COULD ORCHID EXTRACT BE THE MODERN ELIXIR OF YOUTH? JULIETTE WINTER TALKS TO THE EXPERTS TO FIND OUT HOW THESE UNIQUE FLOWERS CAN BEAUTIFY SKIN.
HOW CAN THE ORCHID live for more than a century and not look a day older than when it first bloomed? It’s a question scientists are now asking. Could this coveted ornamental, long prized since the ancient Greeks who saw them as a symbol of virility, really hold the key to anti-aging? “The orchid has the most exceptional longevity in the plant kingdom,” says Wendy Phillips, Guerlain’s National Training Manager. “It is capable of living longer than 100 years in the most hostile of environments and under extreme conditions. It defies time and the laws of nature.” Orchids are distinctly different to other flowers — they live on trees for starters, and can survive with little food or water and still retain their wow-factor beauty and colour. It’s this peculiar dichotomy that has spurred the curiosity of cosmetic chemists around the globe, but perhaps none more so than those at Guerlain, who have spent more than 15 years studying and testing thousands of orchid varieties in their Geneva-based ‘orchidarium’. To their delight, researchers found that several species (of the 30,000-odd known ones in the Orchidaceae family) can potentially slow down the cell-aging process in human skin. Still more thrilling was the discovery that the gold orchid had the potential to one-up the rest and reverse the aging process in human cells. “With the passing years and the accumulation of stress, the vital energy of cells starts to run out of steam. Cellular regeneration slows down and the skin loses its vitality,” says Wendy. “It was at the heart of the gold orchid that Guerlain discovered molecules capable of boosting energy production and distribution within ‘mother’ cells in order to reactivate the skin’s regeneration process.” Emma Hobson, education manager for The International Dermal Institute and for Dermalogica, says the orchid is well known for its anti-aging properties in skincare. “Orchid flower extract has anti-inflammatory, protective moisturising and free radical properties that all work together to help prevent the signs of premature aging. It is also thought to stimulate collagen production.” As well as the prized gold orchid, Guerlain has added two new orchid extracts to its fourth generation Orchidée Impériale cream, the Gastrodia elata and Phalaenopsis amabilis, which it claims have the power to boost cell respiration. “During cell respiration, the cell consumes glucose and oxygen to produce the vital cell energy needed for it to function properly,” says Wendy. “When cell respiration is at its best, it produces the ideal vital energy for it to regenerate properly. Cell respiration is therefore the key to cell longevity.” Although Guerlain grow this plant in their orchidarium, they have also acknowledged the importance of reintroducing and preserving the previously plundered species into their native habitat, providing financial backing to set up an exploratory reserve in the Yunnan region in China. “The gold orchid, a sacred flower, gifted with extraordinary vital force, was the first orchid to be reimplanted in Tianzi,” says Wendy, who adds that some 10,000 species have now been reintroduced, including Vanda coerulea, commonly known as the blue orchid, “a delicate, rare wild orchid that holds the secret of eternal youth”. Emma agrees that, while science can prove that orchid extract can fight free radicals and help reduce the appearance of fine lines, there is also an element of mysticism and allure in the use of rare plants in skincare. “It would be wonderful to think that the magic of an orchid is not just its outside appearance, but also that the beautiful texture of each unique leaf reflects the same texture it could achieve for the skin.”
FROM LEFT Dermalogica Phyto Replenish Oil (30ml, $120). Guerlain Orchidée Impériale 4G Cream ($570). Clarins Blue Orchid Face Treatment Oil (30ml, $55). L’occitane Néroli and Orchidée Body Milk (245ml, $42). For stockist details, see page 134.