Uncommon beauty  

Uncommon beauty  

These days, picking the right beauty cream, gadget or perfume is like looking for a needle in a manicured haystack. So many beauty products and perfumes out there are just slight variations of the same thing.

But a handful of labels are bucking trends and standing out by going beyond the norms of the beauty industry. And by sticking to their guns, these brands are carving a niche for themselves; their competitors do not come close.

American skincare label 3Lab churns out thousand-dollar creams that are made with uber-expensive ingredients, and packed in simple jars. Still, the ridiculously priced creams and serums fly off the shelves - and garner awards.

Niche French perfume brand Etat Libre d'Orange names its perfumes after hypothetical scenarios (such as the end of the world) and controversial figures such as the fetishist artist Tom Of Finland. But within the bottles are undoubtedly premium fragrances concocted with an unexpected twist. Made for when you do not wish to smell like most other people.

French skincare brand Talika takes inspiration from technology found beyond the beauty industry - from hospital bandages to NASA space technology - for its innovative products. The brand is also owned by a real-life Count who loves yoga.

Read on to find out why you should pay attention to these one-of-a-kind beauty labels.

Using only premium ingredients, no matter the cost: 3Lab

It is a familiar, almost predictable, story. A woman - frustrated with the lack of beauty creams on the market that suit her needs - makes her own.

But what the founder of premium skincare brand 3Lab, Mrs Erica Chung, did to create her beauty potions was far from ordinary.

The Korean-American had felt that "most brands put less money in creating the product and more in the packaging". So, she decided to focus on producing top-notch formulas with ingredients that could cost up to US$1 million (S$1.34 million) per kilogram, and sold them in simple jars and bottles.

Beauty conglomerates rarely make such risky and costly moves.

Said the owner of Cosmetics World, a chain of seven multi-brand beauty stores in Texas and California, when she was in town earlier this month to visit her Singapore counter at Escentials: "I was selling premium brands in my stores, but I was not satisfied with what they offered.

"I wanted to create skincare that could actually solve skin problems."

Focusing on products that even out skin tone and dark spots, 3Lab (so named because two chemists and one dermatologist came up with the first formulas) was launched in 2003.

"Wrinkles don't make you look as old as skin discolouration does; the clarity of the skin is important," says the 59-year-old. Case in point: Mrs Chung has visible wrinkles, but her fair and clear skin makes her look at least a decade younger.

One ingredient used in 3Lab products, one kilogram of which costs the same as an apartment, is the PhytoCelTec Malus Domestica, the stem cells of a rare Swiss apple that has been clinically proven to slow the signs of ageing.

In a 2009 American Vogue article, 3Lab was mentioned as one of the first beauty brands to include the valuable ingredient in its anti-ageing M Cream, Super H Serum and Perfect C Treatment Serum.

Other international brands mentioned in the same article as having used the rare Swiss apple stem cell ingredient were American beauty label Chantecaille and French brand Lancome.

Today, PhytoCelTec is also stirred into 3Lab's Perfect Body Cream and Perfect Lips Balm, among others.

Mrs Chung says she does not stint on her pricey ingredients. "If the maximum efficacy of an ingredient is at 'X per cent' of a formula, I would put in that quantity."

Another uber-expensive ingredient picked by 3Lab is the X50 capsule delivery system. It, too, costs up to US$1 million dollars per kilogram, says Mrs Chung.

"It is used by pharmaceutical companies as it delivers the right ingredients to the right cells," she says.

"No matter how expensive the ingredient is, if it does not go to the targeted areas, it will just sit on top of the skin and be ineffective."

3Lab formulas are also water-based (so they do not clog pores) and free of parabens, preservatives, alcohol and fragrance.

So how does Mrs Chung ensure that she gets first dibs on the best raw ingredients in the market?

The fact that her husband, Mr David Chung, is an entrepreneur who owns the cosmetics manufacturing facility, Englewood Lab, in New Jersey, producing cosmetics for about 80 international beauty brands, helps.

Based in New York, the couple have a son.

"The raw material companies come to us, so once I see something interesting, I pick it up and keep it exclusive for a few years," she says.

Obviously, 3Lab's premium beauty potions do not come cheap; although Mrs Chung insists that a pea-sized amount of her formula goes a long way. The anti-ageing creams cost upwards of $1,000 (the prices of the other items are relatively reasonable; a bottle of sunscreen costs $55).

Still, those super-expensive creams are in demand.

The brand was launched in Singapore at multi-label beauty boutique Escentials less than a year ago and more than 200 jars of the $1,168 Super Cream have been sold. Globally, the bestseller is the moisturising and firming M Cream ($360). Since it was rolled out in 2008, 266,690 jars have been sold.

When 3Lab was first launched, the brand's first 19 products were stocked only at Mrs Chung's chain of stores, Cosmetics World.

Today, 3Lab's 40 skincare and bodycare products are sold in 13 markets, including the Czech Republic, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates. In the United States, the brand is stocked at upmarket department stores Barneys and Nordstrom.

Celebrity fans of 3Lab include actress Hilary Swank (who uses the M Cream while filming on set); and pop star Jennifer Lopez (her pick: the skin-plumping WW Cream).

Mrs Chung says her rationale for investing all that money and effort into what is inside the jars is simple. "I want to be like Estee Lauder or Elizabeth Arden. I want my brand to live on for years after I'm gone."



Photo: 3Lab

$440, from Escentials at Paragon

Contains the rare Swiss apple stem cells as well as a synthetic growth hormone-like ingredient to moisturise, brighten and slow skin-ageing.

The product was rated as a Top Splurge in international beauty magazine Allure's prestigious Best of Beauty 2014 roll call.


$360, from Escentials at Paragon

Because American actress Hilary Swank likes it; and it promises to firm skin.



$1,168, from Escentials at Paragon

Besides being packed with the brand's most premium ingredients, this does-it-all cream (it is made to rejuvenate and clarify skin) promises results in a matter of days.

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