Swedish people are some of the most enigmatic humans in the world, especially when it comes to lifestyle and beauty. According to the 2016 World Happiness Report, Sweden is among the world's top 10 happiest countries. Sweden also falls in the top five most gender-equal nations, as reported by the 2016 Global Gender Gap Index. Not to mention the country has given birth to stunning specimens from Zara Larsson to Alexander Skarsgård. We think it's fair to say that there's a tiny part of all us that wants to be Swedish.
But happiness, equality, and freak attractiveness aren't the only things Swedes do well. Last year, we did a little digging and found out that Swedish women also possess a host of interesting skincare secrets (including what Swedish models Elizabeth and Victoria Lejonhjärta call "sauna parties.")
We wanted to dive a little deeper into the skincare routines of Swedish models in particular, so we got in touch with Karin Agstam of MSA Models. "My skincare philosophy is natural, easy, fun, and pleasurable," the Swedish beauty tells us via email. "I think of the time I spend in the bathroom as my own magical time to take care of myself and show myself some love—like a little meditation or ritual that I really enjoy." According to Agstam, skincare is not a chore, but a lifestyle. "The skin is our largest organ, and it's very important for our overall well-being," she says.
Interested to learn more about how this Swedish model keeps her skin so flawless? Just keep reading.
One of the most important ingredients in Agstam's skincare routine is 100% free: ice water. She uses it for everything—to cleanse, hydrate, jump-start her metabolism, and more.
"First thing in the morning, I wash my face with ice-cold water," she says. "I make a bowl out of my hands and drink 10 big gulps of water from the tap. I've done that as long as I can remember." Agstam grew up in north Sweden where her family had their own well, which offered fresh, crystal-clear water. "So that's a bit different from drinking the tap in Brooklyn where I live now," she says. "But at this point, it's such a habit, and it's my way of making sure I start the day with a rinse both inside and outside."
Agstam also works ice water into her morning showers. "I end each shower with a couple of seconds of ice-cold rinse," she tells us. As Agstam explains, "bathing with cold is an ancient technique called hydra-therapy, and it works on the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system as a reset button, almost like a therapy session or a lymphatic massage. It clears away nervousness or anxiety and sets me up for a great day."
Agstam has been doing this since childhood, partly because of something a family member in Sweden once told her: "If we can't take a couple of seconds of cold water on the body in the morning, dealing with the ups and downs of life will be extremely difficult," she recalls. "So I also do it as a mental prep of what's to come during the day."
"I don't think that skincare is limited to the products that I put on my face," Agstam says. "To me, skincare [applies] to what I eat, drink, and do with my body."
Part of Agstam's holistic regimen includes drinking a cup of "smokey mate with macadamia milk" each morning. "Mate has a ton of antioxidants, and macadamia is rich in protein and fat, so if I'm short on time, that's a filling and nutritious morning beverage (and so delish)," she says.
According to Agstam, some of the best skincare ingredients come from her own kitchen. "My great-aunt Ingrid was an amazing organic cook, and she would always use whatever she had on hand in the kitchen for her body and skincare," she tells us. "Flowers, rainwater, honey, lemon, bananas, eggs—I learned all her tricks, and now I continue that alchemy in my NYC kitchen."
Agstam says her skin "never feels as soft and hydrated as it does after a good rub with a banana or avocado peel or after a face mask made from honey and lemons." She usually concocts her face masks from the leftover coconut oil, avocado, greek yogurt, or honey she uses to make her son's breakfast in the morning. "When we are done with breakfast, I generally have at least two of those ingredients smeared on my face," she says.
For Agstam, skincare is "continuous," not just something you do in the morning and at night. "During the day, I carry a rosewater spray, a lip treatment, and a soft-scented hand cream, and also always apply extra SPF if I'm working outdoors," she says.
One thing you'll never find Agstam do is fall asleep in her makeup. She is often required to wear heavy makeup for photo shoots, but once she gets home, she "immediately" washes it off with a gentle cleanser, followed by serum and moisturizer.
Agstam is careful to make sure her cleansers never strip her skin. CeraVe is one of her go-to brands, and their simple hydrating cleanser is perfect for everyday use.
It doesn't get much more Swedish than a nightly sauna. "Before I go to bed, I love to take a steam or a sauna to prepare for a good night's rest and rejuvenation," Agstam explains. "I grew up with a sauna in my house, so I'm used to doing it every day—it's one of my must-do routines."
Agstam maintains that hot steam is her secret to optimum health and beauty. According to a report from JAMA Internal Medicine, everyday sauna use decreases blood pressure and lowers risk factors for heart disease. As Agstam says, Northerners have the sauna to thank for why they "rarely get sick and maintain beautiful, healthy skin."
As you may have noticed, hydrating ingredients are at the center of Agstam's routine. That continues into her before-bed regimen. After her sauna, Agstam uses a chemical exfoliant from Paula's Choice to even her skin tone, unclog pores, and diminish fine lines; then, she follows up with one or two serums and a rich, moisturizing night creme. (Her favorite of the moment is a gel moisturizer from MyChelle, which "has 2% hyaluronic acid and works like a miracle on tired skin.")
Agstam also tries to keep her products as clean and gentle as possible. "I use products from CeraVe, Cetaphil, MyChelle, Dr. Hauschka, Weleda, and other simple, natural brands," she says. "I buy most of my products in natural pharmacies—French pharmacies if I get the chance—or at my local Whole Foods. And I try to stay away from preservatives and added ingredients as much as possible. If there is only one or two ingredients mentioned on the jar, then I'm a happy girl."
Want more international beauty tips? Don't miss six fascinating skincare secrets from real Icelandic women.