What’s the deal with gin­ger and skin­care?

ELLE (Canada) - - Storyboard - By Victoria DiPlacido

I’M ON A GIN­GER FARM in Viet­nam, which is the last place any­one would look for me if I were to go miss­ing. Check­ing out gin­ger at a lo­cal mar­ket? Maybe. But stand­ing among the nar­row green blades of the un­picked plants? Not a chance. I’m a city girl. Yet the prom­ise of a new gin­ger-leaf ex­tract be­ing used to stoke hyaluronic-acid pro­duc­tion in skin was in­trigu­ing; could an age-old plant de­liver? So here I am, with Hung Van­ngo, the first global con­sult­ing makeup artist for Kiehl’s skin­care, and 14 fe­male farm­ers, snaking through rows of gin­ger plants in Hoa Binh, a few hours’ drive from Hanoi, the cap­i­tal city. Though born in Viet­nam, Van­ngo seems out of place too—maybe be­cause he’s so many time zones away from his ros­ter of A-list clients, in­clud­ing Se­lena Gomez, Jen­nifer Lawrence and ev­ery Victoria’s Se­cret An­gel you can name.

We’ve both trav­elled a few thou­sand kilo­me­tres to visit the or­ganic fam­ily-run farm re­spon­si­ble for grow­ing, har­vest­ing and pre­par­ing the gin­ger leaves for Gin­ger Leaf & Hi­bis­cus Firm­ing Mask, the new overnight face treat­ment from Kiehl’s, and the more I learn, the less un­likely it seems to find two skin­care ob­ses­sives like us here, dodg­ing mos­qui­toes at sun­down, to get an up-close-and­per­sonal look at the process.

As I stand shoul­der to leaf with the lush, full­grown plants, I’m told by one of the farm­ers— through her trans­la­tor—that pro­duc­ing the leaves is a six-month un­der­tak­ing that in­volves treat­ing the plants much the way I imag­ine you would a fam­ily pet: feed­ing them twice daily (in their case, with a mix of or­ganic com­post and ma­nure), pro­vid­ing ad­e­quate hy­dra­tion and re­mov­ing pests, should they ap­pear. When it comes time to pick the leaves, they are cut from the mid­dle of the stems, gen­tly washed, wrapped into bun­dles, trimmed to uni­form size and then packed ver­ti­cally to dry un­til ready for

trans­port. It takes five days to com­plete a har­vest— and the work is, im­pres­sively, all done by hand.

Gin­ger, also known by its Latin name Zin­giber of­fic­i­nale, is part of the Zin­gib­er­aceae fam­ily, which in­cludes turmeric and car­damom. The plants have been used in Ayurvedic and tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicines to ward off colds and pro­mote di­ges­tion and cir­cu­la­tion, among other things, for at least 2,000 years, but that hasn’t stopped sci­en­tists in this cen­tury from re­search­ing the peren­nial.

Known for its po­tent anti-in­flam­ma­tory and anti­ox­i­dant ef­fects (as de­tailed in a 2013 re­view in the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Pre­ven­tive Medicine that cov­ered a decade’s worth of re­search), gin­ger is the “per­fect” in­gre­di­ent for use in beauty ac­cord­ing to Jen­nifer Hirsch, a U.K.-based beauty botanist who works with brands look­ing to for­mu­late with plant ac­tives. “It’s in­cred­i­bly sat­is­fy­ing when eth­nob­otany go­ing back cen­turies is backed up by sci­en­tific re­search. It’s al­most a ‘told you so’ mo­ment for all the gen­er­a­tions of tra­di­tional use,” she says.

“Us­ing the leaves of the plant is a newer con­cept,” Ge­of­frey Ge­nesky, sci­en­tific di­rec­tor for Kiehl’s, tells me over a meal of grilled chicken rolled with gin­ger leaves, veg­eta­bles with gin­ger sauce and a gin­ger dessert jam. Usu­ally, gin­ger leaves are dis­carded in favour of the root or stem, but the brand took an in­ter­est when it was found that the ex­tract kick-starts an en­zyme, hyaluro­nan syn­thase 2 that pro­duces hyaluronic acid (the cushy sub­stance that keeps skin hy­drated and plump—a syn­thetic ver­sion of it is used in many in­jectable fillers).

Ac­cord­ing to one study of 25 vol­un­teers aged 42 to 65, na­solabial folds (i.e., laugh lines) were markedly less no­tice­able af­ter us­ing gin­ger-leaf ex­tract twice daily for three months when com­pared to a placebo. In my own—en­tirely sub­jec­tive, less rig­or­ous—study, ap­ply­ing the rich, pleas­ingly pink mask felt like the skin­care equiv­a­lent of tuck­ing your­self in with a cash­mere blan­ket. Put it on be­fore bed (it goes on clear and ab­sorbs like a mois­tur­izer, with lit­tle to no tack) and you’ll wake up with the skin of some­one who ac­tu­ally drinks eight to 10 glasses of wa­ter a day.

While recipes for mix-it-your­self gin­ger skin­care for bright­en­ing and tight­en­ing abound on­line, Hirsch cau­tions against play­ing am­a­teur herbal­ist with the in­gre­di­ent, par­tic­u­larly when it’s in es­sen­tial-oil form. “Di­luted, gin­ger es­sen­tial oil has been shown to help stim­u­late blood flow to the sur­face of the skin—hugely ben­e­fi­cial to its ap­pear­ance and proper func­tion­ing,” she ex­plains. “But con­cen­trated, it can be a skin ir­ri­tant.”

Gin­ger devo­tees needn’t be wor­ried about a lack of pro­fes­sion­ally for­mu­lated op­tions. This July, The Body Shop will re­lease a con­di­tioner to pair with its im­mensely pop­u­lar Gin­ger Scalp Care Sham­poo. Launched in the ’90s, the sham­poo for dry scalps has peaked in pop­u­lar­ity in the past few years (anec­do­tally, some peo­ple be­lieve gin­ger may help with hair loss, though this is not a claim made by The Body Shop), and it is now the brand’s topselling prod­uct world­wide. Olay’s new line of ra­di­ance-boost­ing body and fa­cial cleansers con­tain crushed gin­ger for its aro­mather­a­peu­tic bene­fits, which are said to be en­er­giz­ing and up­lift­ing.

Back at the farm, Van­ngo tells me that gin­ger has some­what of a sen­ti­men­tal value for him. At age six, he fled Viet­nam with two of his sib­lings and lived in a Thai refugee camp for three years be­fore Canada al­lowed them to im­mi­grate to Cal­gary. He still waxes nos­tal­gic for the tra­di­tional Viet­namese dishes, some in­clud­ing gin­ger, that his older sis­ter would cook in their new home.

On our long, wind­ing drive back to Hanoi, I find a piece of a crum­pled leaf I’d picked ear­lier in my purse and re­flect on how far I’ve trav­elled to be re­minded that some of the best skin­care in­gre­di­ents aren’t dreamed up by sci­en­tists in a lab. Some­times you have to get out­side. n

When ap­ply­ing Kiehl’s Gin­ger Leaf & Hi­bis­cus Firm­ing Mask ($69), make sure to mas­sage into skin, says Van­ngo. For details, see Shop­ping Guide.

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