As regular readers of this blog know, my husband, the Englishman, has rather strong opinions about skincare. One of his pet complaints is that most green beauty brands seem to neglect “the blokes”. They are too flowery/frilly/pretty and don’t have enough, I dunno, fire trucks and lasers for the butcher beauty junkies. Up until recently, he was only able to find solace in the minimalist and elegant embrace of his (and my) beloved Josh Rosebrook, but then we discovered Ursa Major: the brilliant small brand out of Vermont. Now, I could have asked the Englishman to write this post because he is well and properly smitten. Unfortunately, a man’s perspective is not what I need. See, Ursa Major actually has the male market on lock. With glowing press mentions in GQ, Men’s Journal, Gear Patrol (?) and the decidedly butch-leaning Outside Magazine, it’s actually one of the more successful green beauty brands out there (evidenced by the fact that when I posted a picture of it on Instagram and FB, I had all these male friends coming out of the woodwork to sing its praises). Yet, it’s a rare case of a brand slightly hobbled by its own marketing success: Ursa Major is an emphatically unisex brand, yet it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as known or beloved amongst the ladies. This, my sisters, is a mistake and one I am here to correct.
I had a chance to try nearly all of Ursa Major’s skincare products with the exception of the Stellar Shave Cream. It too is unisex and, apparently, fab for shaving legs. However, fortunately for me, though inconvenient for the purposes of this review, a few laser sessions several years ago made reduced my shaving requirement to a bi-monthly, 30-second affair. The shaving cream, an intriguing-seeming unisex cologne and a candle aside, the Ursa Major range is quite tightly edited: just a face wash, face balm and an exfoliating toner (the same toner is also infused into their clever, travel-friendly wipes).
I will review each product separately, but first some general thoughts. If you are fed up with me recommending wincingly expensive brands and products, rejoice! The most expensive skincare product in the range is the Fortifying Face Balm at $36 (the cologne is the most expensive overall at $40) for a fairly generous 2.5oz. If you have oily, acne prone, young or combination skin and are tired of my talking about ultra-active products for desiccated old crones like moi, you too shall find cause for rejoicing: these products are perfect for all of these skin types, while still being sufficiently active. If your skin leans towards the mature (y’all know the “old crone stuff is a joke, right? Just checkin’), you will likely find at least one product to love, even if the line in its entirety might read just a tiniest bit young. And now, on to the individual reviews.
While the name of the Fantastic Face Wash might seem somewhat immodest, it is, in fact, totally apt. This stuff is, indeed, pretty fantastic. Though a foaming wash, it is decidedly low foam and should not strip your skin dry, unless you are especially delicate or dehydrated. It’s billed as being best for oily/combination and normal skin types, but it works just fine for me. Granted, I do need to moisturize immediately after using it, but I do so with most cleansers, save the oils and the balms, and it does’t feel as though it makes my skin any drier in the long run.
The wash is supposed to help exfoliate dead skin, brighten and clarify. I am unconvinced that a non-abrasive face wash can act as a proper exfoliant (it doesn’t stay on the skin long enough to “dissolve dead surface skin” or do anything like that), but this cleanser does leave my face feeling extremely fresh and, for lack of a better word, light. I find it to be the perfect after-gym cleanser and the smaller sized tube is perfect to throw in the gym bag. I suppose the biggest testament to the ease and pleasure of using this Face Wash is the fact that the Englishman, who has never used a face wash before, doesn’t just use it, but actually jealously guards it like a cranky Gollum. Really, the only downside I can think of is that the face wash stings my eyes for a few seconds, even after I rinse it off. I suppose it’s the fault of those exfoliating actives and the discomfort is minor, but it’s something to keep in mind, especially if your eyes are particularly sensitive.
If you are a habitual green beauty user, the name of the Fortifying Face Balm is probably going to throw you. I don’t know about you, but when I hear “balm” I think heavy, rich, occlusive and something that you will most likely slather. This balm (or should that be “balm”?) is a light, rapidly absorbing gel that dries down to a matte finish. Now look, I’ll be honest here: this is the one product I didn’t trial properly. It was just too light for me. That being said, the ingredients are absolutely stellar and the Englishman adores it. In fact, if you find most moisturizers to be too heavy, this baby is for you. I did use it a few times and the texture is absolutely lovely. I think my issue is that I actually like looking shiny (dewy! I meant to say dewy), but I know plenty of people don’t. So if you have been searching for an effective and clean moisturizer with a matte finish, then your search is over. The balm is also wonderfully gentle and its combination of anti-anging ingredients means that it would be perfect both for those with sensitive skin and for those whose skin is both mature and oily.
Ursa Major’s 4-in-1 Essential Face Tonic is quite a clever product. For starters, it is, as far as I know, the only clean “acid toner”, as Caroline Hirons calls them, i.e. an exfoliating toner. This one does the job with a 3% AHA/BHA complex (sugar and fruit-derived). It’s gentle enough to not cause irritation (though I’d recommend a test first if your skin is exceptionally sensitive). The other nifty thing about this toner is that it comes in a bottle and infused into sustainable bamboo Essential Face Wipes. These babies are perfect for tossing into a gym bag, taking on the plane or even carrying around in your handbag for skin-related emergencies. I don’t believe in using face wipes for cleaning the face, but they can certainly be a necessity (camping, aforementioned planes, freshening up post-work/pre-cocktails) and these wipes are excellent: they will get you clean without stripping and add skincare benefits in the bargain. And if you have a teenager in the house, these wipes are the perfect replacement for those kinda-gross, skin-stripping Stridex face pads. Sure, they are a tad more expensive (although again – quite reasonable), but they won’t, you know… Strip your face off, which, I’m sure you’d agree, is quite a bonus.
Of all the products I have reviewed so far, Ursa Major might well be the most accessible and one with the most universal appeal. I am not at all surprised by its success: it’s a thoughtful, well-crafted and well-priced range that, while being slightly geared towards a certain skin type, can work for a variety of ages, skin types and, yes, sexes. So sorry, boys, but your secret’s out. I think you’re gonna have to share.
Disclosure: I was sent all three products for review. I have since repurchased a larger size of the face wash (twice) and a box of the wipes. In fact, I trudged all around Chelsea on the day we were leaving for Spain because the bottle of the wash that I had was only half full and I needed to buy a replacement. I am also pretty sure that if I don’t get another bottle of the Balm once it runs out, the Englishman is going to riot.