Mark and Kira Walton were living in Dublin nine years ago when they decided to trade in their "good" corporate jobs and sitting in traffic for the quieter, slower pace of the west. They moved to Strandhill, Co Sligo, and joined the Walton family business: Voya, a seaside bath house offering steamy tubs of sustainably hand- harvested, wild Atlantic seaweed. They began experimenting with ingredients, hoping to expand Voya into a full-blown, seaweed-infused skincare range – and expand it they did.
“It started out with me making body scrubs in the kitchen,” says Kira, laughing. Mark, her husband, adds: “You have no idea how many times Kira’s face was redder than beetroot. But we got it right in the end.”
They began working with Irish universities and a product development team to bring Voya from modest bath house to internationally acclaimed, award-winning beauty brand. The range, which is organically certified by the Soil Association, includes more than 100 products, is exported to 38 countries and is offered in some of the world's most luxurious resorts and spas.
You’d think such growth would take some weight out of their “family business” credential, but this is the real deal. I was surprised to learn that just five seaweed harvesters are behind such as operation and they include Mark’s brother Neil and father, Mick.
I recently had the privilege of joining them one sunny evening – there's really something quite special about standing on a stretch of blustery coastline at sunset watching harvesters expertly cut fucus serratus seaweed as the Atlantic roars behind them.
After it’s cut and loaded on to trucks, each haul is brought to the Voya factory where it is rinsed for use in the seaweed baths or prepped further for use in products.
One of my favourites is Lazy Days (€18), a bag of dried, 100 per cent organic seaweed and Dead Sea salt. If you can’t make it to Sligo for a steam and professionally drawn bath (€25), this deeply relaxing at-home soak with a sea-tinged scent is the next best thing.
The dried seaweed springs back to life when brewed in hot water, which draws out a concentrated cocktail of minerals – such as iodine, calcium, copper and zinc – vitamins, antioxidants and amino acids. It’s perfect for hydrating and softening skin that’s more likely to be on show for summer. It also leaves your hair silky smooth.
And don’t leave it in the fishnet bag it comes in – let the slippery ribbons loose in the bath and squeeze out the gel within to get the full experience. You can reuse the seaweed within three days and toss it in the garden as fertiliser when you’re done.
Another summer favourite of mine is the Time to Shine Body Buff (€10), which gently exfoliates the skin with finely ground walnut shells. It will leave your limbs brightened and flake-free.
To purchase Voya products online and to find a list of stockists and spas, visit voya.ie. And that list seems set to get longer.
Mark and Kira have seen substantial changes in the organic beauty business since their move to Strandhill. They tell me that advancements in technology and “green chemistry” have pushed organic products passed that “crunchy granola feel” and healthier-but-inferior performance.
“You don’t have to compromise anymore,” says Mark.
“The technology is now superb. We’re now seeing the functionality that you would have only seen with synthetic ingredients.” He believes organic products can now mean “better functionality, better fragrance and better for you and the environment.”
“We were told it’s a fad, it would go away,” he adds. “It’s just not.”