Beauty companies are increasingly trying to outdo each other with the backstories for their star ingredients lately -- salmon egg enzymes, rare plants found on bleak mountaintops, and the now-infamous snail slime all make appearances in various face creams on the market. But they have nothing on two-year-old London-based brand, 111 Skin.
Dr. Yannis Alexandrides, 111 Skin's founder, is a Greek-born plastic surgeon who was trained in the US and who currently has a private practice in London. He looks exactly the way you'd want your plastic surgeon to look -- handsome, distinguished, and like he's never had any work done himself. (Disclaimer: I have absolutely no idea if he has had any work done. But there are so many plastic surgeons and dermatologists out there who have, um, possibly experimented on themselves and it's obvious.) Dr. Alexandrides was always tinkering around with creams to give his patients to help with post-surgical healing, but he couldn't find one that he liked.
Then the cosmonauts came calling. Or more specifically, some scientists who used to work in the Soviet space program came calling. After seeing Dr. Alexandrides (I'm going to call him Dr. A from now on) on TV discussing wound healing, they reached out to him asking him to test some of their products. It turns out that premature aging is a side effect of human space travel. "There’s no gravity, no atmosphere to protect you from cosmic radiation, so the skin ages really quickly," said Dr. A, while we had coffee at Fred's in Barneys, which he was visiting to promote his line. "[Space] is a lab for skin aging, basically."
Dr. A and the scientists came up with a topical "repair serum" which his patients loved. "I would give them a small pot for free that would last a few weeks, but they would ask for a little more, saying that it made their skin look really smooth," Dr. A said. That's when the lightbulb went off, and he started looking at it beyond the scope of wound healing, and in the context of skin care. "The process of healing is very similar to the process of renewing the skin. In order to heal, it needs to create collagen and create new vessels and connective tissues. This is the idea behind our line," Dr. A said. The proprietary star ingredient is called NAC Y2, which is made up of acetyl cysteine, a potent vitamin C derivative, and Escin. The first two increase the amount of glutathione, an antioxidant that protects and repairs skin, and Escin helps to increase circulation and deliver ingredients to skin cells.
111 Skin is truly a word-of-mouth phenomenon. When a member of Middle Eastern royalty cancelled a large order for a high-end face cream brand at Selfridges and told the store's buyer she was using Dr. A's blend instead, Selfridges came knocking. At that point, he had nothing to present, but then the legendary Harrods heard about it and helped him develop and ultimately launch the line (the name is inspired by the address of his practice, which is 111 Harley Street) in 2012. It's a top seller there. Barneys recently picked up the line and has an exclusive in the US.
The high-end range comprises 16 products, which includes a version of the original Repair Serum. There's also a super-luxe bio-cellulose mask ($160/5 pack) infused with a concentrated form of the NAC Y2 and other ingredients. The mask is made in South Korea, specifically because of that nation's prowess in skin care. Dr. A's wife went to the country and literally knocked on the factory's door and convinced them to produce the mask for 111 Skin. "The technology that the South Koreans have in that particular field is so advanced that for us to get there would take many years," he said. (I tried this mask last night. It lives up to the hype. The mask stayed on without wrinkling or curling, and the left-over serum absorbed beautifully without the sticky residue you sometimes get from paper masks.)
Which brings us to the créme de la cream, so to speak: the $1,095 Celestial Black Diamond Cream. This new launch, which includes the face cream, an eye cream, and a serum, contains black diamonds. Which come from space. Well, that's the theory anyway. Carbonado, another name for black diamond, is exceptionally rare and only found in Brazil and central Africa. The theory is that it formed as a result of a meteorite hitting the earth billions of years ago. (South America and Africa used to be one land mass that split.) The origin story of the black diamond was a coincidence that fit nicely with the brand's space-centric origins.
The black diamond isn't an active ingredient. Instead, it serves as a carrier to help the other ingredients absorb better, which is one of the most challenging issues in skin care, since the skin is actually programmed to keep things out. According to Dr. A, anti-cancer researchers have had some success using black diamond to help deliver anti-tumor drugs, and independent clinical studies using micro-video showed that this cream reduced wrinkles.
But is it worth $1,000? This is the question everyone always asks me when I try super expensive products, but I'm going to give you the same answer I gave you for Louboutin's $50 nail polish: It depends on your priorities. If you're into packaging, consider this the Céline tote of skin care; it's very unassuming, which is what Dr. A wanted. (Compare the simple black jar and black and silver spatula to La Prairie's $1,080 Cellular Platinum Rare Cream, which comes in a one-pound, jewel-shaped jar with a bedazzled spatula.) If you're into performance -- many women in the UK and Europe prefer skin care to injectables, according to Dr. A -- it might be appealing to you. He claims a jar will last you three to four months. I can tell you this: It's a thick, non-greasy, pleasantly almond-y smelling cream, and a little goes a long way. I've only been using it a few days, but you can bet I'm going to use it to the last drop. I'm counting on otherworldly results.