If you haven’t been to Iceland yet, chances are you know at least a dozen people who have taken the short flight to Reykjavik and spent a few days among the volcanoes, glaciers and geysers.
Last year more than 2 million tourists went to the Island of Fire and Ice with many of them taking a mineral bath in the iconic Blue Lagoon. I hate to be a lemming, but I wanted to see what drove so many to this sparsely populated island and learn first-hand about the dermatologic potential of Iceland’s most famous destination.
I was surprised to discover that the Blue Lagoon is not one of Mother Nature’s best works, but a beautiful man-made spa utilizing naturally occurring geothermal energy in the form of super heated water extracted from a mile below the earth’s surface. It is an ingenious re-use of the excess water from an adjacent power plant. The water is a mix of fresh and seawater and, according to the spa website, the unique algae plants and high concentration of silica directly benefit the skin. They claim the anti-bacterial effects of silica improve psoriasis and eczema and that the mineral water prevents premature aging.
I had to try it, so we booked a day at the Blue Lagoon Retreat, touted as a “transformative journey into volcanic earth.” It’s definitely a transformative setting, with canals and pools of beautiful blue-white water snaking through volcanic cliffs, overlooking mountains and a starkly spectacular landscape. The experience is soothing and relaxing. Once I was able to pull myself out of the warm water I performed the signature “ritual” using scrubs of lava sand and salt, a cleansing silica mask and moisturizing algae oil. It was a sublime end to a memorable day.
Effects of Blue Lagoon Water
According to Icelandic dermatologist Jenna Huld Eysteinsdottir, research on the effects of the Blue Lagoon’s algae and silica on skin cells showed an increase in the genes that prevent skin aging. These were “in vitro” laboratory studies, however, and I am not aware of any that looked at actual patients. Additionally, there is a great deal of evidence that silica, the star ingredient in Blue Lagoon’s skin care line, is vital for healthy joints, skin, nails, teeth and bones. While it is less clear that applying large amounts of silica on the skin will result in reversal of aging, this pure white mineral is very effective in the absorption of oil and can have a positive role in masks for those with acne, eczema and psoriasis. It’s found in many cosmetic products because it improves the appearance of lines and pores, but as far as I know, only temporarily.
Seeking more “in vivo” evidence of the Blue Lagoon’s claims, I looked around at the Icelanders’ skin. With a population of a little more than 300,000 in a sea of tourists, spotting a native Icelander is almost as challenging as identifying one of the elves that are central to the Icelandic sagas and identity. There is no question though that most natives have exceptionally healthy skin – unlined and evenly pigmented. Lack of sunlight may play a role, however, as they live at a latitude with only 5 hours of daylight in winter.
Is the Blue Lagoon Worth it?
So, what’s the upshot? After a few hours of soaking and scrubbing in the ethereal waters of the Blue Lagoon I felt absolutely fantastic and renewed. From a dermatologist’s perspective there is not yet enough science to support its skin anti-aging claims, but I would still recommend the experience, if only for the restorative powers to one’s psyche. There will be undoubtedly more data on the horizon, and I will be on the lookout. In the meantime, if you have the chance, check the Blue Lagoon out for yourself.