It's hard to look at the vista of Iceland on the left and not take a deep mental breath. The rich blue of the sky reflecting in pure waters inviting enough to drink and the black ash of the volcanic soil contrasting with the stark white of glacial ice somehow refresh, calm and reinvigorate all at the same time.
That's exactly the feeling that beauty executive Sarah Kugelman, 43, wanted to capture in skyn Iceland, her two-year-old skin-care line aimed at relieving tired and stressed-out complexions. After a trip in 2004 to the remote island nation that abuts the Arctic, Kugelman was so inspired by the purity and richness of the country's glacial waters, medicinal botanicals and nutrient-packed plants that she decided to find a way to bottle that bounty and bring back a little bit of Iceland for everyone. "I felt so healthy and relaxed there because everything is so beautiful and so pure," she says. "I wanted to duplicate that feeling."
And after two years of intensive research with chemists and aestheticians, she did. Skyn Iceland, named after the Icelandic word for "senses," targets the five major legacies that stress can leave on the skinŚdryness, breakouts, redness, premature aging and difficulty in healing. Currently available at Sephora, Selfridges, Fred Segal and Saks.com, the 14-product brand is growing steadily among women and men who are drawn to the refreshing scent ("I wanted it to smell like what you think water would smell like," says Kugelman) and the calming feel of the products.
Kugelman's interest in creating the brand, however, wasn't just financial. The founder of Gloss.com (now defunct) and a veteran of Estèe Lauder and L'Orèal, she had a personal reason for being so receptive to Iceland's serenity and healing power. The long hours, late nights and constant travel involved in launching one of the first beauty websites had pushed her body to its limit. When she got the chicken pox at age 32, a dangerous infection for adults, her immune system rebelled, and she never quite bounced back. The result: a constant stream of ailments, from colds and bouts of flu to bronchial infections and, as the final insult to a beauty executive, cystic acne, scars and problem skin. "My doctor told me if I didn't manage my stress, I would not live to see 40," she says.
It took Kugelman nearly a year to recover, after which, she says, "I became obsessed with reducing stress." The trip to Iceland opened her eyes to an entirely new way to pamper tired skin. "Because of the Arctic climate, the botanical herbs there tend to be superpotent," she says. "Nobody in the cosmetics business had tapped into that." All of skyn Iceland's products contain biospheric complex, a unique blend of Iceland's mineral-laden glacial waters (which Kugelman imports), botanical herbs and antioxidant-rich plants. Building on that base, the skyn Iceland team found ingredients to address specific skin needs. Angelica archangelica, for instance, an herb related to ginseng in the brand's night cream and healing serum, aids the immune system in warding off infections.
Cloudberry-seed oil, which contains moisturizing fatty acids, is included in the daily face lotion, while the antistress oral spray, spritzed under the tongue, boasts theanine from green tea, which helps the body relax. Her collaboration with scientists also allows Kugelman to take advantage of the latest findings from the biological- and materials-science fields. Skyn Iceland's sunscreen, for one, contains a marine enzyme that the company's scientists claim will reverse some of the DNA damage wreaked by the sun.
The antistress message seems to be catching on. After starting out in 10 Sephora stores in 2005, the line is now available in 100. "There wasn't and still isn't a skin-care line out there that focuses on relieving the signs of stress the way skyn Iceland does," says Allison Slater, vice president of retail marketing at Sephora. "The reaction from our clients has been very positive." The industry is even taking notice. This spring the Cosmetic Executive Women recognized skyn Iceland with the Indie Beauty Award for its innovative marriage of technology and natural ingredients.
Kugelman admits that starting a new business isn't the best way to avoid stress, but this time, at least, she is doing it right. She practices yoga regularly and avoids late nights at the office. And now she can always rely on one of her products to bring a little bit of Iceland's serenity back into her life.
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