Everything You Need to Know About Cult Kiwi Skincare Brand Syrene

It was a love of New Zealand’s pristine coastlines that ultimately became the catalyst for Jo Gilberd and Karen Yang’s skincare brand, Syrene. “Jo and I both emigrated to New Zealand 20 years ago and fell in love with the beautiful, clean New Zealand beaches,” explains Yang. Combined with their love of the NZ coastline was a realisation that something was missing from our skincare offering. This led the pair, who both have extensive experience in the health and beauty industries, to harness marine-based ingredients for a new luxury skincare company, Syrene.

“Everyone’s skin is different and I found that the brands in the market were too rich and heavy for my skin, so we talked about the possibility of creating a skincare range that was light on the skin but still nourishing and hydrating to suit all skin types,” says Yang. From the brand’s inception, the pair worked tirelessly to ensure that Syrene would stand out in a cluttered skincare market. “From the very beginning, we’ve made sure to keep Syrene unique from other brands – from the look, feel, formulations and our story,” explains Gilberd.

Drawing inspiration from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book, Gift From The Sea, Gilberd and Yang forged the brand to become much more than just a traditional skincare line. “We feel that we all need to lead calmer and more contemplative lives and so developed our range with that in mind,” says Gilberd. “Syrene embraces the tales within this memoir and forms an essence for women to live by through each product, by reminding women to find moments to relax, be mindful and look after their skin.” Gilberd and Yang were also mindful of the fact that today’s beauty consumer is more educated than ever before.

“They are more aware of what they are putting into their bodies and very much aware of what they are putting onto their skin, so from the beginning we knew we wanted to use natural ingredients,” says Gilberd. Although many ingredients are sourced locally, Yang and Gilberd believe that combining the best New Zealand ingredients with internationally sourced active ingredients is one of the things that sets Syrene apart from other skincare brands. “We have a highly effective skincare range that combines science and nature, and we use incredible local ingredients, which all add to the efficacy,” says Yang.

For the collection’s hero ingredients, Yang and Gilberd turned to the ocean. “Finding effective marine ingredients was a must as we knew the great benefits these have for your skin,” says Gilberd. At the heart of the range is a game-changing seaweed-derived ingredient, Ephemer. “It’s a seaweed extract that enhances the protection of the skin by helping strengthen its antioxidant capacity, slowing the formation of free radicals that are responsible for ageing,” Gilberd explains.


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The hydration-enhancing properties of marine collagen are also harnessed throughout the range to help promote a glowing, well-hydrated, vibrant complexion. “Outside the ocean, you’ll also find homegrown extracts such as pōhutukawa, which contains ellagic acid that helps the skin to remain soft, even, moisturised and toned. There’s also black fern, which is a natural skin tightener, and mānuka honey to help keep the skin moisturised and clear,” says Gilberd.

The pair’s love of the ocean doesn’t stop at the ingredients and ethos of Syrene. More recently, Gilberd and Yang overhauled their packaging, becoming one of New Zealand’s early champions of Ocean Waste Plastic within the skincare industry. “These are plastics that have been collected from the oceans and recycled into new packaging,” explains Gilberd.

After launching just four years ago, the pair were thrilled to be named as the first New Zealand skincare brand to be stocked in beauty behemoth, Mecca. “It means a lot to our whole team,” says Yang. “We’ve all worked really hard to grow this brand and for a company like Mecca to stock Syrene as the first New Zealand brand. It’s a huge honour.” Although Yang and Gilberd believe the partnership will increase Syrene’s brand awareness, there’s plenty more innovation to come from the New Zealand-born brand. They’ve also recently launched into the UK and European markets. “We are also moving forward and working on other international markets, which we will be able to announce soon,” says Yang. As for product development, Gilberd says there’s always something in the pipeline and it’s a process the entire team gets involved with. “We’re currently working on bringing a serum into our Aqua range, which the team have been trialling and perfecting for more than a year. We also have another collection we’ll be launching soon with a new, very special marine ingredient in the mix.”

12 of the Best New Zealand Beauty Brands

We round up our favourite New Zealand beauty brands their must-try products.

If you’re after a beauty routine that’s not only clean but also highly efficacious and sustainably minded, Snowberry ticks all the boxes. Many of the skin-health-enhancing ingredients are sourced from the Snowberry Gardens just outside Auckland and include a number of indigenous botanicals such as harakeke seed oil and kanuka honey.

Try: There’s science – an eight-week gold-standard clinical trial – behind Snowberry’s New Radiance Face Serum. Powered by New Zealand’s own kanuka super honey, the formula works to hydrate and soothe skin for a more radiant, even-toned complexion.

It was a light-bulb moment that started one of New Zealand’s most successful beauty exports. Ethique’s founder Brianne West was perplexed by the amount of water used in traditional haircare formulations, therefore she took matters into her own hands. West’s solution was to manufacture an entirely ‘solid’ product range, sold in biodegradable and compostable packaging.

Try: The Jasmine & Ylang Ylang Butter Block not only smells divine but will keep your skin well hydrated right throughout winter with its nourishing formulation of ethically sourced organic cocoa butter and organic coconut oil.

A ‘100 per cent wild’ philosophy is at the heart of Kiwi-born beauty brand, Girl Undiscovered. Since its inception, the natural-based, ethically sourced brand has garnered a cult following right around the globe. It’s not hard to understand why – not only do all the products look luxurious, they’ve also been created with sustainability in mind. Many of the ingredients are sourced in New Zealand and the brand takes care to ensure it works with small, sustainable organic producers.

