My 48 Hours in Warsaw: Exploring Beauty in Poland

Inaugural Polska Cosmetics Conference

In what could have easily been the best episode of The Amazing Race ever, if it was, you know, actually an episode of the show, I recently spent a little over 48 hours in Warsaw, Poland, all in the name of beauty. I was invited alongside a fantastic group of beauty writers, bloggers and social media experts to take part in the inaugural Polska Cosmetics conference and Beauty Forum Expo. The Challenge? Learn as much about the Polish cosmetics industry as possible, explore historic Warsaw, and try not to drink too much vodka.

As a lucky middle seat occupant on the red eye flight, sleep was sparse. I had plenty of time to ruminate over the big question running through my mind- why is Poland’s cosmetic industry worth paying attention to? I knew why I was excited to make the trip. A third generation descendant of Polish immigrants, all I’ve really inhereted is a hard to pronounce last name as assimiliation was the name of the game in the early 1900’s for Eastern Europeans, my great grandparents included. Connecting with my Polish roots has always been something I’ve strived for. And what better way to connect than through the universal language of beauty? Surviving off of pure adrenaline as we landed in Warsaw at 10am local time, we headed straight for the conference at the Hotel Novotel Warszawa Centrum in the center of Warsaw where I started getting some unexpectedly convincing answers to why Polish cosmetics matter. 

History: A Little Context Goes a Long Way

If you recall back to your European history class in school,  you know there was lots of losing and regaining of independence in Poland over the years. You’ll probably also recall that famous chemist and Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland. What you likely did not learn in school is that Poland has a rich history of skincare and cosmetic creation, the ‘Golden Age’ of which began in 1919, when Poland regained independence. For two decades, the small, local Polish cosmetics manufacturers saw success in a huge way.

Two words sum up the success of the Polish cosmetics industry at this time: Max Factor. Born as Maksymilian Faktorowicz in Lodz, Poland, Max Factor was one of the first companies to produce everyday wear foundation. Another icon in beauty history, Helena Rubenstein, manufactured the first sun protecting cream from her birthplace in Cracow, Poland. In 1928, the Polish government was one of the first to implement higher standards and testing for their cosmetic and beauty products.

World War II devastated much of Poland, but post WWII manufacturing in the cosmetics and cleaning products industry grew during the Industrial Era. This made Poland the leading producer and exporter of cosmetics in Central-East Europe at the time. Many of these brands were even able to survive the Communist Era and in post-1989 in the free market economy grew to the point of being purchased by companies such as L’Oreal, Avon, Procter & Gamble, and Colgate Palmolive. Currently Poland is the sixth top cosmetics producer in Europe. Hmmm… you may have been using Polish products all along and never even realized it!

What Makes the Difference and A Global Perspective Panel

Polish industry experts shared their knowledge on today’s beauty industry in Poland during the “Polish Cosmetics: What Makes the Difference” Panel:

  • “Poland has not been communist in over 20 years. That message needs to get out.”
  • Quality is the number one priority in Polish beauty. Packaging is not as important to the industry.
  • Young men in Poland are often dubbed ‘metrosexual’ as globalization increases their perception of appearance, making them prime consumers of the beauty and fashion industry.
  • In Poland, as in most of the world, the fact that individuals live longer had led to a focus on eco-friendly products and anti-aging lines.
  • Poland is one of the few countries in the world with college programs specializing in Cosmetics

Following the What Makes the Difference panel, Felicia Benson-Walker from This That Beauty and social media for Bergdorf Goodman (pictured above) as well as Rachel Liverman from Birchbox (pictured below) dropped their beauty knowledge on a Global Perspective beauty panel discussing the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities in the Polish cosmetics industry. I was shocked to learn that in France (and much of Europe, including Poland) they aren’t using BB creams. A panelist from paris had never even heard of them!  

