There was a time, not too long ago, when shopping for natural skincare products required a visit to the local farm or health-food store. But as more and more consumers seek to avoid potentially toxic ingredients in their cleansers and moisturisers, natural products have caught up with their synthetic cousins to become technologically advanced and increasingly luxurious.
'Natural and organic skincare is definitely the new luxury skincare,' says Anita Yuen, director of beauty for Harvey Nichols.
Joyce Beauty's general manager Harriet Lee agrees. 'People always have the impression of organics being from the countryside, part of a very simple lifestyle,' she says. 'But actually you can find organics that are very luxurious.'
Starting with the introduction of Dr Hauschka 10 years ago, Joyce Beauty has pioneered the natural and organic skincare market in Hong Kong. In recent years it has added luxury brands such as Darphin from France and more modern ones including England's Elemental Herbology and Hungary's Omorovicza.
While brands such as Perricone MD and 3LAB remain staples among Joyce Beauty's customers, Lee expects the organic market to become more popular and sophisticated.
'Because of the technology being put into the organic brands there will be more and more results-oriented products coming up,' she says. 'You'll see more doctors and dermatologists behind the brands, offering different opinions and support.'
Organics have already come a long way in terms of performance and effectiveness, says Brenda Lee, founder of cosmetics boutique Beyond Organic.
'To be honest, some customers want to try our products not necessarily for health reasons, but [because] they heard they are even more effective than the expensive cream at home,' she says. 'And many can't turn back after they start using them.'
Beyond Organic is very selective when it comes to choosing its brands, testing complete product lines on at least 10 people for six to 12 months before approving them. Among those that have made the cut are German skincare brand Amala, custom-made anti-ageing line Absolution and Susanne Kaufmann Organic Treats from Austria's Bregenz Forest, due to launch this month.
Part of the reason for such extensive testing is the nature of organic products. 'It's like Chinese medicine,' says Yuen. 'They work slowly but are better for the circulation. They detox and purify you from the inside.'
Yuen, whose own search for natural skincare products led her to bring a number of innovative brands to Harvey Nichols, has recently introduced Intelligent Nutrients - created by environmentalist and Aveda founder Horst Rechelbacher - and Noesa, a German skincare system based on the original concept of Alchemetics. 'Noesa charges HK$6,500 per bottle. I didn't want to believe it,' says Yuen. 'But it works. I've heard my customers say they can't live without it. Some people break out the first time they use it but after two weeks their skin is like a baby's.'
Intelligent Nutrients, meanwhile, is another hi-tech brand that is pioneering the use of plant stem cells. Ingredients such as edelweiss, coneflower and pennywort are grown in a sterile lab without the use of soil to prevent any potential contamination.
Harvey Nichols is also home to The Organic Pharmacy, a comprehensive line of skincare products, make-up and supplements created by homeopathic pharmacist Margo Marrone.
With so many natural brands available in Hong Kong, it can be difficult to know where to start. Yuen suggests looking to cleansers first.
'You purify your skin inside and out, so purity is important,' she says, noting that the chemicals and fillers in conventional products can often cause redness, irritation and breakouts.
Yuen's complete regimen has five steps: cleanser, toner, eye cream, anti-ageing serum and a day or night cream. Her top picks include Australian brand Y Natural's 600 Smooth Anti Age Serum. Completely free of chemicals, the lightweight cream boasts Bulgarian rose otto to fight ageing and an extract from hibiscus seeds said to act as a natural 'botox-like' ingredient.
Yuen also likes Intelligent Nutrients' Plant Stem Cell Science Renewal Complex, a targeted treatment for wrinkles, age spots and other imperfections.
Joyce Beauty's Lee suggests focusing on a good cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen. 'These three are the basics,' she says. Among the most effective products are Elemental Herbology's antioxidant-rich Cell Food Facial Serum and Omorovicza's Thermal Cleansing Balm, which boasts 'mineral cosmetology' - what Lee calls 'representative of the synergy between natural ingredients and advanced technology'.
For those looking to go a bit further and prepare the skin for the onset of spring, she recommends Dr Hauschka's Rhythmic Night Conditioner - a 28-day regimen designed to normalise problem skin. 'We really love Dr Hauschka because it goes beyond the organic part to a more biodynamic approach to its ingredients and production,' she explains.
'People tend to not only use organic brands on the skin, but it also usually comes with a whole lifestyle,' Lee says. 'A lot of brands promote fair trade and ecological responsibility, so anyone who shares this kind of mentality loves to try natural products.'
Yuen, who also points to the huge trend in organic food, sees the market for natural skincare products getting better and more advanced. 'People are definitely starting to discover the endless possibilities we have with nature's good,' she says.