The science of skin care

We all like some luxury in our lives and there’s no better way to find it than in looking after our skin, says Stellenbosch Visio beauty editor, ELSA KRÜGER. Especially when it has a sound base in science.

Luxury, says the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense”. With the festive season upon us, luxury goods will appear on many a wish list, notably costly perfumes and lavish cosmetics. But is it worth spending R12,000 on a face cream or even more on a perfume? What makes such items so costly and so desirable?

Business Insider rates Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermès as the most valuable luxury brands in the world and, while a Hermès Birkin bag may be out of reach for the majority of people, a Hermès fragrance can satisfy the desire for an opulent experience. But if the brand name alone represents extravagance, what about the products? What justifies their eye-watering prices? 

In a word, science. Most of the high-end formulas “not only feature high-quality ingredients, they also offer innovative methods to deliver those powerhouse ingredients. And they tend to have tons of research to back up their claims,” says a recent Wunderman Thompson report. This suggests that the pricier products are, in general, really worth what you pay. It can take decades of research and development to perfect a product before it is launched. The combination of science and rare, precious ingredients is what makes a luxury product both sought after and efficient. Add to the mix a story that fires the imagination, like a rare ingredient that can only be harvested at a certain hour on a certain day, or algae turning into a miracle broth with the assistance of music, and the product becomes so much more than a jar of cream. Now it is an experience that transcends the ‘miracle’ claims that are the norm in a saturated market.

The combination of science and rare, precious ingredients is what makes a luxury product both sought after and efficient.

Rare botanicals: extracts, petals, roots, leaves, seeds

Researchers are constantly traversing the globe to find new and effective ingredients in the pursuit of eternal youth and beauty, sometimes consulting with tribal healers about the use of nature’s gifts. Whether in an Amazon forest, a Malagasy wilderness or a Namibian desert, nature often provides a key ingredient for a new product that truly works. 

Botanicals, organic substances and powerful antioxidants are natural ingredients. However, simply harvesting a few blooms, leaves or pieces of bark marks just the start of a painstaking process in the lab, where extracts and essences are refined. That is why costly brands like Sisley call their products a marriage of science and nature. 

French houses like Chanel and Guerlain use the extracts from rare orchids for their most precious skin products, but also ensure the use of these ingredients remains sustainable. Examples of skin-care products containing botanicals are:

• Guerlain’s Orchidée Impériale Day Cream (R8,645). Effectively combats the signs of skin ageing thanks to the exceptional powers of a duo of orchid species. 

• Sensai’s Ultimate Cream (R13,110). Contains Sakura Eternal Complex to activate skin vitality. Sakura, or cherry blossom, is the national flower of Japan (the home of the brand) and represents renewal and optimism. 

• Chanel’s Sublimage L’Essence Lumière (R8,305). Owes its skinperfecting qualities to the plant anthyllis, which draws strength from natural light, thrives in hostile climates and is renowned for its anti-ageing properties. The formula is enriched by the antioxidant properties of planifolia orchids grown in Madagascar, which protect the skin from urban stress.

• Beauté Pacifique’s Serum Paradoxe (R1,300). A product of Denmark, it is based on potent concentrations of squalane and Chilean grape-seed extract and contains resveratrol and procyanidin. 

• Sisley Paris’s Supremya Baume (R11,029). An anti-ageing night cream with an intensively nourishing formula that contains the brand’s patented 12-hour Longevity Concentrate and a blend of hazelnut oil, kokum butter and macadamia oil.

• Shiseido’s Future Solution LX Legendary Enmei Ultimate Luminance Serum (R6 620). Contains the herb enmei, which is picked by hand on a specific day of the year, and green treasured silk extract from Japanese oak moths. 

Metals and minerals

Platinum, gold and silver are increasingly used in skin-care and medical products. As well as giving the skin an enviable glow, these precious metals contain immunising and healing properties. They are used, for example, in:

• La Prairie’s Platinum Rare Cellular Night Elixir (R32,309). Has a nourishing, detoxing and immunising effect thanks to the platinum it contains. 

