Since the time of Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot, American women have turned to the French for sage beauty advice on everything from styling an effortless fringe to choosing the best shade of red lipstick. While I love that beauty aesthetic (and you’d have to pry my French skin care products out of my cold, dead hands), it’s time to get to know the traditions, philosophies, and products that hail from other geographies as well. Consider Russian beauty, for instance. While it’s safe to assume you’ve probably never associated it with skin care, the country contains a lot of traditional wisdom and modern science in its combined 6.612 million square miles.
“R-beauty,” as it’s colloquially called, is still relatively unknown to American consumers despite Russia’s rich and storied history with skin care. Traditionally, Russian women have relied on all-natural ingredients and home remedies to care for their skin, but more recently, they’re turning to a diverse set of store-bought products. It’s all thanks to a rapidly expanding skin care market that’s slowly but surely making its way Stateside.
Curious to know what skin care secrets Russian women have used to keep their complexions looking bright, glowy, and hydrated (despite often frigid temperatures)? Everything you want to know about the soon-to-be-trending R-Beauty, below.
The History of Russian Beauty
Maria Karr, Russian beauty expert and founder of Rumore Beauty, says that while the concept of ‘glamour’ didn’t exist in Russia for most of the 20th century, it’s always been important for Russian women to keep their skin hydrated and healthy. “The few domestic brands that existed back then didn’t offer too many options and imports were expensive and hard to get,” she says. “Many women were turning to natural ingredients and homemade remedies.
Leading beauty expert Anna Dycheva-Smirnova echoes this sentiment, saying there are a lot of “heritage recipes” Russian women still use today. For sunburn, the traditional remedy is sour cream. For hair problems, it’s a fresh onion mask. For a face mask, there are mashed strawberries. “A strong bond with nature is in our DNA,” she tells TZR. “Historically, the majority of Russian women didn’t have access to a variety of manufactured beauty products — what was available to them during the Soviet times didn’t have an appeal of beautiful cosmetic products.” That’s why natural, homemade beauty and health options are so prevalent in Russia.
Popular Russian Beauty Ingredients
Other traditional home remedy ingredients include buckwheat, mud from Russian lakes, and Siberian herbs and plant extracts. “Nettle sage, burdock, helichrysum, calendula, echinacea, and sage are among popular herbs and flowering plants that have been used in homemade skin and hair remedies,” Karr says. “Cornflower is another popular botanical known for its depuffing and hydrating properties and, therefore, commonly used for the undereye area.” She adds that many of these traditional ingredients have made their way into modern Russian skin care products.
Oksana Sannikova, the co-founder of Onå New York Skincare, adds birch tree juice, egg yolk, hawthorn, parsley, lemon, and honey to the list of traditional ingredients. “Russians are big on herbal baths, and we have many mixes of herbs for different purposes,” she says. “For instance, a mix of chamomile, sage, rosemary, and peppermint is great for protecting, nourishing, and stimulating the skin. Pine, lavender, and eucalyptus relax and strengthen the body.”
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Modern Russian Beauty Practices
Today’s beauty landscape stands in stark contrast to the past. “The modern Russian beauty scene has much more to offer than even 15 to 20 years ago — there’s been a true beauty/skin care boom in the country over the past decade,” Karr tells TZR. “However, Russian women still follow the same philosophy, and many are using natural botanical ingredients and remedies as part of their routines. And many contemporary brands turn to nature when developing their formulas, tapping into the traditional beauty wisdom that they now combine with the latest technologies.”
This holistic approach to skin care is a defining characteristic of R-beauty for Sannikova. “‘Russian Beauty’ is a multi-faceted concept,” she says. “Of course, it’s about physical beauty and a perfect complexion, but it’s also about keeping a healthy body and a curious mind. In general, Russian women spend a lot of money and time on skin care procedures (facials, massages) and skin care products. They also invest a lot into their personal development by taking a variety of courses (spiritual, financial, fitness-related).”
R-Beauty Skin Care Tips For Cold Weather
If there’s one thing Americans tend to associate with Russia, it’s the cold and snow. And there’s a good reason for that. “Russians are no strangers to cold weather,” Karr says. “Growing up, temperatures in my hometown of Barnaul, in Siberia, plunged to -20 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit, and in some cities farther north, they drop even lower, to the -50’s and beyond.” That explains why so many Russian skin care products are formulated with intensely hydrating and moisturizing ingredients designed to protect the skin from the cold by supporting the skin’s natural barrier.
Face Mists Are Your Friends
Karr says popular products include the typical gentle cleansers and hydrating oil-based products, as well as a unique category of mists called hydrolates. “Hydrolates are made through the process of steam-distilling natural plants. The plants release vapor droplets which condense all the plant’s beauty benefits into tiny particles, or hydrolates. Usually coming in a form of a mist, hydrolates are phenomenal multitaskers that can be used on the face, body, and hair.”
Take Your Time With Your Skin Care Routine
According to Dycheva-Smirnova, “there are certain rules” when it comes to taking care of your skin in a Russian winter, as it’s frigid outside, yet warm and dry inside. She recommends applying moisturizing and protective skin care products a minimum of one hour before leaving the house, so they have time to sit on the skin and, well, moisturize and protect before being exposed to sub-zero temperatures.
Alternate Water Temperatures
Sannikova explains that, “When in cold weather, we rinse our faces alternately with warm and cold water. Contrast temperatures ‘train’ the skin’s blood vessels to constrict and dilate faster, thus preventing the cold from injuring your skin. We never shower with or rinse our face with hot water but use lukewarm water instead to avoid drying our complexion.”
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Visit A Banya Regularly
This longstanding Russian tradition (for men and women) is essentially a sauna or steam room. Dycheva-Smirnova says it’s an important element of skin care, as well as mental and physical health. “Banya temperatures often will exceed 93 degrees Celsius or 199 degrees Fahrenheit and felt or wool hats are typically worn to protect the head from this intense heat,” she tells TZR. “Bunches of dried branches and leaves from white birch, oak, or eucalyptus are commonly used for massage and to facilitate heat transfer from the hot air to the body. During Banya Russian women would exfoliate and use face and body masks and moisturizing creams.”
Karr calls it “by far the most common and beloved beauty ritual for Russian people,” explaining that “Banya is an excellent place to use a face and body scrubs [like] honey and salt and sugar.”
Brave An Ice Bath
After Banya, Karr says it’s common to jump into an ice cold pool. She likens it to cryotherapy, as it’s said to boost immunity and blood circulation. That’s the same reasoning for another popular Russian skin care ritual – skin icing. “The icing technique, which reportedly has been among favorite beauty treatments of Russian monarchs, is closely related to this tradition,” Karr says. “Using ice cubes on your face helps depuff and energize skin, improve the appearance of pores, and contribute to a more rested, refreshed, and youthful look.”
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