Icelandic Skin Care: Zeto at Hello Tomorrow

Impakter has been on the move recently, sending contributors and columnists to the Hello Tomorrow Summit in Paris. Hello Tomorrow’s mission is to connect researchers, scientists, tech startups, large companies and investors, in order to accelerate the transformation of groundbreaking technologies into real world solutions.

With our specialist team unearthing truly sustainable companies at one of the worlds best tech-solution summits, Impakter has a series of great interviews in store, all conducted at the Hello Tomorrow Summit.

Everyone knows that your skin is your body’s largest organ, it breathes, sweats and pulls in air and water and whatever else you come into contact with. Biologically your skin is your first line of defence in an increasingly polluted world. One company that understands the importance of your skin and creating a world that is comfortable in is Zeto; I spoke to Eydís Mary Jónsdóttir, co-founder and CEO of Zeto to find out more. 

Q: Could you please tell us more about Zeto and its origins?

Zeto is an Icelandic biotech/skin care startup company that has developed a revolutionary new method to produce cosmetic grade seaweed extract, without the use of chemicals. Based on this extract, Zeto has created a line of seaweed based skin care products.

In the Photo: Eydis, co-founder, on the right and Mother Fjola, left Photo Credit: Eydis Mary Jonsdottir.

Q: Why did you decide to produce skin care and why seaweed?

My interest in skin care products began in 2004 when I was 23 years old. I had my oldest son in 2003 and like most first time mothers I tried to do everything perfectly, with the knowledge that I had at the time. I puréed organic food so that he would have the best nutrition, we listened to classical music, with took him to baby swimming classes and got him baby development toy to stimulate him physically and mentally and I bought the best baby skin care products to keep his skin soft and smelling wonderfully. I didn´t know it at the time, but the baby products I used were loaded with chemicals that were harming my son and so were my own skin care products. I discovered that he had developed an allergy to some of those chemicals when, on one of those rare sunny Icelandic sommerdays, I put sun lotion on him. This ended with me and my husband rushing our son to the hospital with severe rashes on his skin and respiratory difficulties.

This is the point I was forced to become a personal care ingredient expert. I had to read the label of every personal care product we used, and being the curious person I am, I started reading about all the other ingredients too. What I discovered is that most skin care products consist of water, fillers, surfactants, preservatives and only a small amount of bioactive ingredients that are actually affecting our skin cells in a positive way. And more often than not, these products actually contain chemicals that are not only harming our bodies but also our environment.

So here I was, faced with a great dilemma. I needed skin care products but I did not trust the companies that were making them. My mother Fjóla, who is a great cook, nature lover and skin care enthusiast, started experimenting making her own skin care products. She made us diaper creams, moisturisers and soaps from safe, natural ingredients. Basically everything that we needed.

A few years past, I studied geography and mastered in sustainability. My first job after graduation was at a local nature research institute where I spent the summer mapping seaweed habitats. That summer I fell in love. I fell in love with seaweeds and I have been working with seaweeds and microalgae ever since. I have always known about the healing properties of seaweeds. It is a knowledge, originated from out Celtic foremothers that has been handed down generations of Icelandic women for more than a thousand year. In fact, the utilization of seaweeds was critical for the survival of Icelanders for centuries as it helped fight off scurvy during the long, dark Icelandic winters.

Seaweeds are loaded with nutrients and bioactive ingredients that can benefit our skin and bodies in number of ways. The reason why seaweeds are so rich in bioactive ingredients is because it grows in one of the most hostile environments found on Earth, the intertidal zone. To be able to survive the extreme changing temperature, light, salinity, moisture and powerful wave actions, seaweeds have developed a range of bioactive compounds, such as polysaccharides, peptides, carotenoids, fatty acids, flovonoids and phytohormones, that have been shown to have a broad range of activities, such as antibiotic, antiviral, anticancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and growth-promoting activities. As well as providing skin cell with essential nutrients, some of these compounds have been shown to fight damaging free radicals and skin ageing, help improve skin elasticity and provide hydration to the skin.

In 2011, at the family Christmas gathering, I told my uncle Steindór about my newfound love for seaweeds. Steindór, a research chef and flavourist who has been involved in food related biotech for more than 20 years, told me about an extraction method he was working on. A sustainable, chemical free extraction method for seaweeds. A method that harvests a broader range of nutrients and bioactive ingredients from the seaweeds in an eco-friendly manner, creating an extract so pure it is actually edible.

My mother and I tested the extract and our skin loved it. My mother reformulated all her products and based her recipes on Steindór´s extract. And the results were far better than we had hoped for. Suddenly people around us were demanding the products. People with sensitive skin, people with eczema or unexplained itching and women who were just searching for great skin products. They all wanted more. That is why the three of us founded Zeto in 2016, to create safe, seaweed based personal care products from the most bioactive natural ingredients we can get our hands on … and to give my mother her kitchen back.

