Home / Opinion / Online-views /  The science of radiance

As a beauty editor, I often find myself dealing with terms like beta glucans, long and short peptide chains, amino acids, plant versus cord stem cells, lignans, genomics and genetic markers in briefings. Now we have 3D printing and quantum dot technology to explore too. If they can be used by medical research, why not for beauty? Beauty’s scientific face blurs the lines between medicine, life sciences, space travel, biogenetics, biophysics, stem cell and diabetes research. It also marks up the price.

Celestial Black Diamond cream by 111 Skin, a brand created by Dr Yannis Alexandrides, the plastic surgeon behind the pioneering Y-lift, costs about 56,000 for 50ml. The USP is that it has been tested and created in collaboration with cosmonauts and space scientists who understand skin texture under extreme conditions.

It uses material from outer space (that is, from a meteorite). The black diamond microspheres deliver a combination of goodies into your skin because they can penetrate several layers. Hence the stratospheric price.

Chanel’s Ultra Correction Line Repair touted the FN3K enzyme (fructosamine 3-kinase) as its anti-ageing breakthrough. This enzyme is responsible for deglycation; in short, it shaves off sugar from skin cells. Sugar causes rigidity of cell walls and wrinkles and is one the largest inflammation and ageing culprits.

Medicine usually has time-release drugs for treating specific diseases but Estée Lauder uses Chronolux technology—a smart copy line for time release in its signature Advanced Night Repair cream targeted to mimic the body’s circadian rhythm and repair cycle and a sequence of amino acids to do this effectively.

This intersection of science and the beauty business lends gravitas to the beauty brand in question as scientific backing and research give it legitimacy. It also reflects the beauty industry’s huge investment in the anti-ageing category.

Where does this place Nature, the original scientist? Nature is powerful and potent but harnessing its potency and stabilizing its extracts need a lab and scientific research. For example, I read recently that tamarind seed extract is more powerful than hyaluronic acid (a skin plumping ingredient used in fillers) but it would need to be extracted or replicated in a lab to be used effectively in a cream, or you would have to use rather a lot of pounded tamarind seed on your face.

To get a really good shot of resveratrol, another powerful anti-ageing ingredient (also in red wine), you may need to consume a rather vast quantity of grapes with a very high sugar intake. That’s counterproductive. It is better to have the extract in a cream to work on your skin. And pay the price.

Does this mean we should all buy expensive creams? Not really. Remember cosmetic creams can never have the same potency as a pharmaceutical or medical cream because they don’t have the licence to. So while they claim to have breakthrough ingredients, the real price is justified only if they have the highest potency level permitted.

A more expensive cream, for example, is likely to have the highest permissible level of retinol (another big anti-ageing ingredient) while a cheaper supermarket brand may have the diluted version. Though in all fairness, some supermarket brands can be super performers.

There are opticals in creams, which give you instant radiance or brightness as they have light-reflecting particles. There are calming ingredients, which will soothe your skin like chamomile and lavender. Neither of these is expensive even though they sound wonderful. The carrier cream is not expensive, however much it feels like silk and pampers you. It is really the active ingredient that hikes up costs. So read labels carefully.

The lines between biogenetics, life sciences, longevity and beauty brands are blurring. We pay for the research and the failures that lead up to success. If you are looking for moisturization, stick to good old Pond’s cold cream. But if you are looking to stop the clock (sadly even the best cream cannot turn it back), move up the ladder but cut through the hype.

Geeta Rao is a beauty and luxury commentator.


Fine Print runs viewpoints on luxury and design from different writers.

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