The founders of cult beauty brand Omorovicza harnessed the healing powers of Budapest’s thermal springs into its skincare offerings. We sit down with Margaret and Stephen de Heinrich de Omorovicza to find out how they did it.
Sitting atop a network of thermal springs, Hungary is home to more than 1,000 curative thermal bath sites. Budapest alone has 125 of them, so it’s little wonder that taking the waters is a favourite pastime among locals and visitors alike.
The baths aren’t just places to relax in. Here, the Earth’s crust is thinner, so the thermal water that bubbles up to the surface absorbs beneficial minerals, such as magnesium and potassium, much more effectively. The locals swear by its healing powers – and they would know. Their ancestors have been coming to the baths for at least 2,000 years.
Stephen de Heinrich de Omorovicza grew up in Switzerland to stories about his family, who are descendants of an old noble house in Budapest, and decided to move to the country to experience it for himself. His family had been hugely influential, involved in the Hungarian steel industry, politics, and business, but one thing few people knew was that they had an intimate connection with the baths. Omorovicza’s ancestor Janos, who was keenly interested in healthcare and medicine, had built the Rácz, a massive bath, for the general public.
But until Stephen saw his own name etched into the walls he had no idea.
“I’d never heard about this Rácz Spa until I moved to Hungary,” he recalls. “A friend of mine said, ‘Oh, there’s this plaque in this bath with your family name on it,’ so that got me interested and I looked into it a bit more. But nobody knew. I asked the oldest people in my family at that time and none of them had ever heard about this funny connection, so it’s quite amusing.”
Omorovicza brought his American wife-to-be, then Margaret Dickerson, to the Rácz for her first experience of thermal spring baths. At the time she was chief of staff at the US embassy and, in her own words, suffered from “troubled skin”.
“I had to rely on Accutane, which is the strongest medication for acne,” she tells me, adding that she struggled with confidence due to how her skin looked. “Stephen took me to the thermal bath and I experienced such a transformation to my skin. First of all, I felt great. Then it sparked my curiosity to keep going back over and over again.”
Hungary’s beauty culture
Thermal springs in Hungary are a unique and sometimes magical experience that’s steeped in history, often housed within the kind of architecture one would normally associate with castles or cathedrals. Many establishments in Hungary have run uninterrupted since the 16th century and some are as old as the Colosseum in Rome. The Ottoman Empire added an extra feature to the Hungarian baths, the hammam, thus beginning a culture of going to the baths not just for washing, but for healing.
Margaret felt the difference between the spa and beauty cultures of Hungary and America. “Coming from the United States,” she says, “I’ve always been very conscious about beauty and loved all different types of skincare and make-up. But what I found inspiring about moving to Budapest and the Hungarian beauty culture at large was that – because of the thermal baths, the facials, and the education on how to care for your skin and treat your problems – effectively that culture manifests itself into the idea that beauty is a decision.
“Anyone can decide to be beautiful with just patient practice and deliberate regimes and routines. I think that’s why Hungary is known to have the most beautiful women and men – Because people decide that they’re going to treat themselves, care for themselves, improve themselves. I find that very exciting.”
As a diplomat, one of Margaret’s briefs was healthcare outreach. “That’s how we were able to meet with a lot of these leading laboratories,” she says. The Omoroviczas decided to bring samples of the thermal water at the Rácz to a dermatological laboratory just outside Budapest, which was famous for the Nobel-prize-winning discovery of vitamin C. The laboratory showed that the waters contained high concentrations of calcium and magnesium and hydrogen carbonate, all of which are hugely beneficial for the skin.
“We were told that the combination of minerals in certain baths, and the Budapest waters in particular, were extremely rejuvenating to the skin,” says Omorovicza. “So that’s really when we started thinking, ‘OK, we should try to create skincare using this water, to replicate the effects of the bath in skincare. It was always a loose mission for us to recreate this wonderful effect, this amazing experience Margaret had.”
