Curiosity Gap Spotlight: Ra Oils & interview with the founder Frida Jonsdottir

Judging by the recent volume of write-ups in the press about acne, a skin condition that used to be associated with teenagers, seems to be affecting more and more adult women and men. British Vogue (Jessica Diner’s ‘Clear Future’), Grazia UK (Emma Strenner’s ‘Hit The Spot’ and Red Magazine (Eve Cameron’s ‘Seeing Spots’) articles flashed before my eyes, as I did my own research and tested two products sent to me by the Icelandic brand Ra Oils, their products aimed at people afflicted with acne and launched in the UK a few months ago on Cult Beauty.

Acne comes in many shapes and forms, but in essence it is an inflammation of the sebaceous glands. Located under the skin, sebaceous glands secret sebum, an oil that lubricates hair and ‘waterproofs’ the skin. When those glands become overactive, typically stimulated by high levels of hormones in the body, the skin becomes oilier than usual, as well as inflamed. Acne used to be associated with the changes in the bodies as they go through puberty during teen years, as the body uses sebaceous glands to expel the excess of the hormones that flood it. Sadly now it can also persist or flare up in adulthood and some women and men develop this skin condition in their later years, having not suffered from it during their teens.

What’s even more surprising is that while the beauty marketplace is saturated with acne products and treatments, the problem with the number of people who suffer from it seems to be worsening, not diminishing, causing many tears, frustrations and problems with self-confidence and self-esteem, no matter the age. As someone who has admittedly been lucky not to suffer from acne, I couldn’t help but want to address this subject, as a few people I know have suffered from different forms of acne and I have had requests to write about the subject for a while. While I can’t offer my own experience in this instance, I took it upon myself to ask Frida Jonsdottir, co-founder of Ra Oils (alongside her mum) about this debilitating skin condition, from which she suffered for many years. Thanks to the determination and input from her mum, not only did Frida manage to get her acne under control, but admirably she was inspired to share her own painful skin journey with others, offering hope, advice and effective products developed specifically for skin prone to acne (you can also use Ra Oils products on other skin types, more on this later in the post).

‘It’s important we start talking more openly about acne as a way too many women feel ashamed to have it (which included me for years!)’ Frida

So without much further ado, please say hello to the lovely Frida & I hope her answers to my questions will offer you some useful insights into acne, as well as practical tips and advice to help you, if you suffer from this skin condition.

Galina: What inspired you to start Ra Oils?

Frida: We started Rå Oils back in 2013. Not as a company, nor with the intention to create a company, but as one single oil blend that my mum created for me. I’ve had acne for the majority of my life and after two roaccutane treatments, countless antibiotic treatments, dozens of over-counter products – and even ‘sound wave treatment’, I kid you not! – I didn’t know what to do to get rid of it. Dermatologists only suggested further roaccutane treatments, but after two very painful six-month long treatments, which resulted in both physical pain and depression, apparently a not uncommon ‘side-effect’ of the drug, I wasn’t prepared to put myself through that again.

Then my mum, who is a beautician, started studying aromatherapy, as she thought it could help me. After completing her aromatherapy certificate and trialling multiple different blends, she finally found one that actually cleared up my skin in a matter of months. Some of my friends, who had acne started, asking what I had done to clear it up, and we gave them the oil to try as well – and it worked for them too.

We continued like that for a while, giving the oils away to friends and family who needed it, but as more people wanted to try it, we decided it was time to scale it up and make an actual company out of it, so we started selling the oils.

Galina: Why did you call you brand Ra Oils?

Frida: We decided on the word ‘Rå’, as it means ‘raw’ or ‘unprocessed’ and that’s what we want to communicate with our products and company – that raw natural ingredients are just as powerful, if not even more powerful sometimes, than lab-made ones.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not against lab-made products or ingredients per-say, but in our experience, there are cases where natural ingredients are more powerful – and in the case of acne, psoriasis and eczema too, we definitely believe so.

Galina: Why do you think skin conditions like acne are on the rise and what are your tips/advice on helping manage it?

Frida: I think we are continuously putting more and more pressure and strain on ourselves. We’re working longer days, living in big cities with a lot of pollution, we might not always be eating so well, and generally we’re letting more stress into our lives. I think these factors contribute to the rise of non-hormonal acne. A type of acne that can actually be more easily treatable than hormonal one, but often we tend to make it worse by treating our skin with lots of harsh products, instead of treating the root-cause of it and providing our skin with the nourishment it needs to balance and heal itself.