Polish Cosmetic Lines

After learning about the incredible legacy of Polish beauty icons and product lines, I was ready to experience Polish beauty for myself! The Beauty Forum and Spa featured around 40 Polish cosmetics and beauty producers alongside 150 other vendors featuring spa equipment, cosmetics, skincare, and other beauty products. There were two Polish beauty lines in particular that caught my attention at the Beauty Forum: Paese Cosmetics and Organique.

 Paese Cosmetics, winner of Polish glossy fashion magazine Styl’s Stylowy Kosmetyk (cosmetic award) in 2010 for their cashmere eyeshadow, has been referred to by some, including this blogger in the UK as the ‘next Inglot‘. For those unfamiliar with the brand, Inglot Cosmetics is probably the most well known Polish brand in the United States. Inglot was founded by a young Polish chemist 25 years ago and is popular with makeup artists and consumers across the globe. Paese sells a full range of makeup and nail polish, including the highly pigmented glosses pictured below.

Skincare company Organique was also at the Beauty Forum talking about their professional spa line and their consumer line of skincare. The professional spa line features products grouped by the following delicious sounding categories: Chocolate, Coffee, Cranberry and Goat Milk. I sampled their Eternal Gold eye cream and found the lightweight, non-greasy formula to be moisturizing and firming, two must have’s for any eye cream I use in my under eye area. Lara from Pretty Connected and I also sampled their natural shea butter which transformed from a thicker texture to literally melt into the skin.

I’m naturally more of an observer than the center of attention in any crowd, especially in a crowd where I know about two phrases- Dzień Dobry (good morning) and Na zdrowie (cheers!) encompasses my entire Polish vocabulary. As I checked out the Beauty Forum I couldn’t help but take notice of the beauty trends of the women who were in attendance. Trends like colored eyeliner and bold lips were popular, but what I was most struck by were effortless, teased hairstyles that included top knots, French twists, and other looks that appeared very natural but chic at the same time. Of course I couldn’t take stalker-azzi style pictures because I had my iPad as a camera at the Beauty Forum, but trust me it was inspiration to think outside the polished hairstyle box.

After the show is the after party… and by after party I mean more shopping and exploring the beauty scene in Poland. I desperately wanted to check out Hebe, the Health and Beauty store with purple and pink writing and butterfly decals in the window. What’s not to love about that? I even wandered off instead of getting much needed sleep on the morning I was set to head back to New York, however, my watch was set incorrectly and I arrived half an hour before they opened. Major fail.  In my defeat, I snapped the above picture for posterity’s sake.

We wandered into a Sephora to marvel over the European brands sold there that are not available in New York City. I was surprised to find that the prices were comparable to the Sephora in the US despite the fact that the average monthly salary in Warsaw is around $1,035 USD according to the Warsaw Business Journal. Another surprise to me was that there were limited Polish cosmetic brands available in the Sephora. The other unexpected aspect of the Sephora were the topless photos on products, we’re talking nipples all out, people (not pictured).

L to R: Heather, Alice, Danielle, Synesis owner Anna

Despite my poor timing at Hebe, I was able to finally get a taste of a local Polish beauty company from the Warsaw cosmetics boutique, Synesis No. 1. I sampled a few of their products including the Vitamin B rich and illuminating Noble Powder and the Eye Elixir with 21 active ingredients, and will have fuller product reviews coming up soon. Boutique owner Anna Garbaczewska, a sixth generation resident of Warsaw, sells luxury skin care products that evoke Old World glamour. Beauty products that I actually want to leave on my vanity (ok my bathroom sink, if you want to get specific) will always be welcome in my home.

I was honored to share this trip with the likes of Felicia from This That Beauty,  Rachel from Birchbox, The Style and Beauty Doctor Danielle was in the house, Lara, who is Pretty Connected, and Alice from Miss Alice An. We all discovered different brands and facts about Polish cosmetics on our trip, but all agreed that Poland’s cosmetic industry is full of intriguing cosmetic and skincare brands worthy of being found in our makeup bags. Dziękuję (thank you) Warsaw!

Conference images provided by SPC House of Media 


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