At last count, I had one drawer full of summer skincare, one drawer full of winter skincare, one cabinet full of skincare that I was "testing" - and one face.
It's a confusing world out there. We're spoilt for choice when it comes to the myriad lotions, creams, serums, gels and masques that we can put on our face. Each one promises to deliver radiance, moisture, elasticity, smoothness - the proverbial fountain of youth bottled in slick packaging with an alluring name. Looking past the marketing isn't always easy, and experts in the industry tell us how to focus on the issues that matter and clue us in to the latest technology available.
"Consumer behaviour is changing dramatically these days. They want to see results very quickly," says Dr Daniel Stangl, director of innovation for La Prairie. He points out that product efficacy is strongly tied to the smart delivery of active ingredients, which is where much of their brand's research and development is focused at the moment.
"The delivery mechanism is important," says Dr Joseph K. H. Wong, a specialist in family medicine with a diploma of practical dermatology. "Our skin is very impermeable in order to protect us from contamination such as bacteria or viruses. While small molecules such as vitamin C [can easily] be absorbed through the skin, larger molecules need specific technology to assist in penetration."
The kind of technology Wong is referring to and that La Prairie is looking at is sub-micron and encapsulation technology. The former, Stangl says, refers to the use of sub-micron-sized crystals to enhance the penetration efficacy of active ingredients - which "will feature prominently in our products in the future", he promises.
Encapsulation technology, on the other hand, refers to a more efficient way to parcel the active ingredients. "The active is sent to where it's needed in the skin, targeting specific cells and skin layers," Stangl explains. "Once we master this technology, we'll improve efficacy tremendously."
These echo the sentiments voiced by Dr Yannis Alexandrides, founder of 111SKIN, a brand that first came to Hong Kong in July last year. The brand, named after 111 Harley Street, the address of its cosmetic centre and where Alexandrides practised as a plastic surgeon, is best known for its Black Diamond Collection. The line's products use nano particles to deliver the brand's NAC Y2 formula, along with arbutin and hyaluronic acid, into the deeper layers of the skin.
"It's essentially a transportation: the best way I can describe it is that the ingredients adhere to the surface of the Black Diamond nano particles and they travel easier through the skin," he says. "People are now looking for cutting edge scientific products. The search for the fountain of youth hasn't changed … but people are now very results-oriented. They're comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone and trying a new brand."
With its NAC Y2 formula developed with former chemical engineers of the Soviet space programme, 111SKIN certainly has allure of the science and technology. It doesn't hurt that it uses black diamond particles in its main line, either - exotic and precious ingredients have long been an attraction for luxury consumers.
La Prairie's new Cellular Radiance Perfecting Fluide Pure Gold, for example, draws on the restorative properties of the precious metal. The newest addition to the brand's Radiance collection is designed to revitalise your skin's appearance by improving texture, tone and lustre.
"Thousands of years ago, the Egyptians ingested gold to purify themselves; they say Cleopatra slept with a gold mask on her face at night for a glowing complexion. Gold has been revered for centuries, and it's still valued now," Stangl says. "Like our Platinum and Caviar lines, it's rare and precious, and fits with our brand image … but more importantly, from a scientific point of view, these ingredients have very real benefits for the skin."
This is hardly news to the savvy skincare consumer, as brands have long touted the efficacy of ingredients such as marine elements - the new Genaissance de La Mer features a powerful red algae alongside its potent Crystal Miracle Broth - or even rare teas, with Fresh, Amorepacific and the new Cha Ling conducting a significant amount of research into their properties.
Nevertheless, it's important to do your homework on brands and their products, as Wong stresses that "good active ingredients should have sound scientific proof of its efficacy in either stimulating turnover of the epidermis - thereby stimulating youthful skin - or increasing the product of collagen through ingredients such as topical vitamin C or A, or slowing down its breakdown, which the MDI marine complex can do".
A word to the wise: even when you've found the potion compatible with your skin's needs, don't assume that it can do all the work for you. Slathering on a cream twice a day is only part of it - there's also staying away from UV rays, cutting out cigarettes and alcohol, and eating healthy in order to combat premature skin ageing.
As Wong says: "A comprehensive anti-ageing approach can't only be skin deep - it should apply to your whole person."
When it comes to skincare, one size doesn't fit all
Don't assume that what works best for your friends will work for you - even if you think you have similar skin.
"While skincare needs are more or less the same, consumer behaviour is changing dramatically these days - individualised products and treatments are on the rise," says Dr Daniel Stangl of La Prairie, pointing out that people are unwilling to compromise and want something that's just right for their skin.
"We offer different solutions for different consumers, not just in terms of the results and skin benefits [through varying ingredients], but also in terms of the experience of the product - the texture, the sensorial experience. Some consumers prefer heavy creams, some like lighter gels."
This is an ethos that can be seen among the top luxury skincare brands. Clé de Peau Beauté's new Basic Care collection, for example, offers an impressive array of lotions and moisturisers alongside its hero product, the sixth-generation edition of La Crème. The moisturisers are available in daytime and nighttime versions, and also in two types - emulsion and cream - for each.
Not only does this ensure that your skin gets the best treatment it needs, but it also means that your daily skincare ritual is that much more enjoyable. As Stangl says: "This experience of the consumer, the emotional aspect of the product, is as important to us as the resulting efficacy of the product."