When it comes to hormonal acne it’s much more difficult, and it becomes more about treating the acne and maintaining clear skin on a continuous basis, without drying out the skin, like many acne products do, in order to prevent scarring and pigmentation spots.

I personally have suffered from both. I had hormonal acne for most of my life, which I had to clear up and maintain – but I’ve also definitely had stress-induced acne that comes from working long hours in a big city, like London. The stress induced acne flare-ups, when I’ve had particularly stressful periods, and then I know it’s time to slow down and stop worrying so much. Then I start increasing the amount of sleep, watching my diet and most importantly, trying to not focus on the acne and pick at it. It’s so hard, but being patient and showing my skin love, instead of hating it for having breakouts, makes all the difference and helps it clear up much faster – then we’re looking at weeks rather than months to get it clear again.

Galina: There is a fair amount of criticism of essential oils and oils in general when it comes to skincare, why do you prefer to use oils on your skin?

Frida: I think there is a lot of misconception about oils and their effect on skin. It’s important to know your oils and to know your skin. There are definitely oils that are bad for you skin, especially if you suffer from acne, as they’ll clog it up. For example, I’d never recommend someone with acne or breakouts use coconut oil on their skin, although lots of people like putting it. Coconut oil can clog up the skin and cause more breakouts. That’s why a lot of natural makeup isn’t suitable for people who suffer from acne, as it can make it worse.

However, there are oils that consist of much smaller molecules, which allows them to penetrate the skin and not clog it. These are the kind of oils that we use in our products.

The reason we prefer oils to cream is that you get a lot more ‘bang’ for your buck in each pump so to speak. With oils you need very little on your skin and all you are putting on it are active ingredients that serve a purpose, whether it’s to hydrate, clear up or gently exfoliate your skin. There is nothing in there that doesn’t have a very specific purpose.

Galina: Is there a difference between teen acne and acne developed in later years?

Frida: Both teen acne and adult acne can be hormonal or lifestyle induced and in both cases it’s incredibly important to really nourish your skin and not starve it of hydration to help prevent scarring and pigmentation. With adult acne, people are also often concerned with aging skin and reduced elasticity, which many acne products are not designed to address, as they are aimed and teens and can be very drying. Our Acne Therapy Oil and Clear Skin Cleanser are designed to nourish and feed the skin, while clearing it up, using oils such pure rosehip, which is great for more mature skin.

Galina: What is your day-to-day skincare routine like and what changes do you make to it when the weather becomes colder?

Frida: I wish I could say that I take plenty of time each day to take care of my skin, masking every Sunday and drinking cleansing antioxidant juices and teas in the morning, but I think like most people, I have very little time in my day to spend in the bathroom and honestly I prefer coffee to juices and teas (and lots of it!).

I do however make sure to take five minutes every morning to do a cleanse with our Clear Skin Cleanser, using a warm steamy face cloth, and following that with either our Acne Therapy Oil or with Eternal Radiance Oil (depending on the state of my skin), while my skin is still warm from the cleanse.

I do CrossFit 9 x a week as well, which can be rough on the skin, so I always do a steamy cleanse with our Clear Skin Cleanser before each session, taking off all makeup, and following with a spritz of our Organic Rose Mist. I don’t put anything else on my skin before a workout. Immediately after the workout, I rinse my face with water and pour some rose mist into a cotton pad and clean my face in circular motion. Then I use nothing else until I’m home and have showered, when I put on a face oil again – and currently I’m also testing an overnight serum that we are developing, that I put under the face oil.

On Sundays I have the intention to mask, but often never get to it – so I think I end up masking once a month on average maybe.

Now that the weather I colder, I also use our Skin Rescue Oil on dry areas of my face, like my forehead, and on my legs, as they tend to get very dry.

Galina: What is your personal favourite Ra Oils product and why?

Frida: my favourite product will always be our Acne Therapy Oil. Both because it cleared up my acne, which at one point I thought was never going to happen, and because it started this whole journey we are on with Rå oils.

Galina: What makes Ra Oils different to other skincare brands?

Frida: We focus on very specific skincare concerns and not trying to create products that suit everyone. We want to show that natural products that feed your skin can be just as effective, if not more, in treating skincare concerns such as acne, than chemical products that often have harmful side-effects. Our products are designed to heal and mend the skin, and then maintain it.

The reason I think our acne products also differ from many others, is because they are crated by someone with experience of having severe acne. I’ve tried it all, and through the years we’ve learnt what acne skin needs, something that most acne products get wrong. Most products aim to clear up skin by drying up the acne, we aim to clear it up through feeding the skin exactly what it needs to get rid of it, without ever making it feel dry, tight or red. We really believe that our products are the best at what they do, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this.

