By Amelia Tan
So maybe I’m biased, but I’ve been a long-time fan of beauty brand Fresh. My friends and colleagues have probably heard me rave about the Black Tea Instant Perfecting Mask more than couple of times (sorry!), or more recently, how the Umbrian Clay Mask keeps my blemishes at bay. So, of course I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the brand’s upcoming launches during a press trip to Cambodia last year, which was where I first heard about the Fresh Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence.
A Fresh perspective: what is kombucha?
Now you might think, essences with fermented ingredients isn’t an entirely fresh spin on things — Asian beauty brands, in particular k-beauty ones such as Sulwhasoo or su:m37, have long prided themselves on them and the strict scientific process that’s able to extract their benefits, and you must have heard of SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence, discovered while observing workers at a sake brewery.
Still, this is Fresh’s perspective, and by that, they’ve also got their own tale to tell. The new Fresh Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence is is an extension of their sought-after Black Tea line, first launched over ten years ago, and in its new form, based on a health drink that Fresh founders (and the world’s most down-to-earth power couple) Alina Roytberg and Lev Glazman swear by and are “personally obsessed with” — kombucha.
The nutritious beverage is made from sweetened tea that’s fermented with bacteria; the good kind, called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). Though all the rage now, in the US especially, the tea dates back more than 2,000 years to ancient Asia and Russia, and is prized for its health benefits including improved digestion and detoxifying properties.
“It’s not just a drink,” says Lev, “If you’re familiar with the probiotic process, fermented ingredients can come from tea, and it made me curious to try it. When I tried it, I loved it, I loved what it did to me, how it helped my metabolism, and that’s the first time I was inspired by the ingredient.”
Lev explains this curiosity best: “The conversation about kombucha is that it has a smoothening effect and is an antioxidant, but I always thought there could be more than that, what else can it do?”
Now, the best part
See, the most radical part about the Fresh essence isn’t its immediate hydrating or skin-plumping effects — even though those are pretty damn important — it’s the product’s anti-pollution benefits. Or, how it aids our skin in its constant struggle with the environment, since we’re faced with the unfortunate reality of being exposed to pollutants daily while living in a city. These are things we don’t necessarily detect, though environmental aggressors such as smoke, dust and smog harm our skin over time; it oxidises our skin, causes the overproduction of free radicals, which then accelerates signs of ageing. What we’re gonna notice is dull, dry and saggy skin.
For the essence, its most important claim is this — it is an anti-pollution essence that defends our skin in two ways; first, by neutralising the harmful particles in the air, and second, providing us with strong antioxidant benefits that fight the free radicals. In other words, having this on helps defend our skin and protects it from further damage as much as possible.
Here’s how it works, and the other things you need to know:
The key benefit: anti-pollution.
There are two ways the essence does this, or, in Lev’s words, two lines of defense against our environment.
- It neutralises, or deactivates, the harmful chemicals in the air that come into contact with our skin, rendering them useless so they don’t cause further damage.
- Since its hero ingredient is kombucha, we’re protected by a powerful antioxidant that helps fight against skin-damaging pollutants and free radicals.
Air pollution has been a growing concern for both Lev and Alina, with the former citing it as “one of the biggest threats to skin health”. He continues: “Microscopic particles, metals, hydrocarbons, and other contaminants can cause damage to the skin and accelerate signs of ageing. The moment they land on your skin, the process of oxidation starts, so you want to deactivate it, you don’t want that.”
That’s important because that unique function isn’t typically addressed by the classic antioxidants; it then allows the antioxidants present in the concentrated liquid formula to target the free radicals in a more efficient way. You’ll find that the two key functions then work hand in hand to effectively counteract the effect of the pollutants that our skin’s constantly exposed to.
How fermentation helps.
Part of why kombucha is so highly praised has to do with its nature as a fermented tea. The process of fermentation involves natural bacteria or microorganisms breaking down sugar and starch in food — this unleashes the full potential of an ingredient, bringing about more beneficial properties than before.
“When you take sweetened black tea and add bacteria to it, or a SCOBY, it will release these healthy acids, vitamins and nutrients from the tea,” says Alina. “That’s really fascinating because it takes an ingredient that we’re familiar with, but the fermentation pushes it to a very fascinating result.”
“It amplifies,” sums up Lev. He also explains that the process breaks down the molecular structure of the original product, making it much finer, which allows it to be absorbed more easily while working its way deeper into the skin.
It has tons of other benefits too.
Here, we’re talking primarily anti-ageing benefits that arise from that anti-pollution protection. Fresh is calling these “The Kombucha 8”, or eight strong claims they stand by, including how it reduces and refines the look of fine lines and pores respectively, improves elasticity and skin texture, hydrates the skin for a period of 24 hours, and leaves us with a luminous, rosy complexion. Our skin looks healthier and more youthful.
Along with kombucha, the essence also contains several other key ingredients.
- Mandarin peel extract — rich in vitamin C, flavonoids and amino acids; helps promote a clear complexion
- Kigelia aficana fruit extract — helps improve skin elasticity and texture
- Hyaluronic acid — attracts and seals in moisture for supple skin
How does it really fare?
By now, you should be dying to know. Like all essences, I use this after cleansing every morning and night, by first gently sweeping the liquid over my face and neck, and then lightly pat it into my skin (if this sounds like a delicate process, well, yes it is). I’m most impressed by its lightweight consistency; I like how it gets quickly absorbed into my usually parched skin in seconds, so none of that awkward tackiness, while the silky formula leaves my skin soft and visibly plump. This then primes my skin for whatever’s next, whether it’s a serum, cream, or moisturiser.
Oh, and it doesn’t smell strange, which is always a huge plus for fermented skincare products. Sure, I cannot visibly attest its anti-pollution benefits, but I can say that my skin usually feels more well-hydrated for the rest of the day, certainly better than it does if I happen to skip this step (oops, but only sometimes!). After using it for weeks, I also noticed my skin looking more refreshed and supple.
I’d say though, the biggest reason why this has now become a daily essential comes after understanding how the essence protects my skin against the environment — and now, it looks like I can’t do without it anymore.
Fresh Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence, $108. Available at Fresh stores and Sephora. fresh.com