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.
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.