It’s a quiet morning in downtown Montreal. At the Crescent St. branch of Mandy’s, some 20 women gather for a Tata Harper skin-care master class. Harper is a hot name in skin-care circles, and we’re going through the entire line of her Vermont-made, all-natural and rather pricey products.
We begin with the requisite double cleanse, followed by masks, toners, serums, hydrating sprays and moisturizers, in order to exfoliate, decongest, purge and, most importantly, moisturize. The skin care specialist talks about texture, glow, clarity and skin tone. Concerns like dryness, redness and enlarged pores are discussed. A vitamin C serum is distributed, which we are told is made with plums. The ladies ooh and aah. An eye mask made with sea buckthorn oil is slicked around the eyes, followed by a face oil made with brown algae. Known for its reputed brightening effect, the oil is lauded by the specialist as “a personal trainer for your skin.”
Once it’s all washed off and the last cream is spread lovingly over my skin, I look in the mirror and admire the new me — a bit red, granted, but with skin far more luminous than when I entered an hour before. I may not look like Gwyneth and J-Lo, those goddesses of glow, but hope springs eternal. Frankly, I was hooked after the first cleanser.
Plumped, moisturized, young, fresh-looking, lush — these are the catchwords on the skin-care scene in 2018. And those goals are gaining popularity here and in the U.S. According to the global information company NPD Group, sales in the prestige beauty industry in the U.S. more than doubled from 2010 to 2017.
The Canadian beauty industry is going gangbusters as well, growing by 9.4 per cent to $1.13 billion for the year to date. Skin care seems to be the biggest focus this year for consumers and retailers alike. The makeup category came up strong with an increase of 8.1 per cent, for $485 million, but skin care came in at 12 per cent growth (to $409 million). That’s a lot of moisturizer.
The skin-care scene is ablaze on social media as well. Influencers — called (sk)influencers — host YouTube channels, Instagram pages and Facebook communities, with followers in the hundreds of thousands. Gurus like Caroline Hirons, Nadine Baggott, Trinny Woodall and Stephanie Nicole share their “skin journeys,” along with product reviews and advice for conditions ranging from acne to rosacea, pigmentation, puffy eyes and fine lines.
You’ll find in-depth interviews with estheticians and industry bigwigs like Kate Somerville, Tiffany Masterson (Drunk Elephant skin care founder) and Paula Begoun (of Paula’s Choice skin care and the review website beautypedia.com). Star dermatologists like Davin Lim and Sam Bunting are getting in on video tutorials as well, covering topics such as which acid is best for which type of skin, how to build a proper skin-care regime, the importance of double cleansing, microneedling, and mineral versus chemical sunscreen.
The powerhouse retailer Sephora is ground zero for high-end cosmetics in Montreal, with two stores on the island and one in Laval. They even set up kiosks at this year’s jazz festival. You’ll see novices alongside beauty junkies at their stores, sampling products from lip scrubs to retinol eye creams. Skin care accounts for roughly 40 per cent of the brands carried in store and online at Sephora.
“You can look matte when you’re dead,” says Kate Somerville skin-care representative Annie Bessette, while treating me to a full-on facial in the middle of the downtown Sephora store. Bessette is layering on the products: cold cream, exfoliating cleanser, plumping serum, tightening gel and wrinkle reducer.
We’re a long way from the three-step skin-care system (cleanser, toner, moisturizer) introduced in 1968 by the world’s first dermatologist-driven line, Clinique. Most every product used on my face hovers around the $100 mark. Though there are budget options available, high-end and medical-grade skin care (with studies to back their claims) do not come cheap. That said, price doesn’t seem to be deterring customers. Around me, women of all ages are snatching up high-end products sold at eyebrow-raising prices.
“We have definitely seen an increase in client interest for the skin-care category over the last year across Canada and in Quebec,” says Jane Nugent, vice-president, merchandising at Sephora. “Additionally, the growth in sales coming from the skin-care category in Quebec has been exceeding our national average.”
And there’s a lot to choose from. Between in-store and online channels, there are roughly 100 skin-care brands, some of which are exclusive to Sephora stores in Canada and sephora.ca. In stores, there are roughly 50 brands, with more on the horizon.
Skin-care aficionados are also drawn to an even more personalized sales approach, which can be found in Montreal stores like Dermalogica, La Chambre des Dames and Etiket, which offer more rare (and therefore sought-after) products, as well as services like facials. Navigating through dozens of cleansers, masks and serums can be daunting, and these professionals not only recommend products, but use them in treatments. At La Chambre des Dames, esthetician Christelle Archer uses Biologique Recherche, the ne-plus-ultra line of French products sought out by the most devout skin obsessives, in her facials. At Dermalogica, facialist Jessica Mambro builds “skin fitness plans” for her clients after an initial treatment using their products.
