Ignae featured in vogue

Ignae featured in vogue

A verdant haven flourishing with botanicals and natural hot springs for outdoors adventurers, nature enthusiasts, and wellness-seekers alike—and one that’s still relatively under-the-radar—is a rare find these days. That’s the beauty and the allure of the Azores, an archipelago of nine volcanic islands situated off the western coast of Portugal.

To fully grasp the untouched, majestic beauty of these islands requires a visit, especially as the Azores aren’t a destination you often see splashed all over Instagram. Until recently, travel from the U.S. hasn’t always been so streamlined, with layovers typically required in Lisbon or other nearby European hubs. But from now through late September, United Airlines is offering direct flights from Newark to Ponte Delgada on the Azores’ largest island of San Miguel, bringing travel time down to less than six hours.

Between the 26 active volcanoes and the abundance of thermal springs lavishing the fern-covered Azorean landscape, these nine islands compose a unique biosystem where the fertile, mineral-rich soil and wealth of water sources give way to a spectacular array of backdrops: untouched rainforests, black volcanic beaches, peatlands, tea plantations, and vineyards. A drive along the coast of San Miguel, for example, offers vistas shifting from mountainous foothills, to beaches, to terraced vineyards in a matter of minutes. And since the nearest source of industrial pollution is located more than 850 miles away on Portugal’s mainland, the air is crisp, clear, and fragrant.

Given the sheer volume of thermal springs—the Azores boast Europe’s highest concentration—it’s practically impossible to visit the islands without getting in hot water. And for every one hot spring, the benefits are tenfold: better sleep, increased blood circulation and boosted metabolism, for example. A 2014 study suggested that hot mineral water exposure can facilitate pain relief by blocking pain receptors in the body, while a 2012 study in Japan showed that hot springs reduced high blood pressure in patients with chronic heart failure. And according to a medical study in 2015, thermal waters that are particularly iron-rich have even been known to alleviate symptoms of anemia through transdermal absorption.

Jessica Richards, who founded and owns Shen, Brooklyn’s preeminent mecca for clean beauty and skincare, recently visited the island of San Miguel, where she indulged in a midnight thermal sound bath under the stars.

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The thermal pool where Jessica Richards had her soundbath. The water’s color comes from an abundance of iron.

Photo: Courtesy of Laura Neilson

Between her guided movement through the steaming water, and the sounds and vibrations of a nearby singing bowl, she emerged from the ritual in a relaxed, trance-like state. ”I had the best night’s sleep,” she recalls. That she only had to climb a set of stairs from the steaming waters to the door of her secluded guest villa at the Terra Nostra Garden hotel made the experience all the more euphoric.

Richards’s own introduction to these enchanting islands came via Ignae, an Azorean-based all-natural luxury skin-care brand that’s only recently become more widely available beyond Europe.

While working abroad in beauty licensing, Ignae’s founder Miguel Pombo, an Azorean native, had a revelation of sorts: many of the beauty world’s most rare and highly-prized ingredients—valued most especially for their efficacy and potent, regenerative properties—were hiding in plain sight, and often in abundance, on the islands where he grew up. Extracts from the Azores’ 200-plus varieties of camellia flowers, for example, deliver powerful doses of skin-benefitting antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, while also hydrating skin and repairing damage inflicted by UV rays.

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One of the island’s 200-plus varieties of camellia flowers.  

Photo: Courtesy of Laura Neilson

Pombo returned to the Azores, where he spent the next seven years deeply embedded in research and development for Ignae, which launched in 2017. The brand’s streamlined selection of 12 sustainable and sustainably-packaged products utilize biotechnology to combine the islands’ most regenerative natural ingredients (the aforementioned camellia flower extracts, japanese cedars, and green tree, to name a few), with plant and algae-based liposomes that penetrate the skin’s surface more readily and deeply.

Skin-care expert and facialist Joanna Czech, who highlighted several of Ignae’s signature products on her namesake “Czech List,” is a longtime fan of the brand. “The science and effectiveness of the products is always what I lead with in terms of making decisions about what I carry,” she said, adding that she especially endorses the brand’s enzyme cleanser and regenerative body oil. “The oil is packed with antioxidants including vitamin E, camellia japonica seed oil, and anti-inflammatory actives squalane and argan oil. It feels terrific.”

As Ignae becomes more globally known, so too have the Azores—a complicated paradox which has prompted the island’s leadership to implement measures to prevent over-tourism and depletion of precious resources. The islands hold the distinction of being the world’s first certified archipelago by EarthCheck, the leading scientific benchmarking certification for travel and tourism, which maintains a strict set of guidelines for an area to be globally recognized as a sustainable destination. For its part, Ignae has committed to standards that enable the brand to produce its formula and packaging without affecting the local biodiversity or the natural ecosystem. The brand’s camellia extract, for example, derives from petals and leaves of camellia flowers located within the Terra Nostra Garden on San Miguel, which have been clipped for general maintenance. To conservationists, sightseers, and Ignae consumers alike, it’s quite a beautiful concept.

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