How Travel Inspires Some Of The World’s Most Cult Beauty Brands – Part 1

Ancient remedies and traditional beauty rituals are woven into our ancestry. Throughout the world, myriad cultures have their own specific traditions and health know-how which has been handed down over the generations. From the age-old use of various plant oils in northern Africa to the alchemy of blending herbs to make remedies and tinctures in Greece – the beauty world has long harnessed this knowledge, which can date back thousands of years, mixing it with modern-day science for a contemporary audience.

Capturing the zeitgeist of authenticity and curiosity for the world around us, are a growing range of cult beauty labels which are sought after due to their harnessing of heritage beauty intelligence. Their gamut of products bring a sense of ‘meaning’ to our bathroom cabinets, by not only tapping into the traditions of far-flung destinations but by being inspired by the very surroundings in which they were born.

Here, exclusively for Forbes, I talk to six different beauty brands, with roots in different corners of the world, about how they have been inspired by their home-town cultures, ancient art of beauty and the very destinations in which they derive from. (Part 1 is published today, with Part 2 publishing on Monday 22 August 2022).


Icelandic brand BIOEFFECT harnesses the clean and natural ingredients of its home country.

“Iceland, the home of BIOEFFECT, serves as inspiration in everything we do,” says Dr Björn Örvar, CSO and co-founder of BIOEFFECT.This goes for our production as well as all day-to-day operations. First and foremost, we strive to utilize the vast natural Icelandic resources we’re so fortunate to have access to.”

The cult skincare brand uses clean formulations with very few ingredients and filtered Icelandic water, all created and grown in a high-tech ecologically-engineered greenhouse in Iceland powered by sustainable geothermal energy. Founded by three Icelandic scientists, BIOTECH was formed when they discovered, after over a decade of research, a way to produce plant-based EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor) in barley plants.

“We aim to harness the power of Iceland’s raw and natural resources in a sustainable way,” continues Örvar. “This is the reason we say our skincare is truly powered by nature. We use pure Icelandic water when formulating our products, and to water our signature barley plants. Water is one of Iceland’s most abundant natural resources. It is geologically filtered through layers of volcanic lava. This natural process ensures a low concentration of hard minerals (like calcium and magnesium), leaving the water extremely pure and soft – the perfect ingredient for skincare.”

He continues: “Iceland is a volcanic island resting on a system of active volcanoes. Volcanic eruptions have made their mark on the island, leaving dramatic scenery and vast fields of lava. We have incorporated this into our production and product range; our barley plants are grown in inert volcanic pumice instead of soil, minimizing the possibility of contamination. We also use micro-crystalline lava as a key ingredient in our Volcanic Exfoliator as it is ideal to refine and buff the skin.”

Revealing more, Örvar says: “In addition, we use the unique Orthosilicic Acid – a natural geothermal silica extracted from high-temperature geothermal steams in Iceland – in our OSA Water Mist. Silica is a common trace element found in our bodies and has been associated with bone and skin health as it relates to healthy collagen and elastin production. Orthosilicic Acid is a rare, natural form of silica which the skin can absorb and utilize.”

Bathing in natural geothermal pools is an old Icelandic tradition, says Örvar, revealing that it is this practice which also is part of the inspiration behind the brand. “We have a lot of geothermally heated swimming pools in Iceland, but in recent years there are some great geothermal spas which have opened. Vök Baths, located in east Iceland, is one of these and it sits on the edge of Lake Urriðavatn. It utilizes the warm water flowing from the ground that is extremely pure. It’s a great spot to relax, and to use the saunas and cold and hot baths.”

Although pure and pristine, our nature is so unpredictable and constantly presenting extremes and challenges that we as a nation have been shaped by,” he says in relation to how important it is to understand Iceland as a destination. “This is the kind of environment where innovation thrives – we have to be able to find solutions, act fast, take some risks, be more self-made. This challenging environment is something I love about Iceland and has inspired me in my work. And our BIOEFFECT journey is the result of Icelandic innovation and breakthrough discoveries in the field of biotechnology, after all, our scientists were the first in the world to produce a plant-based EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor).”


