This summer I had the very good fortune to spend some time in Iceland, which was a bit of a dream come true. Iceland has been on my dream destination list ever since a friend of mine from Brighton and her boyfriend spent a long weekend there, WAY BACK in the day. In fact they were the first people I knew to go, when Bjork was the coolest woman in our womanly music realm, making exotic contemporary music and imagery and lots of things Icelandic were making their way towards the UK. Damon Albarn’s purchase of a bar in Reykjavik only intensified my interest (being a massive Blur fan, one day I’ll tell you my Blur story) and then as more and more people started to visit, and I worked with more and more Icelandic actors who were so proud of their homeland, I felt the need to get there as soon as I could. My Viking blood was pulling me towards the most northern city in the world.
So this summer I included a stopover in Reykjavik as part of my journey home. Home being England. And it was more than I could have imagined; the most fantastic country, with wonderful people who celebrate their history and culture and have an amazing style and aesthetic, all their own and entirely original.
Obviously wherever I go I take my interest in makeup and beauty with me, searching out not only places to shop but native ideologies about beauty and skincare, and it’s hard to be in Iceland without noticing how wonderful the skin of Icelandic woman is (and men come to that). Spa culture is an inherent part of being Icelandic it seems; skin care products and beauty treatments abound. In shop windows and ads, tourist guides and hotel bookings – spas are an integral part of Icelandic life and they take their relaxation seriously.
And then there is The Blue Lagoon.
Depending on how old you are, the mention of “The Blue Lagoon” may conjure up different images. For me, a coming-of-age film, which we had to sneak into at The Odeon Bromley because we had not actually come of age! It was all Christopher Atkinson and snogging, a bit shocking but delicious for preteen girls from a girls-only school. Let’s call it educational. By the way, it was a brilliant school, much better without boys!
The Blue Lagoon of adult life is a place in Iceland I had heard much ado about. I expected it to be somewhat of a tourist trap and it wasn’t really even on my list of places to go, but talking to locals convinced me it was not to be missed. In less than an hour from the city, on a drive through a landscape I can only describe as surreal and moonish, I was in one of the most incredible and relaxing thermal spas I’ve ever seen or am likely to see. Once you’ve parked, a winding black path through volcanic rock formations, with enticing glimpses of turqouise waters, leads you to the spa buildings, where you can see steam rising, and once through the works (entrance, payment, towel rental, spa treatment list, change rooms and showers, all very efficient) you walk out into the thermal pool area and a kind of heaven on earth.
It’s a bit like arriving in Hawai’i. You may heard about how beautiful it is but don’t quite believe it, and then you see for yourself that it’s everything and more (and weep on the beach seeing your first Hawaiian sunset: true story).
My time at the Blue Lagoon was limited, so I had chosen a later arrival time, 4pm, in the hope that the crowds would be a bit smaller, and they were. I got through the queue (that’s a line up to the non-Brits reading this) quickly and out into the pool area as quickly as possible, dipping my toes into those cloudy turquoise waters, and then my whole body. By the way, I had been warned by my local contact about the drying effects of the water, which naturally contains silica mud, on your hair, so coated mine in tons of strong conditioner before I got to the pools. There are also huge containers of conditioner in the shower area but I’d advise using it before you get in, not after.
The water is much warmer than you’d imagine. So as you swim a little, walk a little, float a little, the feeling of relaxation is magnificent.
The Science Bit
The Lagoon, which is man-made, came into being in 1976, when a pool formed at the site from the waste water of the geothermal power plant that had just been built there. In 1981, people started bathing in it after its supposed healing powers were popularized. In 1992, The Blue Lagoon company was established, and the bathing facility was opened to the public. Happy 14th Birthday! The waters are rich in minerals silica and sulfur and bathing in it is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C (99–102 °F) and the company also operates an R&D facility to look for cures for other skin ailments using the water. The rich mineral content is provided by the underground geological layers and pushed up to the surface by the hot water used by the plant. Because of its mineral concentration, the water cannot be recycled and must be disposed of in the nearby landscape which is a permeable lava field (the moonscape) and it is the silica content which gives the water it’s milky blue shade.
The spa has a free silica mud mask to use, dispensed from a hut, The Silica Bar, at one side of the main pool with a couple of people scooping out generous amounts of the mask to try. You can apply as much as you want to your face and body, before leaving it on for at least 5 minutes. When you wash it off, in the pool of course, your skin does feel feel soft. You’ve probably seen a thousand photos of people wearing it, here’s another one!
I paid a little extra to try Step Two: a marine algae mask that goes on after the silica one been’s washed away, and left for ten or so more minutes to really soften and energise your face. Absolutely lovely.
The other highlight for me was stepping under the man-made waterfall to the side of the lagoon near the also-essential saunas. The weight of that water falling from a great height works wonders on sore shoulders and stiff muscles and I kept returning.
Eventually I had to depart the warm waters and clean up and dry up. More conditioner needed! It took a couple of days and some hair oil to fully recover. Once I committed to leaving, which was a difficult decision, I had a good wander around the shop which sells a new line of skin and body products. Worth checking out are the masks of course, and the lip balm which is fabulous.
I’m doing a thirty day trial of some more skincare I picked up in the city, so check back at the end of the month for the results. With all that clean water and pure ingredient, the skincare entrepreneurs of Iceland are concocting many great products.
It would have been so easy to spend a whole day at the lagoon, now considered to be one of the Wonders of the World, and really, you do suspend disbelief as you take it all in. I’d call it an assault on the senses but it’s not, rather a delight on the senses and a reawakening of them after a long flight. Sadly I had to go back to the city. Which does offer its own joys and benefits. Icelanders love music and coffee and good food and Reykjavik itself has a fantastic mid-century aesthetic with an industrial flavour so I was in a place right up my alley! It’s clean and stylish and safe and full of great people making great things. If you don’t believe me check it out for yourself. No don’t!! It’s boring and rubbish and you’ll hate it. She said, trying to put people off going there so it doesn’t get too busy.
I’m thinking of looking into Icelandic immigration rules: with a population of only 350K they must be in need of some makeup artists dontchya think?! Seriously, Iceland is an amazing place, half magical, half earthly and wholly cool.
I wonder if Christopher Atkins and Brooke Shields ever been there? By the way, Bjork is still everywhere. Music is everywhere. And rightly so.