Ursa Major, a year-and-a-half old men’s skincare line based out of Stowe, Vt., serves up a suite of four products that will leave your face feeling like it’s just been on a brisk walkabout in the Green Mountains.
The brand, which was among the crop of made-in-America labels on hand at last week’s Launch LA trade show, was founded by Oliver Sweatman and partner Emily Doyle, with a shaving cream in December 2010. (He co-founded the Sharp’s men’s grooming brand back in 2002 and her background includes a stint with Bumble and Bumble.) Since then, they’ve slowly expanded, adding a face wash, toner and face balm. Eventually, Sweatman says, “We want to be head to toe.”
But the duo, who decamped to Vermont from New York City to reboot their lives and rethink what kind of ingredients should be going into the various lotions, potions and balms we slather on our skin, is taking its time to make sure the product formulations are just so.
“So many products have toxins and fillers and we really wanted to find a healthy skincare solution,” Sweatman said. “One that didn’t sacrifice performance for health.” The result is a face balm that’s 100% natural and three other products that range from 98.5% to 99.5% natural, and range in retail price from $26 to $36. (Sweatman calls the line “super natural.”)
The non-foaming shave cream (5.3 fluid ounces, $24) counts aloe, sunflower seed, birch sap and willow bark extract among its ingredients and the face wash (8 fl. ounces, $26) is redolent of lemon, cedar and rosemary. The four-in-one face tonic, which Sweatman calls “a lazy man’s face wash” because it has been formulated to serve as a cleanser, exfoliater, post-shave healer and skin toner (8 fl. ounces, $24), has the medicinal punch of witch hazel and willow bark extract spiked with lavender and citrus. And the all-natural (and 81.7% organic) face balm (2.5 fl. ounces, $36) has an ingredient list that could do double duty as a chopped salad recipe and includes olive, carrot, sunflower, spearmint and rosemary.
The overall effect is not unlike a bracing thwack about the face and neck with a birch switch -- in a good way.
What’s more, you can feel confident that the forest full of fragrance you’re smelling is the real deal. “I’ve got a really big thing against synthetic fragrance,” Sweatman says. “I can smell it on a subtle almost atomic level.”
As for the name Ursa Major (Latin for “Larger Bear”) and that logo of a bear strolling beneath a star and above a pair of crossed arrows? Although it looks like it a riff off the California state flag, Sweatman says the inspiration came not from the West but due north.
“Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is referenced in mythology, Shakespeare and Homer – and it’s the constellation that helps explorers find true north,” he explained. “And we feel like that captures a sense of self-exploration and finding out how to be your best self.” (It also offers the opportunity for the dude-appropriate slogan: "Live Major.")
Local Southern California stockists include Unis, 138 S. La Brea, Los Angeles; Tradesmen Los Angeles, 1807 Lincoln Blvd., Venice; and the Earnest Sewn boutique at Fashion Island in Newport Beach.. The line can also be purchased online through the company's website ursamajormen.com.