Different than Scandinavian, the term “Nordic” not only encompasses Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but also Finland, Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe and Åland Islands. However, Nordic beauty brands take a cue from Scandinavian design: clean lines and minimalism without sacrificing aesthetics. Skin-care products are clearly labeled without superfluous descriptors; bathroom vanities are kept free of clutter. “Nordic women want things to be fast, easy and efficient,” says Danish aesthetician Pernille Holm-Larsen.
“The concept is largely based on the ‘less is more’ philosophy of Nordic people, from their simple skin routines and healthy diets to their work-life balance and how one leads their happiest life,” adds Johanna Paavilainen, U.S. marketing director for Finnish skin-care brand Lumene, which is credited with bringing “Nordic Beauty” to North America. “This also transforms to the Finnish beauty ideal: If you are happy, your face radiates a certain kind of glow no makeup can ever achieve.”
“It feels almost impossible to talk about Nordic beauty without talking about sustainability,” says Paavilainen. “The core meaning of sustainability is to avoid the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. And when it comes to Nordic beauty, it’s about the balance of mind and body— internal and external beauty—that makes all the difference.” Brands fervently study the entire life cycles of their products, from concept to manufacturing, and how they affect the land, the climate and the world as a whole. Glass packaging is used wherever possible, plastic is both recycled and recyclable, and water usage is dramatically reduced (arctic water is also considered precious and revered for its healing properties).
Eha Urbsalu, founder of Viking Beauty Secrets, discovered her love of Nordic skin care as a kid. “Growing up in Northern Europe, we never thought about the words organic or clean— natural was just normal,” she says. “We used local products made from native plants, like the super antioxidant berries that have been used for centuries for health and beauty benefits. They were simple products made from natural ingredients that really worked.”
The reason they “worked” can be largely attributed to the unique Arctic light cycle in the region, which means 19 to 24 hours of light per day in the summer and a meager zero to six hours of light per day in the winter (and extreme weather conditions). “Because of this, Nordic plants have built self-defense strategies to survive and thrive, which has made them richer in antioxidants than plants of the same species growing further south,” says Paavilainen. When utilized in skin care, these antioxidant superpowers make for potent protection against free radicals that cause multiple signs of skin aging.
The Scrub: Viking Beauty Secrets Exfoliating Scrub ($34) Icelandic volcanic black sand is the superstar in this scrub, and works to draw out toxins and boost circulation as antioxidant-rich rowanberries fight free radicals.
The Serum: NUORI Infinity Bio-Fusion Serum ($125) A milky serum infused with a bakuchiol-derived retinol alternative called Sytenol A, this line-smoother also hydrates and brightens with ceramides and vitamin C.
The Mask: Lumene Nordic-C Fresh Glow Brightening Gel Mask ($25) Use this glow-booster twice a week for 10 minutes—natural AHAs and vitamin C from Arctic cloudberry vinegar mixed with Arctic spring water make the ideal skin refresher.
The Cream: Skyn Iceland Arctic Repair Cream ($42) Formulated to be used on both the face and body, this velvety cream intensely nourishes parched skin with Arctic algae, bilberry oil and soothing colloidal oatmeal.
Stay Fresh: The “less is more” philosophy extends from skin care into hair and makeup— these are three common themes.
01: Hydration is Huge
Despite harsh climates, Nordics manage to maintain a fresh-faced, healthy glow because they prioritize hydration. “There’s a big focus on maintaining the skin’s hydration levels and moisture barrier, as well as protecting skin from external factors with the use of antioxidant-rich products,” says Paavilainen, who adds that serums and face mists are popular picks. Maybe because we are surrounded by water—Finns specifically love to feel the freshness of water when caring for their skin. The skin-feel of water-based products is much loved in all Nordic countries.”
Surprisingly, this protection doesn’t always include sunscreen—the big sun-safety push from dermatologists in the U.S. hasn’t been echoed in Nordic countries, but it’s gaining traction. “We do not use as much sunblock as we should here, which is probably due to the fact that we do not have that many sunny days, but that is misunderstood and I’m teaching my clients the importance of it,” says Holm-Larsen.
02: Makeup is Minimal
Though Nordic women do wear makeup, Kirsten Kjaer Weis, founder of her eponymous Danish beauty brand, says it is rooted in skin care, and “enhancing,” not covering. “The overall look starts with foundation, but it’s very light,” she explains. “Blush is big for a fresh-faced finish. Nordic eye makeup is specifically different than American: Mascara for sure, yet less of an eye built with layers of eyeshadow. It’s more in the direction of a little eye pencil to give definition, or a dab of blush on the eyes as well the cheeks for ease of use.”
On the lips, subtle tints are the everyday choice for most women— the occasional lipstick is more common in urban areas, Kjaer Weis says. “Nordic sensibility focuses on what you have, rather than what you don’t have, so Nordic beauty is all about balancing and tidying your natural features without producing an overdone look,” adds Sacha Mitic, Swedish hairstylist and cofounder of hair-care brand Sachajuan.
One to try: Kjaer Weis Cream Blush ($40) Use your fingertips to melt this rosy rouge into the apples of the cheeks—it also looks beautiful on the lips and lids—for an effortless, “just came in from the cold” flush.
03: Hair and Scalp Health Are Equal
Like Nordic lifestyles, Mitic says Nordic hair care is utilitarian. “It’s important for us that every product we produce has a genuinely positive effect on both the hair and scalp,” he explains, noting that product development focuses on performance and finding solutions to control hair problems, rather than creating products that conform to the latest trends. “We also communicate about product descriptions and ingredients in a way that makes products easy to use and understand.” One particular standout ingredient in Nordic hair care is sea buckthorn oil, which many brands utilize to stimulate hair growth and scalp health, as well as increase shine.
One to try: Sachajuan Scalp Scrub ($39) Nordic-sourced Ocean Silk Technology and deep-cleansing oils in a sugar scrub base make this scalp exfoliator an uber-effective one.
INGREDIENT INDEX: Five key Nordic skin-care ingredients that pack a nutrient-dense punch.
Arctic Cloudberry: “These golden berries not only contain an impressive amount of vitamin C, but also omega-3 and -6 fatty acids,” says Urbsalu. “They are also loaded with antioxidants that protect skin from free radicals and help preserve collagen.”
Arctic Water: Traditionally sourced from Icelandic glaciers and Finnish Laplands, Arctic water is super gentle on the skin because of its purity, low mineral content and balanced pH.
Bilberry: These look like blueberries, but Paavilainen says they’re softer and juicier, and they contain more than twice the antioxidant concentration in the form of anthocyanin compounds.
Birch Sap: Used for centuries as a health tonic, mineral-rich sap from Northern European birch trees is praised for its hydrating properties, and is particularly nourishing for very dry skin.
Sea Buckthorn: The only plant in the world that contains omegas 3, 6, 7 and 9, sea buckthorn produces golden-orange berries with complexion-protecting antioxidant and vitamin C powers.