• Diego dalla Palma Professional’s Icon Time Gold Elixir (R1,595). Contains colloidal gold micro-capsules filled with hyaluronic acid. This encapsulation technology keeps active anti-ageing ingredients safe and stable and ensures their release into the deepest layers of skin. 

Precious and semi-precious gemstones

Pearls, diamond dust, jade and quartz crystals are used in formulas for their penetrating and luminescent properties. An example is: 

• QMS Medicosmetics’ Advanced Pearl Protein Day & Night Cream (R4,600). A re-firming moisturiser with advanced pearl protein extract and silk proteins. The extract allows the cream to be fully absorbed, leaving the skin smooth and hydrated.

Researchers are constantly traversing the globe to find new and effective ingredients in the pursuit of eternal youth and beauty, sometimes consulting with tribal healers about the use of nature’s gifts.

Lab-grown molecules 

It’s up to the folks in white lab coats to coax costly ingredients into formulas that will be efficient and beneficial to the skin, and it is they who are responsible for the manufacture of peptides, antioxidants, epidermal growth factors (EGF), elixirs and extracts. For example, EGF is a protein molecule, made up of amino acids, that increases the regeneration of skin. It takes a long time to source these ingredients and transform them into skin-regenerating formulas, which is what makes them so expensive. Examples of lab-grown skin products include:

• QMS Medicosmetics’ ranges. Formulated by Dr Erich Schulte, an aesthetic surgeon, lecturer and international authority on skin ageing and skin regeneration. His research is based on collagenenhancing technology to create a regenerative system of skin care. 

• Secrets de Sothys’ Premium Youth Cream (R2,495). Forms a biomimetic satin film with a lifting effect on the skin’s surface. The range introduced Lox Protein, a key protein with clinical efficiency similar to that of retinol.

• Claire Hill’s S8-28 (R1,475). An anti-ageing moisturiser that smoothes away fine lines by naturally relaxing the facial muscles. An Australian skin-care company, Claire Hill provides science-based skin-care products using a small range of ingredients: extract of the native Australian desert lime which is rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients that stimulate collagen, protects from damaging ultraviolet light, reduces pigmentation and redness, improves skin hydration and helps to reduce dark circles and puffiness under the eyes; extract of the native Australian Kakadu plum which is high in antioxidant vitamins C and E; dog-rose oil, which is rich in fatty acids and antioxidants; and grape seed oil, which helps to reduce inflammation, protects against free radical damage and balances the skin’s moisture. 

Stem cells 

Present in all living things, including humans, stem cells have the capacity to become whatever they need to be. Scientists have recently found a way to tap into the healing and rejuvenating benefits of stem cells extracted from plants and fruits, which have a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. The extract is being harnessed as an active ingredient in anti-ageing skin-care products that dramatically decreases lines, wrinkles and environmental damage. Such products include:

• Dermaquest’s Stem Cell 3D Complex (R3,895). A moisturising serum containing advanced plant stem cell technology, peptides and skin-brightening ingredients. It addresses discoloration, uneven texture and loss of elasticity in the skin, specifically around the jaw line. 

• Lamelle Dermaheal, a South African range formulated by Dr Bradley Wagemaker, that tackles the root causes of the signs of ageing: lines, wrinkles, sagging skin, poor complexion and rough skin texture. Products in the range contain active ingredients like growth factors and skin-firming peptides. 

Elixirs and algae

• La Mer’s Crème de la Mer (R6,500). Formulated by Max Huber, an aerospace physicist before he became the brains behind the brand. In the 1950s, an explosion in his lab burnt him severely and he spent the next decade experimenting with the sea kelp Macrocystis pyrifera until he ended up with Crème de La Mer. Its mysterious Miracle Broth, created by playing specific music to the algae developing into broth in the lab, is the core of the brand’s products.