RAY OF LIGHT

UV rays are one thing, but if you re­ally want to put pig­men­ta­tion in your past and get glow­ing, you need to pro­tect your­self from pol­lu­tion, too.

Simply You - - Contents -

It’s mid-af­ter­noon in the back streets of Tokyo’s rau­cous Rop­pongi district and the win­ter sun is fad­ing fast, sig­nalling an early end to the day. Har­ried moth­ers push­ing strollers hurry home to make din­ner, dodg­ing knots of of­fice work­ers gath­er­ing on cor­ners, sneak­ing one last cig­a­rette break. How­ever, mere me­tres down a side al­ley off the strip, in­side Tomio Koyama Gallery, ex­ists a par­al­lel uni­verse: a serene set­ting of smooth con­crete floors and ex­pan­sive white walls.

Cur­rently on show in the pin-dropquiet space are the works of 44-year-old Mika Ni­na­gawa, a pho­tog­ra­pher whose hy­per-colour­ful, joy­ful im­ages of flow­ers, gold­fish and teen idols have made her a cul­tural su­per­star in Ja­pan and much sought-af­ter by fash­ion names such as Cé­line, Etro and The Selby. Ni­na­gawa’s cur­rent ob­ses­sion – and the fo­cus of to­day’s ex­hi­bi­tion, Light Of – is split­sec­ond mo­ments from fire­work dis­plays and mu­sic fes­ti­vals. The softer pas­tel tones are a de­par­ture from her usual sat­u­rated pal­ette, yet they still glow mag­i­cally against the flashes of light.

She’s hardly the first artist who has tried to mas­ter light. But Ni­na­gawa’s work is a timely re­minder of the eter­nal al­lure of lu­mi­nos­ity and how our eyes are drawn to ra­di­ance. Sheen on the skin evokes youth, de­flect­ing at­ten­tion away from lines and cre­at­ing a feel­ing of fresh­ness. A com­plex­ion that glows with good health is the holy grail when it comes to skin­care and the sci­en­tists for­mu­lat­ing it. Who doesn’t want a flaw­less, even-toned com­plex­ion plumped with mois­ture, lu­mi­nous with blood flow, pearles­cent yet not shiny? But it’s a com­pli­cated for­mula to get right, and some­thing that can’t be faked with a swipe of peach high­lighter and a BB cream.

It’s a bit odd that Swiss skin­care gi­ant La Prairie would choose Tokyo as the site of its lat­est prod­uct launch, for White Caviar Il­lu­mi­nat­ing Pearl In­fu­sion. But weigh up Asian women’s ob­ses­sion with flaw­less skin, Ja­panese women’s love of pearls (de­part­ment stores de­vote size­able sec­tions of floor space to them, while Miki­moto pearl-jew­ellery shops line the up­mar­ket Ginza shop­ping district), and the fact that Tokyo’s air pol­lu­tion can reach cri­sis level in win­ter (due to mi­grat­ing smog from China), and the de­ci­sion makes sense. The launch venue is the cut­ting-edge Quartz Gallery in Shibuya with a sub­se­quent stop-off at the Ni­na­gawa ex­hi­bi­tion.

That last point on pol­lu­tion has prob­a­bly thrown you. (It did us.) But as it turns out, sci­en­tists in­clud­ing those from La Prairie have dis­cov­ered UV rays aren’t skin’s great­est threat when it comes to age­ing. It’s ac­tu­ally ozone, the toxic gas cre­ated when UV light hits monon­i­tro­gen ox­ides. Trans­la­tion: car ex­haust fumes. Traf­fic pol­lu­tion in big cities such as Tokyo, New York, Lon­don and Syd­ney is not only be­ing linked to lung and heart dis­eases, de­men­tia and di­a­betes, but also age spots and wrin­kles. Hence the rise of pol­lu­tion-pre­ven­tion skin­care, with pretty much ev­ery big beauty player jump­ing on the band­wagon over the past 18 months.

But what sets this par­tic­u­lar La Prairie prod­uct apart is it works to treat three types of skin chro­matic dis­or­ders caused by pol­lu­tion: melanin-in­duced spots, red­ness linked to in­flam­ma­tion, and grey tone from dull­ness.

Ac­cord­ing to La Prairie’s direc­tor of in­no­va­tion, Dr Daniel Stangl, poly­cyclic aro­matic hy­dro­car­bons (PAHs) are the real cul­prits. “Pol­lu­tion par­ti­cles re­lease these mol­e­cules into the skin and when ac­ti­vated they can in­ter­act with the DNA and have an ir­ri­tat­ing ef­fect, caus­ing in­flam­ma­tion, some ig­nit­ing melanocytes,” he says. This re­sults in the cre­ation of too much pig­ment, but other prob­lems that may arise in­clude growth of blood ves­sels (hello, red­ness and rosacea) and the re­moval of col­la­gen: hence wrin­kles and lax­ity.

To coun­ter­act this, La Prairie cre­ated a serum that’s a bit of a show­stop­per. Iri­des­cent white caviar pearls are sus­pended in a gel, but when you pump the bot­tle, the pearls re­lease a sta­ble de­riv­a­tive of vi­ta­min C. “The other ac­tive in­gre­di­ent we’ve used here is DGA,” Dr Stangl says. “It’s a po­tent an­ti­ir­ri­tant that in­hibits the for­ma­tion of prostaglandin E2, a skin ir­ri­tant that con­trib­utes to red­ness. DGA also down­reg­u­lates the mas­ter switch of melanin pro­duc­tion so melanin doesn’t spread and skin ap­pears brighter.”

Sounds straight­for­ward, but wouldn’t it be eas­ier to just for­mu­late some kind of shield sim­i­lar to sun­screen that pre­vents pol­lu­tion par­ti­cles, which can be 20 times smaller than our pores, from en­ter­ing our skin in the first place? Ma­ture, dry or sen­si­tive skin is more at risk of hav­ing its bar­rier pen­e­trated, but also fac­tor in that most of us are now us­ing in­gre­di­ents that dis­rupt this outer layer in our bid to make com­plex­ions look smoother in the short term. (Things such as retinoids, gly­colic acids and ex­fo­li­at­ing scrubs.) La Prairie’s an­swer is to cre­ate a phys­i­cal shield by us­ing the shell of the caviar pearls in this serum to form a pro­tec­tive “se­cond skin”.

“The pearl’s ma­trix con­sists of a polysac­cha­ride that al­lows the ac­tives to pen­e­trate, yet shields the skin from par­ti­cles and heavy met­als that could po­ten­tially dam­age cells and lead to dull­ness,” Dr Stangl says.

The re­al­ity is we have to ac­cept that the pol­lu­tion we en­counter ev­ery day is now as big a threat as sun dam­age in the long term. With solid study data prov­ing air­borne par­tic­u­late mat­ter re­sults in skin speck­led with hy­per­pig­men­ta­tion and fine lines, maybe it’s time we all ac­cepted that we need to pro­tect our­selves against pol­lu­tion in the same way we slather on SPF. And if a side ef­fect of us­ing this stuff is a lu­mi­nes­cent glow that looks as if we’re lit up by a back­ground of Ni­na­gawastyle fire­works? Even bet­ter.

“MA­TURE, PEN­E­TRATED.” DRY OR SEN­SI­TIVE SKIN IS MORE AT RISK OF HAV­ING ITS BAR­RIER

La Prairie White Caviar Il­lu­mi­nat­ing Pearl In­fu­sion, $775.

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