Founded in 1870, Granado Pharmácias is one of Brazil’s oldest apothecary brands. Iconic in its country of origin, the brand has been passed down through the generations, and its perfumes, body care, and home fragrances are a treasured part of Brazilian heritage. This year it was introduced into the UK for the first time (and can be found at Liberty).

Founded in 1870 by Portuguese José Antonio Coxito Granado, the Granado Pharmácias story began when José started selling natural remedies created from plants, herbs and flowers native to his home of Teresópolis, Rio de Janeiro’s mountainous region.

Granado’s first establishment was in one of the busiest streets in the centre of Rio de Janeiro, and the store remains open to the public today. In addition to their medicinal remedies, Granado Pharmácias imported products from Europe but became known for adapting their formulas to meet the standards and needs of Brazilians. The quality and effectiveness of their offering soon made Granado one of the official pharmaceutical suppliers to the Royal Court.

Sissi Freeman is the grand-daughter of the original founder, and also the brand’s director of Sales & Marketing. She comments: “Because Granado was founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1870, the city serves as constant inspiration. ‘Carioca’ and ‘Bossa’ are two great examples of fragrances that interpret the city´s nature and fresh lifestyle. Granado is the most traditional cosmetics and pharmaceutical company in Brazil and is present in the homes and memories of all Brazilians. The original first shop is still open today in Rio’s Centro neighbourhood.”

“We use regional Brazilian ingredients for all of our products,” she continues. “In the ‘Carioca’ fragrance, for instance, there are green woody notes of bergamot, lime and freesia, which replicates the green vegetation present along the Brazilian coastline. While ‘Bossa’ has fresh creamy coconut milk, frangipani, lemon and mandarin, to reflect a summer’s day spent on Rio’s beaches. It balances the heat of the sun with the freshness of the sea. Our products are rich in locally-sourced ingredients, such as murumuru butter, sugar and natural oils.”

Brazilians are very creative, communicative and proud of their heritage. We frequently work with local artists and designers who reinterpret images from our archives for our packaging and advertisements, giving them a more contemporary and tropical feel.

“Rio is a very special and unique place where the mountains meet the ocean. There are so many special places to discover! Leblon Beach, Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer have the most famous views. But my favourite things to do would include cycling through the Vista Chinesa, hiking to watch the beautiful sunrise in the Morro Dois Irmaos and a morning stroll through the Botanical Gardens.

“To explore local ingredients, I love visiting local juice stores and ordering different fruit combinations and Açaí bowls. My favourite is BB Lanches in Leblon, where I always order the delicious mixture of passion fruit and ‘Fruta do Conde’ Sugar Apple (also known as sweetsop). It sums up Rio for me.”


Founded in Sicily, Italy, Irene Forte Skincare was launched by beauty entrepreneur, Irene Forte, in 2018. Its ‘New Natural’ ethos – meaning plant-based formulations that are guided by science – has been created in collaboration with renowned Doctor Francesca Ferri, of Effegilab, and her team of cosmetic scientists in Trento, Italy. Together they have used some 35 years of research to develop a line that enforces how scientific insight can improve the performance of natural formulations. This summer, the brand has launched the new Forte Illuminate Lavender range, which includes a Lavender Face Cream, Lavender Tetra-Acid Mask and the Lavender Foam Cleanser.

Founder, Irene Forte says:As a ‘daughter of Italy’, it was incredibly important for me to create a brand that was inspired by my home country. Furthermore, my time spent working in Sicily deeply connected me to the people, the culture, the food and the natural spirit of the island.”

