Diamond, gold, caviar and truffle… The beauty industry attempts to seduce us each day with miracle formulas ladened with expensive skincare ingredients befitting of gods. However, these powerhouse key actives often come with a hefty price tag. So, the question is: does price really reflect quality?
On the list of the most luxurious skincare ingredients with an eye-watering retail value is the humble saffron, also called red gold. Cleopatra used this sacred spice in her baths for its aphrodisiac aroma and it was also given as an offering to Buddha. Although its value can vary depending on origin, high-quality Spanish saffron has a price of between 8,000€ and 10,000€ per kilo. Yikes!
The world-renowned skincare prestige of saffron is owed to Ayurveda, an alternative medicine system that uses it as a universal remedy in its miraculous facial oil Kumkumadi Tailam. This beauty elixir is a unique blend of rare oils and herbs enriched with pure saffron and it is fabled to keep skin looking blemish-free, radiant and more youthful. But when more than 150 flowers are needed to obtain just a gram of saffron (it is a similar case with Rose), you can see why this coveted ingredient is so expensive. It is a meticulous artisanal process that must be performed by hand.
In the Top Ten of the most expensive skincare ingredients…
“One of the most exclusive and expensive active ingredients I have come across is Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Liquorice root extract). What makes it so costly is its high Glabridin content,” says Pedro. In 2007, the liquorice trade was valued at around $42 million, according to a report by the US National Library of Medicine.
The reason? Its myriad of health benefits. The effects of liquorice are well-known in both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it’s used for its soothing, calming, tonic action… Even as far back as ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, liquorice was a favourite amongst healers. In fact, Pedanius Dioscorides a Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist, and author of De materia medica (a 5-volume Greek encyclopaedia about herbal medicine), touted liquorice as a very effective treatment for stomach and intestinal ulcers.
Chinese liquorice is the most expensive of all due to its high content of glycyrrhizic acid. However, in the skincare industry, the most valued component of liquorice is Glabridin, a fat-soluble molecule with a whitening action similar to that of hydroquinone (97.33% vs 99.41%). Furthermore, glabridin carries fewer side effects as it works differently to hydroquinone, blocking tyrosinase and melanin formation.
Schizandra, the beauty-enhancing five flavour fruit
The Schizandra berry or Schisandra Chinensis (Wu Wei Zi in Chinese), was relatively unknown outside of oriental medicine circles despite having been used for more than 2,000 years. That was until Queen Midas, aka Gwyneth Paltrow, thrust this magic berry into the limelight a few years ago.
Known as the five-flavour fruit in Chinese Medicine, it is said to contain all five elemental energies: wood, fire, water, earth and metal – Meaning it can balance every one of the body’s energy meridians and tone the three treasures – Jing (essence), Shen (spirit) and Qi (vital energy).
This “super berry” is credited with being a powerful adaptogen and for being able to nourish skin from the inside out. But it is also considered an excellent skincare ingredient for topical application. “I chose to include this ingredient in Ultra Revitalizing Elixir regardless of the price for several reasons,” admits Pedro Catalá. “The first being that I have complete and utter confidence in my supplier. Secondly, the in vivo tests done on this ingredient show spectacular results. Thirdly, it is perfect for sensitive skin because it is proven to be immensely soothing. What’s more, it also improves skin tone by limiting the synthesis of melanin and its dispersion. All of these points outweigh the 1,300€/kg price tag. At least for me, they do.”
The key component of Ultra Revitalizing Elixir is saccharide hydrolyzate, a mixture of active compounds obtained by the enzymatic hydrolysis of Schizandra berries. Added to this mix then is a unique composition of peptides, sugars and hydroxy acids. This combination improves barrier function and softens even the most sensitive of skins.
German Iris, a scent more expensive than gold
Together with Oud (a perfume ingredient difficult to come by as it is extracted from the resin the Agar tree releases to defend itself from a Phialophora parasitic fungus attack, and whose essential oil can cost more than 25,000€ depending on purity), Iris root or Orris extract is not only another sought-after fragrance but also one of the most expensive in the industry.
The reason for the high retail value of this exclusive extract is that the roots must spend between three and five years in the ground before it can be bottled, powdered or made into perfume. During this time the roots undergo various changes and generate methylionone odorants called irones.
This time-consuming and costly extraction process is something that Orris root shares with Rose and Saffron, wherein both cases large quantities of flowers are needed to obtain just a few drops of essential oil. “The aromatic scent of German Iris or Orris Butter, one of the most expensive extracts in the beauty industry, is what I chose to include in my new body care range. As with all my products, only a trace amount is used, but it’s enough to enhance the formula with a delicate and oh-so-special aroma – Without disproportionately impacting on the final cost of the product,” says Pedro.
Quality (and endorsement) over quantity
At this point in the discussion, it is plain to see that more expensive ingredients do actually improve the formula, but here are a few other important reasons why price reflects quality: “I only work with organic extracts from accredited suppliers. Unfortunately, this means their prices are approximately ten times higher than other suppliers, but you get what you pay for,” says Pedro.
“I also like to work with the unsaponifiable fraction of vegetable oils, which is the most concentrated and beneficial part. It is more expensive, but it is higher quality and has more properties than just a standard vegetable oil.”
“Using organic vegetable glycerine instead of a classic vegetable glycerine is also more expensive, but its ability to better penetrate the stratum corneum, attract water and retain it to conserve moisture wins hands down,” continues the formulation expert.
“Quality in skincare products comes at a price, but it also offers maximum efficiency and high-performance. The most important thing is to use ingredients at their highest recommended dose as proven by competent research. It is not about creating a nice INCI. It is about taking care of the skin.”
Nevertheless, it should be remembered that in addition to using the best, highest-grade ingredients on the market, the true value of Twelve Beauty lies in its craftsmanship. How the products are formulated, how the ingredients are processed, the packaging, the personalised notes that are sent with each order and of course, the empathy and kindness with which they treat their customers.