Anna Hunter meets Ole Henriksen to find out how he came to be Hollywood's go-to botanical beauty expert...
Once a professional dancer, Ole Henriksen’s obsession with skincare began while on tour in Jakarta after receiving near-miraculous treatment for cystic acne from an aesthetician friend. He trained in beauty in London and, ever the showman, headed to the bright lights of Beverly Hills.
He set up his own business, furnishing his first skincare centre in Indonesian style and making his products by hand, inspired by his experience in South East Asia. He excelled in healing problematic skin, and his unique approach and botanical ethos soon caught the attention of supermodels, top editors and the odd action hero (Ole has treated the biggest hunks in Hollywood).
His high-performance skincare range is a top-seller worldwide, and his LA spa attracts the likes of Charlize Theron and Daniel Craig. Anna Hunter interviewed him to discover more about his skincare wizardry, famous clients and superhero credentials (his fitness regime could rival Bond’s).
AH: Your product range uses natural, botanical ingredients. Why did you initially decide to go down this route instead of a more synthetic one?
OH: When I was in Indonesia I encountered plant extracts being blended at home. The recipes came first, and the products second. The products were an evolution. When I started out making products in my own kitchen, I was inspired to bridge the gap between nature and science through cosmetic chemistry. Botanical extracts are more often than not compatible with our natural make-up, and nature’s colours and aromas are so appealing.
AH: Was it hard to grow the company out of your kitchen? How did you stay faithful to your botanical principles?
OH: The factory that I worked with initially specialised in botanicals, which helped a lot! They were beginning to get a strong following. I had to be very focused nevertheless. When I think of iconic figures in the industry such as Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, I want to emulate their passion and drive. They were entrepreneurial, bright women who learned early never to be afraid of breaking barriers. I try to conduct my business that way too. It was tough being a man in a woman’s world, but I did it.
AH: Can you talk me through the process of how you develop a product?
OH: I start by focusing on a skin concern that hasn’t been addressed, but to be honest, sometimes some of my ideas and products come to me in a moment. I happen to have quite a few of these moments; I call them ‘brain farts’. That’s how my Pure Truth Youth Activating Oil , £47, came about.
After the initial conception I begin my research and contact suppliers in France and Switzerland. I’m a chemist at heart, and love troubleshooting and striving for perfect formulas. Every product must be soothing and calming yet also zero in on a specific skin issue. It’s about Yin and Yang. When devising my Pure Truth Youth Activating Oil I wanted to include rosehip oil from South America, for its healing properties. Its powers were proven when I sliced my head open on a Land Rover door - I had my forehead taped instead of stitched and applied my Pure Truth Oil rigorously. It healed really quickly, and the skin was so plump! The doctor was amazed by it.
It also contains a high concentration of vitamin C and omega fatty acids, which are great for rejuvenating the skin. When a blend works this way on a wound, you know that it will probably also help to bring down rashes and diminish wrinkles and scar tissue. It’s about achieving harmony within the ingredients; for instance in some products I use soy and rice bran to counteract darkness, or peptides to stimulate collagen and elastin. Fruit acids are great for revitalising the skin, but you have to counteract the aggression of the acid somehow. It’s a labour of love.
AH: Do you always test your products this way?!
OH: Thankfully not! My products go through extensive lab testing, and are trialled by a panel of men and women. The panel get together to talk about the good, the bad, the ugly and the in between! The products must comply with EU regulations too. It’s an amazing journey; things often come together at the eleventh hour! We have a huge calendar of test stages. I’m working on 2015 and beyond now.
AH: How did you first get your products out there?
OH: Originally I started a mail order business. I went on Oprah and took up every opportunity that came my way. I really wanted to connect with my client base and share tips and advice, so I wrote a book (Ole Henriksen’s Seven Day Skin Care Program). I also sent out newsletters and that really helped me to foster a relationship with customers. In terms of retail I started small, stocking my products in speciality stores in Scandinavia and LA. Then came Sephora and Harvey Nicks… I haven’t looked back since!
AH: What is your favourite product from your range?
