Biology

Living in a cream world

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2011, 12:00am

Last week the eyes of the beauty world were focused on Hong Kong as Cosmoprof Asia, the region's biggest beauty show, took up residence at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Hundreds of beauty brands from around the world unveiled products that will be hitting stores in the next few months.

So what can we expect next year?

Well, if you are looking for the next generation in skincare, expect to see the words 'stem cell' on the product label. Stem cell extracts are causing a buzz now, with claims ranging from skin rejuvenation to protection against the elements.

Chiara Ambra was among the brands touting the technology at the fair. The company has worked with a Swiss research laboratory to create a range that promises beauty benefits by using plant stem cell ingredients. Its Regeneration Multi Stem Cell 24hr Cream (HK$980) and Eye Gel (HK$680), for example, promise to regenerate and protect skin and smooth out wrinkles. Its new X-treme anti-cellulite cream, available in Hong Kong early next year, apparently helps to slim and tone thighs.

The technology behind stem cell products is complex. But don't be blinded by the science. 'The term 'stem cell' is a big trend in skincare at the moment, but it has been misused,' says Mike Chan, CEO of ingredients company Lab Dom, which specialises in stem cell extracts. 'Basically, it's impossible to have live stem cells in a cream - they need to be cultivated in a laboratory. So products which claim this are ineffective.'

'It's a cloudy area,' adds Beata Hurst, sales and marketing manager at Swiss research laboratory Mibelle Biochemistry, which worked with Chiara Ambra. 'Many brands are interested in the science of stem cells but an actual stem cell would be too large to penetrate the skin.'

While the beauty industry has yet to demonstrate whether stem cell technology is a great new advance in anti-ageing or mere hype, Hurst recommends looking out for the words 'stem cell extract' if you plan to buy these kinds of products. It's also wise to check out a brand's website for more information about the ingredients, and to see the clinical tests.

The other most visible trend present at the fair - and one that is increasingly taking up shelf space in Hong Kong stores this year - is that of natural, organic and environmentally sustainable beauty products.

Organic beauty brand The Organic Pharmacy opened last month at the new Harvey Nichols flagship in Pacific Place. Founded by British green entrepreneur Margo Marrone, a trained chemist and homeopath, it has a cult following in its home country with a celebrity fan base that includes Kylie Minogue, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kirsten Dunst.

Fellow British label Dr Organic, also a newcomer to Hong Kong, uses organic active ingredients in products which range from body creams to toothpaste.

Nabelle, an all-natural organic brand from Canada, opened its first Hong Kong stand-alone store in Olympian City, Kowloon, in August. A second store will open in Tsim Sha Tsui in early December.

According to research firm Organic Monitor, false claims and poor labelling makes it difficult to find a truly authentic natural or organic product, with some only containing a trace of natural ingredients. To make sure you are buying the real deal look out for certification labels from companies such as Ecocert, The Soil Association and Cosmos on the packaging. Approval from these companies means the product meets the tough standards required to be called truly natural or organic. Visit http://cosmetics.ecocert.com for more.

Listing is another way to tell if a beauty product is living up to its claims. But deciphering the jargon almost requires a science degree. As a rule, ingredients are listed in the percentage order they are used. So if the 'miracle' ingredient that drew you to the product is at the bottom of the list, you might want to think twice before buying.

Many ingredients will be unfamiliar to buyers. So how useful can this information be? Bakel skincare, available in Harvey Nichols, aims to take the guesswork out of these lists by simplifying its formulas. It claims to contain only active ingredients, because it has removed 'superfluous' ones such as preservatives, silicones or perfumes. To back this up, the purpose of each ingredient is described on the packaging, so you know why it is being used.

As the technology behind beauty products becomes ever more sophisticated, expect the claims to follow suit. But don't be taken in by the advertising - always read between the lines on the label.