mid-1990s, Iceland had no history of domestic cosmetic production, aside from homemade herbal preparations, and relied primarily on European imports.
Then, in 1997, when the company decided on a full-scale $7 million upgrade of the lagoon’s premises, the idea of a companion beauty brand was born, and in 1998, the company introduced a Blue Lagoon geothermal skin care range made up of 11 products including mud masks and bath salts. The company now offers 32 different skin care products plus 20 linked accessories such as bathrobes, towels and candles. The geothermal skin care line includes an exfoliating body scrub made with silica mud crystals; a bath oil that transforms the tub into a milky replica of the Blue Lagoon, and a blue-green algae shower gel. The new Blue Lagoon spa line is divided into three color-coded groups — Balance, in light blue; Nutrition, in light green, and Energy, a transparent grouping — which include bath and body oils, bath salts and flakes, massage oils and soap bars. The company is currently testing a new 15-product facial care line that it plans to introduce in September.
The brand sells not only at the Blue Lagoon site and the airport duty free, but also in dozens of pharmacies and souvenir shops across Iceland as well as at its Internet shop, bluelagoon.is. There are also a few points of sale abroad, such as Farmacia in London. Blue Lagoon declined to release sales figures, but since the new facility opened, box office has increased to 320,000 visitors in 2000; the basic entrance fee ranges from about $7 to $17. And since the new spa line launched in July, product sales have increased 20 percent.
Another Icelandic beauty enterprise, Purity Herbs, uses a combination of local herbs and a natural cream base. Purity Herbs started in 1994 with eight lotions and now offers more than 100 different items including face and body creams, massage and bath oils, shampoos and tonics. The line sells in pharmacies and health-food stores across Iceland; in Sweden, Belgium and Germany, and on the firm’s Web site, purityherbs.is.
“Most beauty products contain at least 30 percent chemical ingredients. The idea of Purity Herbs is that the creams are chemical free. It’s all natural, no preservatives, no dyes or artificial colors. In Iceland, you can get pure herbs straight from the mountains in a pollution-free environment, gathered by hand with scissors not by machine, and that’s what we put in Purity Herbs,” says the company’s founder, Andre Raes.
About 65 percent of Purity Herbs consumers are Icelandic, whereas the majority of Blue Lagoon clients are tourists. But the biggest hurdle for both companies is to convince skeptical Icelanders, who are unused to the idea of a local beauty industry, that cosmetics made in Iceland are as good as the well-known imported brands.
“There were no Icelandic-made beauty products when we were growing up,” remembers movie actress Palina Jonsdottir. “My mother used Estee Lauder. I use a lot of Clinique, but I also have Blue Lagoon shower gel and shampoo and moisturizer. When we were growing up, there was nothing at the Blue Lagoon but the lagoon; you wouldn’t have trusted them then to make a face cream. Now they are a real brand.”