She continues: “We source and produce 100% in Italy. The ‘style’ of the brand is quintessentially Italian. This is particularly reflected through all of our packaging: The earthy colours of our outer box papers (which are made in 100% recycled fibres) are very much inspired by the colours of Sicily: sea and sky (our navy boxes); sunsets and sunrises (our orange-red boxes); the rich soil (our brown boxes) and plants and nature (our green boxes). Our tactile grey ‘stone finish’ bottles and jars are inspired by Mount Etna’s volcanic stone. Meanwhile, our inner box liners (also made of 100% recycled paper) have been painted by a retired artist based in the north of Italy; he has done a watercolour painting of our organic farm in Sicily. For the few products that have spatulas, these have been created by a carpenter based in Puglia, using Italian, sustainable olive wood.

“We have our Sicilian seal on all product packaging, highlighting that we grow our own ingredients in Sicily – this has been inspired by the Sicilian Trinacria (the three-legged symbol of Sicily). We have also been inspired by the Mediterranean diet. We work with Mediterranean ingredients (many of which come from our own organic farm in Sicily), and we like to talk about the ‘Mediterranean Diet for Skin’.”

Giving more insight, Irene says: “In the same way that the Mediterranean diet promotes health from the inside out, we believe that the nutrient-dense ingredients are deeply beneficial when applied topically, too, working from the outside in. Some of our favourite ingredients include: Omega-Rich Oils, such as Olive Oil, Sweet Almond Oil, and Pistachio Oil, which are a type of Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) which our bodies require for good health, but which we are unable to produce biologically.

“We also use: Prickly Pear, which is harvested from the leaves of the Sicilian Cactus, and has Hyaluronic Acid like properties due to its natural abundance of specific polysaccharides found within its leaves. White Wine, which comes from a vineyard located near our farm in Sicily called Di Giovanna; it’s a vegan and organic white wine, rich in proanthocyanidins that hydrate the skin and act as an antioxidant, protecting the skin against free radical damage and promoting cellular renewal.

“Upcycled Olive Seed Oil, which comes from a farmer in the North of Italy, and has all the essential amino acids and a particular polyphenol, Nuzhenide; these compounds have antioxidant properties, protecting the skin with a regenerating, anti-inflammatory and moisturising effect.

“The scents of our products are also hugely inspired by Italy. Unlike a lot of natural brands, we didn’t use essential oils to fragrance our products because they can contain irritating allergens. As a result, we decided to formulate our fragrances in a lab to ensure that they were allergen-screened, and to create subtle fragrances that transport our customers to the Mediterranean.

“You can have a more immersive dive into the brand at my two Sicilian Irene Forte Spas (at Verdura Resort, a Rocco Forte Hotel and Villa Igiea, a Rocco Forte Hotel). There, we fuse the regenerative powers of nature and science and combine our skincare with innovative, high technology in a range of indulgent therapies.

“Giving a nod to Sicily, all our treatments include the inhalation of an orange blossom scent and we also ring Burgio Bells to start and end all of our treatments. These handmade bronze bells are made at the Virgadamo Bell Foundry in Burgio, a family-run foundry that has been around since the 16th Century, and which is a 20-minute drive from Verdura Resort. The Virgadamo’s handmade production process remains faithful to old traditions, which ties into our ethos. We also use hand-painted Sicilian ceramics in our treatments for inhalation bowls and foot bowls.”

Talking further about the inspiration behind the brand, Irene says: “My family originates from Italy and it has been a home-from-home since early childhood. I first stepped foot in Sicily itself in 2003, when I explored the area that later became Verdura Resort, home of the organic farm from which our principle ingredients are sourced. When the resort opened in 2009, I devoted a year to working there, during which I fell in love with the people, the culture, the food and the natural spirit of the island. Following my 2009 experience, I kept going back to Sicily every summer, and I realised I wanted to do something with Sicily. This how my skincare was born.”

Part 2 of this article continues on Monday 22 August 2022, and I talk to three beauty brands born in Saigon, China, San Francisco, USA and Japan.–part-1/