Sleep it off
Woke to the damaging effect fatigue has on our complexions, a heritage skincare company rises to the challenge. By Remy Rippon.
Considering it took three forms of transportation – a boat, three planes and a minivan – and over 30 hours to arrive at the birthplace of plant-derived skincare brand L’Occitane in France’s Provence region, I need little convincing that lack of sleep shows up on the skin. Half-moons of dark, sallow skin frame my eyes and my overall complexion appears drawn and a little off-colour, like it’s lost its zing. But while a deficit of sleep shows up instantaneously (hello, jet-lag face), the cumulative effects of ongoing sleep deprivation, in conjunction with environmental factors that also stress the skin, have been found to affect everything from collagen production to the creation of fine lines and loss of overall glow.
“It’s an interesting fact to know that we are sleeping two hours less than in the 60s,” says Benedicte Le Bris, research and development general manager for L’Occitane. “It’s becoming a health issue, and it has an impact on your skin.” Researchers are now as concerned about the ill-effects of perpetual tiredness on the skin as they are about pollution, stress and even sun damage, precisely because they all have one thing in common: the ability to alter the way our genes are expressed (the study of which is know as epigenetics). “The key for this product and how we build our innovation was around epigenetics,” says Le Bris on the impetus for the brand’s latest innovation to curb the effects of fatigue, Immortelle Reset Oil-in-Serum.
While most of us learnt in high-school science classes that the DNA we’re born with can’t be altered (most definitely still the case), Le Bris explains that even though everyday exposure to the elements won’t go as far as altering the genetic code of our skin, it may tweak the way our genes behave. “The gene gets locked because of the aggression and they don’t perform as well – the signal to the cell to produce what it needs to, say collagen, is blocked,” she says. “Epigenetics is the science that found that it’s not by chance or by accident that it happens, but it’s because of aggressors.”
In the simplest sense, she argues that our skin’s ability to regenerate, supercharge collagen and elastin, dial up hydration, and prevent age spots and a host of other concerns can be, over time,
‘switched on’ with the formulas in our beauty cabinet. It’s also why, for the launch of Immortelle
Reset, researchers at L’Occitane are more broadly addressing skin fatigue – a collective term for many factors including stress, sources of pollution and lack of sleep – and have identified the evenings, when the likelihood of being bombarded with these environmental tormentors is reduced, as the optimal time to nix it.
“When it’s time to go to bed, there is a natural increase in the hormone melatonin, and cell turnover slows down, so it’s easier for cosmetic products to penetrate the skin,” says Le Bris.
Adhering to its own corporate DNA, L’Occitane turned to nature, identifying a trio of active ingredients to ‘wake up’ the genes. “We’re very close to nature,” says L’Occitane global skincare director Raphaelle ArchambeaudSicot, gesturing not only to our proximity to the brand’s vast Provençal farmland, where it partners with local farmers to cultivate plant-based ingredients such as almonds and lavender, but to the formulation.
Marjoram, a close relative of oregano which, in ancient times, was even placed underneath pillows to promote a restful slumber, works like an alarm clock to rouse the genes that were muted by outside influencers. “We didn’t know the reason why they did this in ancient times, but now we know the reason is epigenetic, because we’ve been able to prove that the marjoram is protecting 33 per cent of the cells involved in the external aggression,” says Le Bris.
Affectionately dubbed ‘nature’s Botox’, the formulation is also spiked with acmella extract, which relaxes the tiny muscles in the epidermis that lead to fine lines when they are perpetually contracted due to stress.
The plant-based duo make up the serum portion of the oil-in-serum formulation. As for the oil, over 3,000 tiny golden bubbles are suspended in the serum and burst with L’Occitane’s hero ingredient, immortelle. “Ours is the best,” laughs Le Bris of the anti-ageing powerhouse ingredient, of which there are over 500 varieties. This particular strand of immortelle, hailing from Corsica, not only protects the barrier of the skin from pollution, it boosts circulation too.
The resulting formulation is proof a plant-based product is no less gutsy than its synthetic counterparts. A single pump of the dual-textured concentrate delivers a neat droplet which morphs from a gel-like texture to a silky serum as the immortelle bubbles erupt and settle into the top layer of skin.
As sensorial as it is on application, the formula’s real prowess comes into play overnight. “It was very interesting for us to deep-dive into what is happening with the skin during the night,” says Le Bris, who teamed up with the Paris-based European Sleep Center, which measures everything from the duration to the quality of sleep of its participants. To test the nocturnal benefits of Immortelle Reset, participants were given a spa treatment using the oil-in-serum before retiring to bed. Remarkably, they reported a 40 per cent increase in quality of sleep when compared to the previous seven nights’ sleep without a treatment and the use of the product. “Even the doctor said to us: ‘Wow, this is impressive for a spa treatment,’” says Le Bris, clearly chuffed with the results.
It isn’t difficult to see why. While a spa treatment may be linked to better sleep, a recent study by Northwestern University, Chicago researchers found evidence that facial massages may even reduce the visible signs of ageing. Results like these are the reason L’Occitane also suggests a self-administered massage technique, which kicks off the relaxation process. The goal is to ensure the products filter into the skin, boost blood flow and calm the mind. I attempt the method – massaging a few droplets clockwise between the brows, along the cheekbones, and pressure points – before retiring to a cloud-like bed and drifting off for a full eight hours. Reset, indeed.
“When it’s time to go to bed, there is a natural increase in the hormone melatonin, and cell turnover slows down, so it’s easier for cosmetic products to penetrate the skin”