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EXTRA STEPS TO BEAUTY: Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum (above, with Perfecting Cushions) was designed as a first step after cleansing to restore skin's balance and optimise the treatment products used thereafter.
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EXTRA STEPS TO BEAUTY: John Frieda 10 Day Tamer Pre-Wash Treatment penetrates beneath the cuticle of hair to fight frizz.
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EXTRA STEPS TO BEAUTY: Mt Sapola Arbutin Xetract can be applied on their own or added to a night-time serum or gel for a beauty pick-me-up

Not so quick a beauty fix

As beauty regimens get increasingly complex with more and more steps, consumers should do their homework before going on a buying trip.
May 28, 2016 5:50 AM

STICKING to a three-step skincare routine is as much a sign of your age as confessing that you're a fan of Journey. These days, cleansing, toning and moisturising just don't cut it as beauty brands are introducing enough steps in a skincare regimen to warrant a FitBit counter. And the latest new category to up the ante? A slew of "pre" products that claims to boost the efficacy of potions that follow.

Think a concentrated serum is enough for turning back the clock? Now there are pre-serums to max out its potency. And gone are the days of simply stepping into the shower and shampooing up. Because you'll be missing out on the silky-soft feel achieved with a pre-shampoo treatment to prime your tresses.

"We have definitely moved away from a rigid cleanse, tone, moisturise regimen," says Lum Yang Xi of the aesthetics practice IDS Clinic. 

"Even though there are more steps, I think skincare is becoming 'smarter'. Specific products are developed to target specific skin issues like pigmentation and acne separately. Consumers are also becoming more intelligent in purchasing these additional products to help treat and prevent their own individual problems."

Looking gorgeous is more of a luxury than ever before, because unless you're an heiress whose full-time job is populating your Instagram feed with airbrushed selfies, you would never have the time to look truly on point. John Frieda, the eponymous hair care brand started by the London celebrity hairstylist, for example, has recently added a product to its Frizz Ease line-up that has to be applied to dry hair and left on for at least eight minutes before being rinsed off in the shower. Called the 10 Day Tamer Pre-Wash Treatment, the formula penetrates beneath the cuticle of hair to fight frizz without the need for smoothing out kinks with a flat iron or an intense blow out.

"The numerous steps and products developed by brands are normally in place to help ensure your hair is at its optimum condition," says Ken Hong, salon director of Evolve Salon who is an ambassador for the brand. "Companies have invested in research to ensure that these steps are crucial and effective in achieving much desired hair. More often than not, users do not achieve the expected results because they do not follow the steps of each product."

The product rides on a trend of pre-shampoo treatments by cult hair labels such as Living Proof, partially funded and fronted by actress Jennifer Aniston and available at Sephora, and trichology brand Philip Kingsley. This might in turn be inspired by a deluge of skincare pre-serums from beauty giants such as the best-selling Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum that was released in 1997. It was designed as a first step after cleansing to restore skin's balance and optimise the treatment products used thereafter, paving the way for other elixirs that promise even better results from your regimen. The formulation has been upgraded over the years and most recently, the Korean brand launched a limited edition of the product encased in a bottle designed by Donah Lee, a contemporary minhwa (a form of Korean folk art) artist.

Another Asian brand Mt Sapola, known for its home fragrances and aromatherapy products, has created single-ingredient skin supplements that could be added into your own serums to create a customised beauty cocktail. Called Xetracts, potent liquids such as skin-brightening ingredients Arbutin or Retinol, or the antioxidant Ascorbic C, can be applied on their own or added to a night-time serum or gel for a beauty pick-me-up, depending on your skin condition and concerns.

"By law in Singapore, ingredients must be listed in order of weight, with the main ingredient first," says Cheryl Gan, founder and managing director of Mt Sapola Singapore.

"We are very proud to declare that the active ingredient in our Xetract line is always the first or among the first three listed. It means that the customer knows what they are paying for - the active ingredient that truly matters."

However, while the line of pure potions seems to bring out a beauty junkie's inner skincare chemist, Ms Gan warns that each Xetract is highly concentrated and might be too harsh if combined with other concentrated products. "For example, people on Vitamin A medication or using skincare products with Vitamin A must take very great care when using Retinol Xetract as it may cause an overdose."

Besides, not everyone is convinced that a complex skincare regimen yields better results. In fact, Kevin Chua, an aesthetics doctor, developed his new range of skincare to be easy to use and affordable. Manufactured here, the range includes six products. "I don't think skincare needs to be so complicated," says Dr Chua.

"Most skincare products are designed to be better absorbed after a toner is used. However, I formulated some of my products in the form of serums in order to do away with the need for toners. As a result, my skincare line does not require the use of boosters, as they are easily absorbed."

At the end of the day, consumers need to do their homework to sift through marketing jargon and decide if a booster product is indeed necessary, warns Dr Lum. And you could even raise the efficacy of your usual serums and creams with just a little adjustment to your skincare application technique.

"The top layer of your skin acts as a barrier, but when it is hydrated with water, topical products are better able to penetrate that outermost layer," adds Dr Lum.

Hence, applying skincare products after a shower is an easy way for your skin to soak up the goodness of topical products without the need to splurge on other boosters, explains the good doctor. Bad news for booster makers, but a great tip for the beauty fan who needs a cheap skincare fix.