Simon Tooley and Steven Polegato are partners in Etiket, a chic downtown skin-care/fragrance store and online retailer. Opened in 2011, Etiket stocks 16 skin-care lines, including cult brands like Tata Harper, SkinCeuticals, Vintner’s Daughter (a Gwyneth Paltrow fave), Environ, Elta sunscreens and the Canadian brand Huna. They also offer treatments and organize events like the aforementioned Tata Harper class.
Tooley and Polegato aren’t surprised by the upswing in the beauty sector. “When economic times are tough, we can always afford a lipstick,” says Tooley, who worked for 25 years in the fashion business before opening his store. Tooley and Polegato are seeing most interest for cleansers, products with retinol and serums, especially those that treat pigmentation and sun damage.
Natural products are popular, but Tooley believes that moniker isn’t always clear. “Truth is, you’ll get faster results with chemical products. The importance is to tell the difference between what’s highly marketed and what’s effective, as in products with studies behind them.
“But there’s no need to be so black and white about it. What’s important is what’s going to work for you. The condition of your skin is not only hereditary, but affected by whether you sit in the sun, drink or smoke.”
Which product do they recommend above all others? Says Tooley: “No matter what, the most important product for skin is a good, broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB protection) sunscreen, with an SPF of at least 30.”
“And hydration,” adds Polegato, “but avoid essential oils. A serum is good, and always layer it on before moisturizer.”
When building your skin-care routine (which, by the way, can include a variety of brands), gurus recommend avoiding abrasive, exfoliating scrubs (especially those that contain apricot kernels, which can cause micro-tears in the skin) and foaming cleansers, which are drying. Look for airtight containers (pumps are ideal), which prevent products from oxidizing. Avoid fragrance (natural or organic) as well as alcohol, witch hazel and essential oils, which can be irritating. Natural or organic is not better than synthetic or chemical, as many natural ingredients can be irritating to the skin (such as citrus or lavender).
Avoid spray-on sunscreens, which are not as effective as spread-on creams. Better to use a tinted sunscreen with SPF. And always reapply during the day.
And finally, avoid products that claim to work as well as Botox and fillers, which do not affect the health or quality of the skin (since they are injected underneath).
So, in the end, once you’ve covered your face in creams, acids, serums and vitamins, can you see a difference in your skin? Can they really make you look younger, smoother and fresher?
After three months of testing dozens of products, I’d say absolutely. You can improve the quality of your skin by consistently using a thought-out daily skin-care regime. My pores are smaller, fine lines are diminished, and on mornings after a good sleep, I do see a new-found glow. The key is to be mindful, respond to your skin’s needs and not just plaster on the products.
But I’d also say a lot of the appeal of skin care is about pampering. Just the feeling of taking care of your skin from that first cleanse in the morning to the last slick of night serum is incredibly soothing, I’d even go so far as to say it’s therapeutic.
Tooley sums it up well: “Skin care is about finding the right product, of the right quality, with the right concentration for you. We have to look after ourselves first. As RuPaul says: ‘If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?’ ”
Etiket, 1832 Sherbrooke St. W., 514-687-3886, etiket.ca
Dermalogica Montreal, 132 McGill St., 514-871-3003, dermalogica.ca
La Chambre des Dames, 5056 Côte-des-Neiges Rd., Suite 304, 514-248-0701, lachambredesdames.com
For Sephora locations, see sephora.ca.
Skin care at the pharmacy
Look no further than your local Pharmaprix or Jean Coutu, and you’ll see a large portion of retail space taken up with skin care.
“At Jean Coutu and Brunet pharmacies, skin care is growing faster than the makeup and the fragrance categories,” says Jean Coutu communication manager Geneviève Grégoire. “And high-end brands appeal more and more to our Quebec customers. For 18 months now, Jean Coutu sells Estée Lauder and Clinique products, and has also added more locations with Clarins and Lancôme skin care, along with Quebec companies like Karine Joncas, IDC Dermo and Jouviance.”
Pharmacies are also ideal for budget shoppers, thanks to inexpensive brands like Olay, Neutrogena, Aveeno, CeraVe and Cetaphil. A step up, there are French pharmacy brands such as La Roche-Posay, Biotherm and Avène. Pharmacies’ frequent sales and points systems (like Pharmaprix’s Optimum card) can also result in discounts.
Catherine Masson, VP of the beauty category for Pharmaprix, says their Alexis Nihon store was the first to open a beauty boutique in Quebec, in 2003.
“It came at about the time the department stores started to struggle,” she says. “We saw it as an opportunity for us to pick up that customer, because we knew our female customer was interested in beauty and so are the men. Skin care is our biggest category, and we continue to see double-digit increases.”
