I’m wearing a lab coat with several journalists and bloggers from Manila and Australia, shaking a vial of face cream that I had just formulated under the watchful eye of Dr. Marie Landram, the chief formulator for Olay.
We are standing in the Procter & Gamble Singapore Innovation Center, the largest private research facility in the heart of the Biopolis, the epicenter of Singapore’s world-class biomedical research hub.
The 344,000-square-foot, six-floor facility houses 500 researchers, scientists and engineers. The Silver LEED-certified and Green Mark building uses renewable energy and enforces a zero-waste policy. Throughout the building are small hubs that encourage employee creativity, such as meditation rooms and massage rooms.
In this facility, P&G can do everything: discover unmet needs in the Consumer Hub; produce small product batches for rapid, small-scale consumer testing; develop packaging using 3D printing technology; and even create signature in-house fragrances.
Though the P&G Health Sciences Institute is in the Health Care Research Center in Mason, Ohio, the company also conducts research in Rusham Park (UK), Newcastle, Caracas, Mexico City and, most recently, Singapore. Its presence in Asia reinforces how important the region is to P&G, which serves more than two billion consumers with 25 brands, including 22 billion-dollar brands SK-II, Olay, Pantene and Gillette, to name a few.
In recent years, Asia has been at the forefront of skincare trends and technology, popularizing products like oil cleansers, BB creams, CC creams, serums, emulsions, sheet masks, BB cushions, and ampoules.
Though global brands have been playing catchup with innovations like these, P&G’s access to research and emerging technologies across the world remains unparalleled.
At the outset, our guide David Khoo, P&G’s senior scientific communications specialist, prefaces our tour of the Innovation Center by saying it will only give us a glimpse into the actual process behind the production of a single product.
P&G’s new product, the Olay Regenerist Miracle Boost Youth Pre-Essence, for instance, spanned 10 years of research, requiring consultations with 100 experts and researchers across four countries and 50,000 hours of clinical testing. The findings were then published in more than 10 international scientific journals.
The “essence” product category, which was first popularized by SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence, was created to deliver and release skin actives much faster in a light solution easily absorbed by skin.
Research shows that moisturizing creams have larger molecules that don’t penetrate skin; they merely act as a protective barrier for the surface. Essences and serums are the workhorses of a skincare routine, since they penetrate the stratum corneum—the base layer of the epidermis.
A pre-essence, applied after toning, prepares your skin to properly receive and absorb the benefits of essences and serums. In Korea, pre-essences have been popular for a very long time, and post-essences have even begun to emerge.
As we test the crude face creams we made by shaking water, glycerin, oil, emulsifiers and polymers in a jar, I couldn’t help but notice how thick, greasy and heavy it is.
“The difference for us here is that we become really selective over the technologies we use,” Landram explains.
One of these is a pentapeptide known as Pal-KTTKS, which is kept in a special box inside the laboratory, beyond our inexperienced hands.
“Gram for gram, this material actually costs more than gold,” she says. “So it’s really precious and we don’t want to drop it anywhere.”
“If you are aware of the history of origins of neuropeptides, it helps with the wound-healing process,” Khoo explains. “Pal-KTTKS itself is a fragment of collagen. It’s the skin’s genius way of saying, ‘Here is a fragment of structural protein that has been created during the healing process. I am going to use that fragment to signal the production of collagen.’”
Another key ingredient in the product is Niacinamide, which boosts cell metabolism.
In the field of Cellular Biogenics, it’s been discovered that as we age, cell metabolism declines, which leads to a decrease in cell renewal. As a result, dead skin cells accumulate and act as a barrier to the absorption of skincare products.
These findings support the observations of women that as they get older, they feel as though their skincare products aren’t as effective anymore.
The $300-dollar question
In the lab, Tanvi Ahuja, a researcher, and Poithvi Bhatt, a senior scientist, perform a test to demonstrate how well the Miracle Boost Youth Pre-Essence penetrates the skin’s layers.
Using a fabric sheet folded into multiple layers (to represent the many layers of the skin, from the dermis to the stratum corneum), they apply the pre-essence and, after a few seconds, layer the Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream on top. On a separate fabric sheet, they apply a layer of a $300 face cream.
When we pull the fabric sheets apart, we discover that the sheet with the Olay products has penetrated twice as deeply.
So does the money that women spend on high-end skincare products mostly just go into packaging, marketing and advertising hype?
“We would love to be able to say that,” answers Khoo. “But no, each company and each brand has their own standard of processes and ingredient culture and how you extract the its ingredients, and it’s a way in which we do manage to cost less.”
A good example of this is the Pal-KTTKS. Though the ingredient itself is precious, David assures us only a small amount—three to five parts per million—is needed in an in vitro level to trigger collagen production, which makes it suitable for use in a mass-consumer brand like Olay.
While Olay recommends pairing its Miracle Boost Pre-Essence with the Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream (dubbed the “Miracle Duo”), I would say it depends on your skin type and your personal preference.
“The Pre-Essence is pretty agnostic in delivering its benefits,” Khoo admits. “But it does enhance the effects of a wide range of creams.”
While it’s never too early to begin an anti-aging regimen, if you have oily, combination or acne-prone skin, it’s advisable to do a patch test first, since face creams might be too rich for your face. Most women like myself receive adequate moisture from essences followed by serums, and prefer to skip creams.
The advantage of the pre-essence is that it is a seamless added step that can significantly boost the effects of your current regimen. Two pumps are enough to cover your face, neck and décolletage. After 10-15 seconds, you can proceed to your essence, serum, cream; and if it’s daytime, sunscreen.
My experience with the product has been a positive one so far. It is nonirritating to my combination acne-prone skin and, overall, my skin looks healthier and clearer after using it inconsistently for just two weeks (I get very lax about my routine in the evening).
It also fits in with my current routine, which consists of daily exfoliation with salicylic acid and nightly application of retinols and glycolic acid.
While there are critics who say that women, especially in Korea, have gone too far with their 12-step beauty regimens, what really matters is what makes you feel good. Some women only have the patience for three steps, but it’s also difficult to ignore these innovations in skincare.
After all, just one more step could make all the difference.