youth blooms

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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.

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