From bath to beauty products
Of course, the idea of making skincare with thermal waters was a lot more complex than simply bottling the liquid and selling it to the public. At the baths, the hot water dissolves the minerals, which through prolonged soaking get absorbed into the skin. But once you leave the baths, the water evaporates and you’re left with salt crystals on the skin – as soon as the minerals crystallise, they’re no longer effective.
The Hungarian laboratory that the Omoroviczas worked with developed a concentrate that they patented, called the Healing Concentrate, which was able to transform the potent but awkwardly shaped mineral crystals into something the skin can absorb deep into the epidermis. Although the couple now live in London, they launched their skincare brand in 2006, proudly Hungarian and promoting both ingredients and the heritage and traditions found in the country.
The Queen of Hungary Mist, for example, is a perfumed toner inspired by The Queen of Hungary Water, a world-first fragrance that’s blended with orange blossom, rose and sage waters to tone and purify the skin. The Healing Concentrate delivers minerals deep into the skin to rejuvenate and heal.
Mud, which comes from Lake Heviz near Budapest, is also a key ingredient in the products. The Omoroviczas needed a special permit to extract the mud from the bottom of the lake, where it filters the thermal waters and traps all the minerals. The mud is rich in trace elements, essential lipids and antioxidants, and forms the base of the best-selling Ultramoor Mud Mask, a detoxifying mask that’s enriched with marine ingredients to lift and define the contours of the face.
The Omorovicza Midnight Renewal
The latest addition to the potent line-up is the Midnight Renewal, a night-time skin-repair serum that blends next-generation Retinal, the Omoroviczas’ Healing Concentrate and Bioactive Microalgae, known to be a stress reliever for the skin. Retinal, a stable and non-irritating form of Vitamin A, is great for collagen production and speeding up cell turnover to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Bioactive Microalgae shield the skin from the damaging effects of cortisol and helps the skin metabolise Retinal and Healing Concentrate. And, of course, the patented Healing Concentrate, with all its rich minerals, is proven to leave skin firmer, suppler and more youthful.
Just as Margaret experienced the wondrous effects of the thermal baths almost immediately after her first visit, Omorovicza hopes to recreate this instant effect in the Midnight Renewal serum.
The Midnight Renewal delivers an instant complexion boost on the very first use, smoothing out the uneven tones on the face almost immediately. Through prolonged use, the serum will help improve the skin’s own ability to repair at night and combats key concerns such as fine lines on the face and signs of fatigue. By gradually restoring the skin’s own barrier function and boosting the production of collagen and elastin, the skin will look visibly firmer, smoother and softer- looking.
The serum is now a staple in the Omoroviczas’ daily skincare routines. In the mornings, Margaret starts with a cleansing foam followed by the Acid Solution, which is a gentle liquid exfoliator, followed by the Daily Vitamin C serum and the Gold Rescue Cream for lasting hydration. In the evenings, she double cleanses with the Thermal Cleansing Balm and the cleansing foam, followed by the Midnight Renewal.
“It’s got an innovative form of the new Retinal, which is 11 times more effective than Retinol, and it doesn’t deliver any irritation. I have an issue with large pores – and there’s no better ingredient to reduce the appearance of wrinkles than Vitamin A. Then I’ll finish with the Rejuvenating Matte Cream,” she says.
Her husband also starts his routine with the Cleansing Foam, followed by a shaving cream developed for the brand’s male clients. Then he uses Omoressence, another of their products that’s balancing and hydrating on the skin. “Cream for me is always the Elemental Emulsion,” he says. At night, he cleanses with cleansing wipes soaked in micellar water, then finishes off with the Midnight Renewal and a moisturiser.
As Margaret mentioned earlier, beauty can be achieved with a little patience and dedication, ideas that are rooted in the Hungarian traditions and its waters. And now, thanks to the Omoroviczas, the healing benefits of thermal waters can be enjoyed by everyone.