Pharmaprix/Shoppers Drug Mart counts 421 beauty boutiques across Canada. Plans are underway for an enhanced beauty boutique — featuring luxury brands such as Chanel, Dior and YSL — in a Place Ville Marie Pharmaprix set to open in late fall.
Know your acids and vitamins
The key products in the world of skin care are cleansers and serums, with masks, mists and moisturizers coming in a distant second. When selecting serums, consider the active ingredients (chemical exfoliators) required for your type of skin.
Here are a few of the most common acids found in basic skin care and, in higher doses, in cosmeceutical products. Acids can hydrate, exfoliate and help resurface your skin. The word “acid” may seem frightening, but unless there is an allergy involved, no over-the-counter products will cause anything beyond redness and minor irritation — save for retinol, which can cause flaking.
Build up gradually, beginning with the products that contain a lower percentage of active ingredients.
The following is general information culled from many sources; for your specific needs, it is best to consult a dermatologist.
Vitamin A (retinoid): The gold standard in anti-aging, retinoic acid is found in prescription-strength products, and retinol is in over-the-counter serums and creams. Used to regenerate the skin and speed up the turnover of the skin. Retinoids plump the skin and stimulate collagen production as well as blood vessels, giving skin a pink glow. Can cause irritation, so begin by mixing half and half with moisturizer and use every second night, or even once a week if sensitive. Avoid using around eyes, unless it’s a specific cream made for the area. Do not use when pregnant or breastfeeding. Look for percentages of .5 or one per cent.
Vitamin B (niacinamide): Another gold-standard vitamin for healthy skin, niacinamide works as an anti-inflammatory, pore shrinker, anti-wrinkle and pigmentation reducer, and has been shown to decrease the rate of certain forms of skin cancer. Look for five- to 10-per-cent solutions.
Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid). Sold in creams, powders or serums, vitamin C is most commonly used to improve skin discolorations and pigmentation, such as melasma. It has anti-inflammatory properties, helps stimulate collagen production and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Use morning or night, or combine with sunscreen. Start at 10 per cent, then work your way up to 20 per cent. Store in a dark, cool place and avoid packaging that exposes the product to air, as it oxidizes easily.
When choosing acids, keep your skin type in mind. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) are ideal for normal to dry skin, and beta hydroxy acids (BHA) are recommended for oily to combination skin.
Glycolic acid (AHA): Derived from sugar cane, this strong acid reduces fine lines, enlarged pores and pigmentation. It is best used overnight. Avoid sun exposure when using. Limit to two or three times a week, as it can be irritating. Not recommended for those with thin skin.
Lactic acid (AHA): Derived from milk or corn and more gentle than glycolic acid, this helps with the hydration of upper cell layers and enhances the production of natural moisturizing factors. Good for sensitive and dry skin.
Mandelic acid (AHA): Derived from bitter almonds, this softens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Ideal for sensitive skin, those prone to redness and darker skin tones.
Azelaic acid (AHA): Derived from grains, this helps unclog pores, even skin tone and brighten complexion. A multi-tasking acid that is anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, it can help with rosacea, redness, pigmentation and blemishes. Use in a nighttime regime.
Salicylic acid (BHA): This is the ideal acid for combination or oily skin. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties help with acne (face and body), and at reducing pore size while hydrating the skin. Non-irritating. Ideal for applying overnight.
Hyaluronic acid: Renowned as a skin plumper, this is found in the skin naturally, and works at lubricating joints, eyes and heart valves. Most serums are made with a hyaluronic base, as are most sheet masks. Can leave your skin a bit tacky, but that will dry down. Can also be used around the eyes. A good oil-free hydrator for people with acne or oily skin.
This just scratches the surface of skin-care offerings, but it will get you on the right track, and at several price points.
As prices can differ between sales outlets, here is an approximate guide:
$ under $20
$$ under $50
$$$ under $75
$$$$ over $75
A hugely popular brand from the Abnormal Beauty Company that features single acids, peptides and vitamins instead of the usual mix that makes up many serums. The range is mind-blowing and they even have a higher-end line called NIOD, with even more cool products to choose from (try the Voicemail mask). While this line is inexpensive, be careful: it adds up.
Fave products: The niacinamide 10 per cent, the salicylic two per cent, the hyaluronic two per cent and the lactic acid five per cent, as well as the vitamin C suspension and the cold-pressed virgin marula oil. And that’s just for starters.
The Body Shop
The socially active British line that kicked off the entire budget skin-care craze in 1976. These products are natural and cruelty-free. And the price is right!
Fave products: Camomile cleansing butter, which melts makeup off with a pea-size bit of product; perfect for sensitive skins. Vitamin E Refreshing Eyes Cube, for a quick shot of moisture for tired under-eyes. British Rose Fresh Plumping Face Mask, a gel mask that’s excellent for relaxing and re-plumping skin.