Galina: Do you use any ingredients that are unique to Iceland?

Frida: Currently we don’t. There isn’t a specific reason why we don’t, we just haven’t found the need for it in the products we have, and we are very strict on only using ingredients with a true purpose. We didn’t want to create a gimmicky brand with products containing obscure herbs. We wanted to create the best products for what they are meant to treat.

If we do find an Icelandic herb that we feel really adds value, that no other herb can provide better, then we will use it. But not until then.

Galina: what are the things or factors that make skin prone to acne, psorias and rosacea flair up?

Frida: Besides hormones, which is a big factor and hard to control without using medication, I would say stress and environmental factors are the biggest reasons for flare ups. Stress I think is probably the biggest factor, and one that should be easiest for us to control, although…..

Galina: Do you have any tips on preventing skin flair ups?

Frida: A good consistent skincare regime! You don’t need a multi-step regime every day, but a good cleanse, toner and moisturiser are essential. Also always making sure that the products you are using are made up of good quality ingredients that feed your skin.

Then, make sure that you are eating well, sleeping enough (incredibly important and so many people underestimate the importance of sleep – I know I sometimes do), exercising and controlling your stress levels.

These steps may not cure your hormonal acne, but they will help you get clearer skin and minimise scarring, if used on a consistent basis – and they definitely won’t cure psoriasis, as that unfortunately cannot be cured, but it can definitely treat it and help keep it from flaring up.

Galina: What skin types would benefit from using Ra Oils?

Frida: We have three product lines: one for acne and breakout-prone skin (Acne Therapy and Clear Skin Cleanser); one for eczema, extremely dry, flaky and red skin and skin suffering from psoriasis (Skin Rescue Oil) and skin in need of balance that’s prone to the occasional breakouts or dry spots (Eternal Radiance Oil and Clear Skin Cleanser again as well). The last line is usually what we suggest people move on to, once their acne has cleared up.

Galina: A lot of us are suffering from stress and effects of busy lifestyles, how do de-stress or find balance between work and family/personal life? What helps you feel happy & calm?

Frida: I’m not sure, if I’m the best person to answer that to be honest, as I definitely go through periods of too much stress, and I find that balance between work and personal life really difficult to achieve (like most people, especially women, as we tend to put more pressure on ourselves).

While starting Rå Oils, I’ve still kept my job as a big 4 management consultant in the City, as I’m trying to prevent a situation where I might have to make short-sighted decisions due to cash flow issues. Keeping my day job, while we scale Rå oils and hire the people we really need in the business, has allowed us to focus on a long-term strategy via trail and error, without taking in external capital.This does mean long hours in the day, but I’ve found a few things though that I do that help me handle a busy life:

  • I’m finally prioritising this over work and truly realising that life is a marathon and I need to stay focused and sharp for a long time – not just for a few months or a couple of years. So no matter what, I always make sure to get a minimum 7.5hrs of sleep, but do my absolute best to get at least 8hrs.
  • Be kind to yourself. I’m getting a lot better at this as well. I’m allowing myself to be okay with not being perfect and to let go of this feeling of not being enough – something I know a lot of people struggle with. That rule of ‘if it’s not going to matter in 5 years, then don’t spend more than 5 minutes worrying about it’ is something I really like and remind myself of daily. It makes life a lot more enjoyable and relaxing.
  • I exercise 6 days a week, including every evening of the working week. This means that no matter what has gone on during my day, I always end it well with a clear head.
  • I take time every evening to cook together with my fiancé, even though we usually don’t get home from the gym together until about 9/9.30 in the evening. And we always take time to cook a healthy meal. It doesn’t have to take more than 15-20 mins to cook, but it’s so worth it.
  • Digital detox.I make sure to take a complete work detox for a full day (usually Saturday) and to go regularly on holiday where I’ll take 2-4 days of complete digital detox, except to read news and call my mum to chat.
  • And lastly – I recently unfollowed a bunch of Instagram accounts that I realised were giving me nothing but stress and anxiety to look at, and I have to say I feel so much better now. We all know that Instagram isn’t reality and that things aren’t as perfect as they seem, but it’s still doesn’t feel good to look at that. Now I only follow accounts that I feel empower me – and of course friends and family.

For more information about Ra Oils and their products, please click here I will be reviewing Ra Oils Clear Skin Cleanser & Eternal Radiance Oil in a separate post that will go up soon, so keep an eye of my website & social media.

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