A simple affair

The things that make people live longer – the food they eat, what they do, their perspectives on life – may also be the same things that make the skin age gracefully. EUGENE QUEK finds out more in Taipei.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
The things that make people live longer – the food they eat, what they do, their perspectives on life – may also be the same things that make the skin age gracefully. EUGENE QUEK finds out more in Taipei. 
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Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, Italy’s Sardinia region, the Greek island of Ikaria. At first take, these places may not seem to have much in common, beyond pristine, spectacular scenery. But in fact, they are among several regions in the world that boast an unusually high number of centenarians and hale, hearty folks who live longer than average and have a better quality of life. 

Dubbed blue zones – a term coined by two demographic researchers studying the lifespan of people in a Sardinian province – these locations came under the spotlight as the topic of explorer and author Dan Buettner’s two best-selling books. The result of a collaboration with the National Geographic Society and a group of longevity researchers in 2004, the books detail the team’s attempt to discern the reasons behind the long – and largely happy – lives of blue-zone inhabitants. 

What they found across the board: it all boils down to the basics of a simple, healthy lifestyle. Dan attributes their longevity to plant- based diets, regular physical activity woven into daily life (think gardening and walks to the shops), strong social networks and a sense of purpose. Together, these factors enable many of them to not only live longer, but also stay spry and mentally sharp till the end. 

This idea of having a long life, not through medicine or complicated means but by doing the simple things that maintain health, has prompted many to rethink their approach towards growing old. It has also attracted fans and proponents; among them is French beauty house Chanel. 

Christian Mahe, the brand’s senior vice-president of research and technology, says: “Chanel Research was one of the first cosmetic centres to create a Human Sciences division and develop a holistic approach to beauty. This gave a new direction to our studies on ageing and led us to focus on longevity. We do not define longevity as the ability to live longer, but rather, the ability to age better.” 

In skincare terms, this means a shift away from troubleshooting every wrinkle, dark spot and saggy bit. Instead, the brand wants to concentrate on helping your skin be as healthy and resilient as possible, for as long as possible, so that you age gracefully and look your best no matter what your age. 

It’s a bold stance for a beauty brand, one that breaks with the conventional view that skincare functions to “hold back” time. As Christian explains, it’s “a move from anti-ageing to taking proactive action and encouraging women to take care of themselves”. 

Thus inspired by the blue zones – the folks who’re living to 100 must be doing something right – Chanel carried out its own studies on 801 of the centenarians. What the brand found: their diets and lifestyles don’t just boost their longevity, but also keep their skin in the pink of health. They may not look decades younger than they are, but they sure look great for their age. 

But how do you transpose the benefits of a Greek granny’s daily life onto the skin of exhausted, stressed- out urbanites? For the brand, the answer lies in its latest offering: Blue Serum ($160). A transversal product that can be used with any skincare regime, it works as a stress balancer that helps skin counter the damaging effects of a hectic lifestyle – even if you’re literally an ocean away from the nearest blue zone. 

The serum derives its effi cacy from three foods found in the super seniors’ diets of high-nutrition local produce: Costa Rican green coffee, Sardinian olives and Greek lentisk gum. All are widely eaten in their places of origin, and all are found to deliver exceptional skin benefits when applied topically. 

According to Chanel’s active ingredients research director Nicola Fuzzati, green coffee is a dream bean for phyto-chemists due to its abundance of cafestol and kahweol – antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress in skin. Greek lentisk is rich in oleanolic acid, a botanical compound said to strengthen the skin barrier. And olives from Sardinia are a veritable treasure trove for skin, with leaves that have enzyme-regulating polyphenols and fruit that’s high in skin-softening fatty acids. 

Furthermore, Nicola says in-vitro tests show that antioxidants in the green coffee and olive extracts work together to strengthen the skin’s barrier function, while lentisk gum has the added function of distributing nutrients evenly throughout the skin. 

Armelle Souraud, international scientific communications director at Chanel, describes the Blue Serum as a “modern serum rooted in nature”, shielding the skin from the city pollution and stress that prevent it from being as healthy as the skin of blue-zone dwellers. “We don’t speak of defying time when it comes to the Blue Serum,” she says. “Rather, this holistic treatment is intended for anyone of any skin type and age, because it centres on caring for your skin in a multi-faceted manner.” 

The serum is certainly versatile. A lightweight gel that seems to dissolve into skin when applied, it delivered an immediate plumping effect when I tried it, reducing the look of laugh lines and fine lines around the eyes. After two weeks’ use, my skin is supple and feels smoother. I even look like I’m getting enough sleep, with a less dull and tired-looking complexion. 

Fast-absorbing and leaving no sticky afterfeel, it slots easily into any skincare routine and is perfect for priming purposes. Use it under makeup, and you’ll find that the latter lasts and stays fresh for longer.