Try: Lightweight Soaked in Sunshine Body Oil is just what dehydrated skin needs during the cooler months.

No one knows lip colour quite like New Zealand’s lipstick queen, Karen Murrell. Not only do her lipsticks provide lips with a serious pop of colour, but each lipstick shade is made from natural and nourishing ingredients that care for lips. Avocado oil and evening primrose oil keep lips hydrated and soothed right around the clock. Every lip colour is also cruelty free and devoid of nasties including parabens, BBPs, triclosan and carmine.

Try: If you often find yourself overwhelmed by the number of lipsticks you’ve got in your handbag, the new Karen Murrell Nude Lip Palette is just what you need. Five of its most-popular shades have been collected in a stunning palette.

Launching a new brand during lockdown may sound like a crazy idea, but that’s exactly what Mel Lewis – the brains behind Ultrella – did. “I had all the stock ready, my website was ready, I’d launched my social media,” says Lewis. “I just thought, ‘I have to give it a go.’” Ultrella is New Zealand’s first demi-perspirant – a clean, natural-based deodorant that uses game-changing ingredients to deter sweat. “Our ingredients had to be safe, clean, irritant-free, soothing and smell really good,” Lewis says.

Try: Clever Ultrella Natural Deodorant comes in three scents – Manuka Meadow, Vanilla Bean and Sunshine Lime – and is packaged in colourful, recyclable pouches. They’re free from nasty ingredients and contain a nourishing cocktail of sweet almond oil, shea butter, coconut and prebiotics to keep your skin nourished and sweat free.

New Zealand beauty

Prior to launching Bentley & Hart, husband and wife duo, Bryan and Julie Hart, had dabbled in the art of candle making for many years. They even ventured overseas to master the art. Their recently launched business has also helped the Harts’ daughter, Daniella, gain meaningful employment. Diagnosed with autism as a young child, Daniella has previously struggled to find pathways to employment.

Try: Bentley & Hart’s first collection, one by one, has been meticulously handcrafted and made with exquisite scents that will transform your living space and soothe the soul. The scents include French Pear and Custard, Cashmeran & Rose, and Linen Blossom.

Local brand takes a multifaceted approach to healthy skin. The Kiwi brand combines the best of science and nature in their clever two-step skincare system. The system – perfect for anyone looking for healthy, glowing skin without a long routine  – features just two products: the reform serum and revive supplements.

Try: Give their two-step system a go. The serum features a host of active ingredients and anti-inflammatory botanicals, while the supplements have been formulated with antioxidant-rich vitamins and minerals as well as youth-restoring New Zealand-sourced marine collagen.

With 20 years’ experience as a make-up artist behind her, the founder of Aleph Beauty, Emma Peters, knows a thing or two about beauty. Peters founded Aleph when she couldn’t find a make-up brand that aligned with her beauty philosophy – that beauty shouldn’t mean sacrificing one’s health or the health of the planet. With that in mind, Peters launched her sustainable, cruelty-free brand that harnesses the power of clean ingredients.

Try: Aleph’s multi-tasking Cheek/Lip Tint is a handbag essential. Available in four easy-to-wear shades, the clever vegan formula can be applied with fingers to add warmth to your complexion and a pop of colour to your lips.

Caci has been guiding Kiwis as they embark on their skin-health journey for more than 20 years. However, no beauty routine is complete without the right skincare, so as well as offering an array of complexion-enhancing treatments, Caci has its own skincare line, Skinsmiths. The range uses ingredients such as retinol and vitamin C to enhance results between treatments.

Try: Retinol is essential for anyone looking to fend off the signs of ageing, but introducing it into your routine needs to be done carefully as it can irritate the skin. Skinsmiths Retinol Booster has been formulated especially for those who are new to retinol.

Effective plant-based ingredients are at the heart of Maryse O’Donnell’s eponymous skincare line, Maryse. O’Donnell, a natural-beauty specialist, takes a pared-back approach to her skincare formulations. Each of her products includes deeply nourishing botanical extracts and phytonutrients without any unwanted toxic ingredients. All of her products are small batch, which means you get the most effective, natural ingredients every time.

Try: If winter weather is wreaking havoc on your complexion, the Intensive Omega Treatment Oil will soon restore skin to its former hydrated glory.

Thinning hair is an all-too-common beauty dilemma for both men and women. Formulated right here in New Zealand, Saw Palmete has been created with a game-changing cocktail of nourishing botanical ingredients that can help to restore shine, health and volume to thinning hair. Star ingredient saw palmetto, which is renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, is at the heart of the range that consists of a shampoo, conditioner and leave-in spray. The likes of vitamin B7, caffeine extract, ginger root and seaweed algae work in unison with the key ingredient to boost the health of hair follicles and encourage growth.

Anyone plagued with skin allergies will know it’s not always easy to find skincare that caters for sensitive skin. Founder of Linden Leaves Brigit Blair was faced with this problem back in 1995 with her two children who suffered severe eczema and allergies. Blair blended her own effective skincare and body products that nourished all skin types. Today, Linden Leaves is still producing efficacious products that harness quality organic and natural ingredients to deliver great results.

Try: A blend of kiwifruit seed oil, organic rosehip oil and organic white tea combine in Linden Leaves’ new Regenerating Elixir ($59.99). The NATRUE-certified blend, which helps rejuvenate skin, enhance hydration and minimise signs of ageing, is free from toxic ingredients and is New Zealand made.