OH: Probably the Truth Serum Collagen Booster , £47. When combined with my Pure Truth Youth Activating Oil, the results are really incredible. This duo can mask sleepless nights and dullness in a flash and they’ve both been bestsellers for over three years. I think other people must agree with me!
AH: Your packaging really catches the eye. Most natural ranges opt for muted tones, why did you choose such colourful packaging?
OH: I love colour. Vibrant shades make you feel good, they’re expressive and I think that the bright packaging designs give my products personality. I suppose they’re a reflection of me; my wardrobe is full of bright Etro shirts. Actually, 28 days out of 30 I’m wearing an Etro shirt. Colour gives me energy, and I treasure that energy.
AH: Incidentally, how is it that you have so much energy? I’ve heard rumours that you’re quite the gymnast…
OH: You heard right! I once did a photo shoot on gymnastic rings that lasted over two hours. I also love yoga and rollerblading. I’m very demanding of my body, but I love the endorphin high and the fact that I’m still so limber and flexible. My dad was very similar - I remember him climbing trees and swinging on ropes. He was very playful, as am I. I fly high after exercise, and it allows me to do so much more in daily life. I make sure I do 300 pushups a day, in three sets of 100 (Ole begins to demonstrate…). I also do the plank to meditate.
AH: Do you think that exercise and the energy that it gives you helps you to look young as well as feel it?
OH: Definitely. Looking young is about energy as much as it is about the quality of your skin. Ageing gracefully incorporates posture, body language and most importantly, happiness. A lot of people don’t realise this; surgery is so prevalent now. Corrections are fine, but trying to change the face completely is not. Procedures and treatments shouldn’t reduce movement or expression, it’s so important to be able to smile properly!
There’s a difference between glowing skin and mummifying the face by going to the extreme. Start off slowly and don’t be constantly conscious of wrinkles. Before Botox, try less invasive solutions such as my Ultimate Lift Eye Gel , £36. It took me years to develop, but thanks to the copper peptides it has a great collagen effect. You can feel it lifting and tightening the skin - it works! Surgery and injections are not always the answer. Just establish a consistent routine and don’t overdo it with scrubs and peels and procedures. Don’t take it too far!
AH: How about diet? Are you strict when it comes to what you eat?
OH: I wouldn’t say strict, but as they say, your health is your wealth. I’ve studied nutrition and found that a healthy diet is the foundation of good skin. Amino acids and good fats are so important for the complexion. I make sure I eat lots of leafy green vegetables, beans, seeds, fruit and fish. Fizzy drinks are a no no and too much salt makes the skin puffy. A poor diet inhibits healing and creates toxicity. It slows you down, and I couldn’t live the way I do on a diet of junk food. I do treat myself though - I love vodka on the rocks with lemon or a bite of dessert.
AH: Your male clientele includes some hardy Hollywood actors (Sylvester Stallone and Hugh Jackman to name a few). How have you lured these red-blooded males to your spa?
OH: My clients are real men who take care of themselves. They want to look and feel good as much as women do. I really admire men who are suave and have their own style and aren’t embarrassed to take care of themselves. These men are modern yet timeless. Now I’m 62, I want to emulate Giorgio Armani. He’s an icon of mine.
AH: You’ve treated most of Tinseltown. Who would you love to invite for a treatment that you haven’t yet had through the spa doors?
OH: I’d love to treat Gisele Bündchen, she’s a great natural beauty who never camouflages herself. I think we’d get on well because she’s really into fitness and supports a lot of charities, something that I feel strongly about. I’d love to book in Jennifer Lopez too - she’s wowed me whenever I’ve met her. She’s really kind. As for the men, it would be Usher. He’s such a fantastic dancer and I’ve always loved his music.
AH: Finally, where do you go to get away from it all?
OH: Capri - it’s great for hiking and jumping off rocks. It has a really rustic feel and I love people watching in piazzas with a pre-dinner aperitif. The locals are lovely too - and gorgeous! It’s chic, fun and close to nature. Otherwise I go back to Denmark, where I’m from. I rent a house with friends and we lark around and play games. The weather is unpredictable, but that’s half the fun. It’s really invigorating.