Let it glow: Nordic beauty for winter skin

Winter wreaking havoc on your skin? Rebecca Howard Dennis explores the protective benefits of Nordic beauty products

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Scandinavia: land of the midnight sun, breathtaking scenery, stunning design and beautiful people. Yes, temperatures have been known to plummet to a bone-chilling minus 30°C, but far from being wind-whipped and weather-worn, the women – and men – of Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Finland seem to boast the most incredible complexions. But don’t just take our word for it. According to an independent UK poll, we Brits rate Nordic skin and good looks above all other nations.

So what’s the secret to those clear, firm, radiant faces? ‘The Arctic represents one of the harshest and most unfriendly climates on the planet,’ explains Dr Miguel Stanley of anti-ageing centre the White Clinic. ‘As a result, nature has developed protection mechanisms that the people of the north have explored over generations. Scientists have been fascinated by this, and have proved that some extracts hold unique properties when applied to skin.’

Any plant life that can not only survive but adapt and thrive in such conditions offers a rich source of skin-perfecting ingredients. Native Nordic plants such as lingonberries, cloudberries, algae and kelp get star billing in the many Scandinavian skincare formulations now bursting onto the international beauty scene. These plant extracts are perfectly suited to help boost the skin’s resilience.

Not that it’s all about the sub-zero temperatures. Nordic berries grow in a part of the world where the sun does not set in the summer and, says Joe Pastorkovich of Finnish skincare brand Lumene, ‘Soaking in sunlight for 24 hours straight makes their vitamin and antioxidant properties a full 81 per cent richer than those of any other cultivated berry.’

These vitamins and antioxidants have natural anti-inflammatory effects, helping to keep skin looking younger and plumper for longer. Likewise kelp and algae, also rich in antioxidants and minerals, help protect skin by offering protection from free radicals that accelerate the ageing process.

For a truly potent winter complexion boost, invest in Lumene Complete Rewind Intensive Recovery Beauty Oil. It’s packed with Arctic sea buckthorn and huge doses of omega 3 and 6, essential for keeping your skin barrier intact (with less chance of chapping or dryness).

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You realise just how much Scandinavians need good skincare when you understand their attitude to the weather. ‘Rather than going back inside when it’s cold, we simply get another jumper,’ explains Pernilla Rönnberg, founder and CEO of Estelle & Thild skincare. ‘Obviously the winters in Stockholm are especially cold and windy though, which can be drying and irritating, so we need products that target sensitivity.’

The ultimate swaddle-in-a-bottle for parched and stressed skin is Estelle & Thild Super Bioactive Repairing Oil Complex. Use it as a protective base, smoothing the nurturing blend of vitamins, antioxidants and essential fatty acids onto clean skin before your regular moisturiser.

Those in the know also rate L:A Bruket’s Petitgrain Scrub, designed to heal, energise and soothe chapped skin, and Jojoba Oil to protect against winter winds. Evidently oil plays a key role in any Scandinavian winter beauty arsenal and is essential for protecting Nordic locks too.

The trick, though, lies in finding just the right formula. ‘Nordic women typically have very thin, fine hair,’ says Swedish superstylist Sacha Mitic, one half of the Stockholm-based salon and haircare brand Sachajuan. ‘So it’s best not to weigh it down with rich products.’ Sacha blends argan oil with local sea buckthorn oil to create his light-as-a feather, reparative Intensive Hair Oil.

It’s worth noting that Scandinavian women are notoriously sceptical about claims made by anti-ageing skincare, and favour a no-frills approach to beauty. ‘Scandinavians use fewer products than their European sisters and are very realistic in their expectations,’ explains Lars Fredriksson, founder of Swedish skincare brand Verso.

Make-up artist Linda Öhrstrom agrees: ‘Swedes like things to be straightforward and functional, and they have a tradition of using the pharmacy for their beauty needs.’