Available at: all Body Shop locations, thebodyshop.com
Another British line of no-nonsense skin care and makeup that works brilliantly on both old and young skin.
Fave products: Glow Tonic, a glycolic facial toner that deeply cleans pores and helps brighten the complexion.
Glow Mud, a well-priced daily cleanser with a nice grippy consistency. Pixi and Caroline Hirons Double Cleanse, which includes a solid cleansing ointment and cleansing cream side by side.
Available at: Pharmaprix, amazon.ca
Created by Paula Begoun, a.k.a. the Cosmetics Cop, one of the doyennes of serious, no-fuss skin care. The products are fragrance-free, smartly packaged, affordable and divided by skin types and issues.
Fave products: Clinical one per cent Retinol Treatment, a great start for those looking for products with retinol, and Skin Perfecting BHA Liquid, a salicylic acid toner used to build collagen, even out skin tone, and unclog and diminish enlarged pores. They also sell excellent serums, like the Niacinamide Booster and the C15 Super Booster with vitamin C.
Effective products with unique formulas that show results, available for a wide range of skin concerns at various price points. Look for the full line at their Montreal store.
Fave products: Daily Microfoliant, a resurfacing exfoliant that begins as a powder and dissolves into lotion; gently buffs your skin to a bright, pearl-like finish.
The Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF 50 is a day cream that doesn’t weigh down your skin. The Age Reversal Eye Complex with retinol is moisturizing and non-irritating.
The skin-care guru of Hollywood celebs, Somerville doesn’t pussyfoot around with her products, which are designed to work. Expensive, but they are very concentrated, so a little goes a long way.
Fave products: The ExfoliKate Gentle Exfoliating Treatment is a cult product known to eat away dead skin cells with enzymes and a kick of lactic acid.
The Cold Cream Moisturizing Cleanser works brilliantly at moisturizing while taking off the day’s makeup. The Wrinkle Warrior is a plumping moisturizer/hydrating serum. The DermalQuench Liquid Lift diminishes fine lines with intense hydration.
This French brand offers products in eight ranges, according to your skin’s needs. They contain fragrance, so be warned if you have sensitive skin.
Fave products: Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Essence with glycolic acid and white peony extracts. Grape Water, a cooling spray for when your face is feeling parched. The Vinoperfect Radiance and the Vineactive anti-wrinkle serums. The Gentle Buffing Cream “gommage,” like a cross between a cleanser and a mask.
Vermont-made and all-natural, these products are incredibly appealing and work wonders on your skin. Pricey but concentrated, so they last for ages.
Fave products: The Nourishing Oil Cleanser is my all-time favourite skin-care product. Follow up with the Regenerating Cleanser for the perfect double cleanse. The Resurfacing Mask can be used on top of the Regenerating Cleanser for a home facial effect, and the Rejuvenating Serum is an excellent anti-aging, anti-wrinkle cream.
Headquartered in Paris, this luxurious line is hard to find and highly coveted by skin-care lovers worldwide. It’s expensive but effective.
Fave product: The cult favourite Lotion P50T is an exfoliating toner that helps with smoothing, brightening and reducing hyper-pigmentation, thanks to a potent mix of niacinamide and lactic and mandelic acid. The Vernix Cream Mask really wakes up your skin. The Crème Métamorphique is a restructuring moisturizer that’s rich yet surprisingly light.
Available at: lachambredesdames.com
Miscellaneous pharmacy faves
CeraVe AM or PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion: This entire line of budget products is worth recommending, especially the cleansers and moisturizers like these, which are ideal for all skin types. Bonus: the AM cream is enriched with SPF.
Avène gentle scrub: Contains microbeads made of cellulose that work at exfoliating. It’s enhanced with niacinamide, leaving the skin super cleansed.
Olay retinol eye cream: The famous pharmacy brand offers a great alternative to luxury skin care, with results to match. Retinol shouldn’t be used near the eyes, but this cream can be, and without irritation.
Clinique Moisture Surge: A light moisturizing gel enhanced with hyaluronic acid, ideal for oilier skin or for drier skin layered under moisturizer. You can also use it under eyes to reduce puffiness.
Avène Ultra-Light Mineral Lotion SPF 50+ (face): Unlike sunscreens that leave a mask of whiteness, this 100-per-cent mineral sunscreen is super light with broad spectrum SPF 50+ UVA/UVB filters. Use as the last step in your skin-care routine. Ideal for sensitive skin.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Tinted Ultra-Fluid Lotion SPF 50: This 100-per-cent mineral sunscreen for the face is water resistant and hydrating. Though available only in one shade, it works pretty well on most skin types and skin tones. Ideal for sensitive skin.
Source : https://montrealgazette.com/life/the-quest-for-perfect-skin