In August, Netflix released the documentary Watch Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones and in the weeks and months that followed, social media was awash with “Blue Zone recipes” from creators who had just binge-watched the series, trying to adapt the lessons of longevity into their own lives. While people have been interested in the idea of living longer forever, this year wellness culture has become the most fixated on the idea of Blue Zones and what they can teach us. With specific recipes, workouts, and lifestyle advice circulating online in new waves, it is already changing the way many think about beauty and aging, altogether. Enter the era of Blue Zone beauty.
What is “Blue Zone” Living?
The term “Blue Zone” was coined by Michel Poulain and Giovanni Mario Pes, who studied longevity in Sardinia, to describe the geographic areas of the world with the highest rates of centenarians. There are five Blue Zones where “populations described as the world's healthiest people” live: Ikaria in Greece, Okinawa in Japan, the Ogliastra Region of Sardinia, Loma Linda in California, and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. The concept of living a Blue Zone-inspired lifestyle is to create a longer life by living well—generally by embodying holistic health practices like eating a plant-based diet, moving more, reducing stress, and even putting your loved ones first. But on the internet, this idea has been transposed into creator challenges like “eating like 100-year-old people” or documenting the effects of leaving their jobs to live in a Blue Zone for three months.
For someone like a working single mom, a night shift worker, or anyone with a necessarily demanding schedule, being told to align your daily schedule to the sun or “make time for leisure and relaxation” (both suggested by the tenants of Blue Zone living) might feel completely unreachable. That’s because the reality of life for most people across the U.S. is far from the lifestyle naturally accessible in those areas. This, of course, is a lead into why “creating your own Blue Zone” is becoming an increasingly popular concept in the beauty and wellness spaces. To bring the essence of those areas into different places and cultures, brands have to get creative. There are some brands formulating products using ingredients from Blue Zones while others are making products based on research conducted while visiting them.
Blue Zone Science Meets Wellness
Blue Zone beauty has also made its way into the tourism and spa industries, for those who can to travel to dip a toe into the Blue Zone lifestyle. Hotel Nantipa in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica now offers a Blue Wellness Experience for its guests. For Harry Hartman, the general manager and owner of the hotel, the goal is “returning to the basics of nature”. The new experience promises to help travelers “unlock the longevity secrets of the Nicoyan Peninsula.” This is achieved with a customized itinerary designed to meet guests' individual wellness goals, plus accommodation in a bungalow, daily yoga and meditation, private surf lessons, hikes, volunteering, local family visits, and daily spa treatments.
Hartman says the response to the Blue Zone-focused tourism experience has already been positive. “We are already working with potential guests to develop their Blue Wellness Experience who are interested in the elements of longevity and connecting with nature,” he says, noting that it seems to be just the beginning of a new wave of awareness. The “wellness traveler” today is looking for more than just a fitness center and healthy food options. “As holistic wellness becomes a bigger part of the mainstream conversation, more travelers are seeking escapes to Nicoya to unlock the longevity secrets of our region so they can make meaningful adjustments to their lifestyles at home,” he says.
James Hamblin, the author of Clean: The New Science of Skin says that some of the biggest factors for improving the appearance of your skin include lowering your stress level, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy diet. Somewhat ironically, this has become a core element of Blue Zone-focused skin care—even the consumer products. We’re seeing more lifestyle-centered products (like aromatherapy), a focus on natural ingredients, and generally less-is-more mentality. The approach to beauty is not just skin-deep. “Downshifting” (intentional and regular de-stressing) can be seen as a part of your skin care routine. This is consistent with the overall trend towards a more holistic approach to skincare as seen with the rise of skinimalism and the focus on the skin-gut connection this year.
Can You Create Your Own Blue Zone?
Similarly to having a healthy diet, including more natural movement in your life (for many this simply means walking more), is helpful in de-stressing and promoting wellness. But it’s also worth considering who has the ability to “create their own Blue Zone”. “It’s well established that nutrition and lifestyle impact the quality of life, but it’s important to address the myriad social determinants of health,” says Marisa Moore, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The Plant Love Kitchen. “Where you live, how safe it might be to walk, access to quality and affordable food and healthcare, and economic stability can often get in the way.”
Afya Ibomu, a holistic nutritionist and author in Atlanta, says her personal goal is to live to 300 years old. “What I’ve seen in my personal health over the last year and a half because I went through a divorce, is the effect of stress on your body,” she says. Ibomu’s own research on Blue Zones has led her to better understand the connection between all lifestyle elements on her overall health—from the more obvious like diet and exercise, to the less obvious like community and even skin care. The reason she believes so many people are attracted to the principles of Blue Zones is about more than just looking better and increasing your longevity. “Right now we’re surviving but we’re not necessarily thriving,” she says, “and I realized that I want to live.”
As the fixation on the idea of harnessing lessons from Blue Zones continues to drive an interest in holistic health, there’s no doubt that more conversations around holistic beauty will follow. Considering that the skincare industry’s long history of capitalizing on the desire to “combat signs of aging”, a lead on longevity might seem like just an untapped beauty secret. If we’re not careful, however, we risk watering down these valuable and nuanced ideas that have existed across the world for decades into a simplified one-size-fits-all “anti-aging” routine. While Blue Zone beauty will inevitably continue to grow, just remember—it can’t be distilled into a bottle.