That’s why many traditional Nordic skin preparations still survive. Take the multi-tasking Hudsalve. Affectionately dubbed the Swiss Army Knife of lip balms, it was created for the Swedish military back in the 1950s but has been adopted by everyone from mountaineers to mums, all looking for thick, no-nonsense skin protection to heal chapped lips, cracked hands, blistered feet... the list goes on.

Then there’s Victoria Lanolin-Ägg-Tvål (egg white) Facial Soap (£4.95, nookshop.co.uk). Still made to the original 100-year-old recipe, this cocktail of rosewater, lanolin and egg white is based on a traditional Swedish remedy to create super-soft, glowing skin.

This kitchen-sink approach to beauty still prevails, with many Nordic natives whipping up their own skin salves and hair care. Rumour has it they keep those platinum locks icy-bright by adding a few drops of vinegar to their shampoo. And Ole Henriksen might be Hollywood’s resident skin guru and go-to botanical beauty expert, but even he promotes the homemade beauty recipes of his Danish upbringing.

‘I truly believe in incorporating old Scandinavian rituals into my own, as well as my clients’, routines,’ he explains. In fact Ole swears by a blend of brown sugar and eucalyptus oil to gently exfoliate dry, dull skin, and his solution for winter-ravaged hair is to combine equal parts of honey and warmed olive oil, comb the mixture through and leave it on as an intensive treatment for 20 minutes before shampooing.

‘The honey seals moisture into the scalp and hair shaft to reduce static,’ he explains, ‘and the olive oil is loaded with fatty acids that will strengthen your hair from root to tip.’

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However, while we’re all in favour of a little DIY dermatology, when it comes to dull, flaking, midwinter skin, trust us when we say nothing beats Ole Henriksen Pure Truth Youth Activating Oil mixed with a few drops of Truth Serum Collagen Booster. When combined, we swear this cocktail of vitamins and omega fatty acids is the fastest way to fake a full night’s sleep and achieve that elusive, clear Scandinavian complexion.

Other Nordic brands weary mamas might like to try include Iceland’s best-selling Bio Effect. This award-winning range utilises molecules from the barley seed that help crops endure Icelandic winters. When incorporated into the Bio Effect EGF Serum and EGF Eye Serum, the skincare benefits include restored radiance, a reduction in fine lines, wrinkles and age spots, and smoother, rehydrated skin – whatever the weather.

As well as harnessing the complexion-protecting powers of the region’s plant life, they have also learned to maximise the health and glow-inducing benefits of the snow and ice itself. ‘One popular treatment in winter is to break the ice of a lake or pond and go swimming, as it really awakens and revives the skin,’ explains Ole.

And if that sounds too scary, just follow the many Scandinavian women who splash their face 20 times morning and night with ice-cold spring water.

Swedish make-up artist (and founder of cosmetics line Pixi) Petra Strand recommends pouring green tea (high in skin-protecting antioxidants) into ice cube trays and freezing it, then using the cubes in place of a toner.

Alternatively, invest in a tub of Skyn Iceland Arctic Hydrating Balm. Made from red Arctic algae and a blend of Nordic berries including cloudberry, lingonberry and hardy sea buckthorn, this deeply moisturising skin replenisher will reawaken skin with the best pore-perfecting ingredients that Scandinavia has to offer.

No matter what you put on your skin, however, there is one key element that cannot be overlooked or underestimated when it comes to understanding (and emulating) the clarity of Scandinavian skin, and that’s diet.

From Reykjavík to Copenhagen and Helsinki to Stockholm, Nordic women share a very healthy ‘inside-out’ attitude to their health, wellbeing and good looks. Their daily diets are rich in the same nutrients you’ll find in their skincare, including omega 3, 6 and 9 from oily fish and rapeseed oil, and antioxidants and vitamins from wild berries and hardy root vegetables.

The result is plumper, firmer, more radiant skin – and all without having to rub in a serum or massage on a moisturiser. So is their particular brand of poll-topping beauty more about what goes in than goes on? Hmm, maybe I’ll have what she’s having.

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