We have been successful in getting innovation and research grants from the Icelandic government, which has allowed us to conduct biomaterial tests to evaluate the bioactivity of our seaweed extract, using actual skin cells to create an environment that mimics that of the human body. The first results far exceed our expectations. So far we have proven that our seaweed extract is not only safe, but also encourage skin cell growth and has anti-inflammatory effects. We are expecting more results next year.

Being able to prove, in a scientific way, that our extract is safe and benefitting the skin is very important to me. It gives me the certainty I need in our work and in our products that I need to have before we market them. Safety is also a first priority in everything that I do. I could never put a product on the market that I don’t trust 100%.

In the Photo: Eydis locating seaweed Photo Credit: Erlendur Bogason and Þuríður Ingibjörg Klemensdóttir
Q: Please tell us more about how Zeto is committed to sustainability and gets inspired from the SDGs.

From an early age, my mother would take me scavenge hunting for berries and mushrooms and let me enjoy the simple pleasure of just being and playing in and with nature. She gave me her eyes and love for nature that guides me in everything that I do. During my studies I was involved in a big EU-funded project called Soiltrec where I worked on the development of a set of soil indicators for sustainable development. This experience has given me a deep understanding of what sustainability means.

I see the Earth, our ecosystem, as a living sphere, in which all forms of life, material and energy are woven together in cycles that are responsible for maintaining balance and reducing extremes of any sort. Every single circular thread must be strong and healthy in order to support other threads and to keep this living fabric from unraveling. I truly believe that right now, we humans are standing at a crossroad and that we can still choose our path. We are at the brink of inflicting irreversible damage to the earth’s ecosystems that will affect the resilient capacity of our planet to sustain us. If we, as a species, do not change direction, we will end up exactly where we are headed. I have come to realize that I cannot wait for companies or other people to be the change that we need to see in the world. I can and I need to be that change.

With Zeto, I hope to make a difference, not just for our skin health but also our ecosystems health. The name, Zeto, derives from the Greek verb “to live” and expresses the hope that another should live. I believe that everybody and everything on this planet is connected and so our choices impact everyone and everything around us. That is why we are trying to embed sustainability into every aspect of our business strategy as much as possible, to guide us towards sustainability. From where we source our materials, how we produce them, pack them and market them.


Related article: “EVERY BITE MAKES AN IMPAKT: THE ALGAE FACTORY” by Oliver Speakman


Our main ingredient, seaweeds, that we use for our extract, are harvested in the nature reserve Breiðafjörður, which is one of the most pristine source of wild harvested, organic and sustainably certified seaweeds in the world. This shallow bay located in the west of Iceland, has the highest tidal level variation, of about 6 meters, found in Iceland. Its cold, pristine and naturally nutrient rich seawater, together with ideal geographical factors makes Breiðafjörður an ideal growing place for seaweeds.

Slower growth, due to the low temperature of the surrounding sea, results in higher accumulation of bioactive ingredients in the seaweeds that grow in Breiðafjörður, making these seaweeds a perfect material source for Zeto’s bioactive seaweed extract. The area has been harvested, commercially, since 1974 and research has shown that the harvesting method used, which is grazing the larger kelps, leaving the younger and smaller ones behind, is benefiting the biodiversity of the area and contributing to its rich, strong ecosystem.

The seaweed is dried using eco-friendly, sustainable geothermal energy. Our extraction method is mechanical, which means that we do not use any chemicals. Our method leaves zero waste. Our extraction and packaging facility are powered by hydropower reducing our ecological footprint. Our facilities are located in small, rural towns in Iceland, which for me is important because we are helping making these communities more resilient.

Zeto’s personal care products are based on our seaweed extract. I understand that ingredients that are harmful to the earth’s ecosystems can be just as harmful to our own skin’s ecosystem.

Every other ingredient is carefully selected based on its bioactivity, its positive effect on the skin, and to the best of our ability, we try to source them sustainably and ethically.

Zeto’s mission is to give people the choice of choosing effective, healthy skin care products that are formulated from pure, potent, natural ingredients. We want to help people live healthy, beautiful lives, in harmony with nature.

In the Photo: Icelandic coast harbouring seaweed Photo Credit: Erlendur Bogason and Þuríður Ingibjörg Klemensdóttir
Q: As a very young company, where would you like Zeto to be within ten years?

As a very young startup that is still working on getting its first product on the market, I would very much like to see our products used and enjoyed be people. Our goal is to see a broad product range from Zeto on the market in Europe, America and Asia within the next 10 years.

I would like Zeto to be in the position to inspire people and other companies to be more sustainable in every aspect, to appreciate and value nature, the ecosystem that we are a part of. I hope that Zeto can be one of many change agents in this world that will help us, humans, to turn towards a more sustainable future.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own not those of Impakter.com

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