Hello, my darlings! I have really abandoned this little blog, haven’t I? My only defense is that this pregnancy has well and truly kicked my butt. I’ll share more with you later, but the last 8-something months have been… Interesting. And yes: I am still working on that hydrating serum post – I think at least part of the reason for my writer’s block is the fact that it’s such a beast. Thankfully, something happened that actually inspired me to pick up the metaphorical pen: I got my hands on two of the most revolutionary, remarkable and, yes, perfect products I have had the pleasure to experience. I am talking about the just-released Vital Balm Cream and Advanced Hydration Mask from Josh Rosebrook. And here’s the best part: not only are these two products magical (no, really), they also perfectly fit the theme of hydration – consider them a precursor to the Big Wet Post. Oh and keep an eye out for my upcoming pregnancy skincare post – some time around October!
These days, it’s rare when a product comes along that promises to do something truly new and different. I suppose it’s why I no longer do that many brand reviews. There are a lot of brilliant brands out there, creating truly gorgeous, effective, elegant and delicious products, yet they all tend to fall into previously existing categories. Facial oils, serums, creams, balms, face masks – I continue to fall in love with different ones (while still cherishing old favorites) on a fairly regular basis, yet after a while it becomes difficult to find enough to say about another oil to fill an entire blog post. Enter Josh Rosebrook, who managed to create not one, but two completely revolutionary products. The first of them is not only indulgent, effective, elegant and delightful, but also happens to create a new product category: to my knowledge, nothing quite like it has heretofore existed, either in green or conventional beauty. The other product may be an old skincare standby, but it reinvents the genre in an incredibly clever way and one that leads to truly dramatic results.
It’s no secret that I love me a balm. Rich and indulgent, these nutrient rich powerhouse multitaskers are perfect for protecting, cushioning and feeding the skin. Yet for me, balms have always had one major drawback: regardless of the formula, I always find them just a tad too heavy. I happily use them in the dead of winter or at night, but wouldn’t dream of using one during a non-frigid day. Even when used at night, more often than not, I worry that more of my gorgeous balm ends up on my pillow than on my skin. Apparently, Josh had a similar problem and thus decided to create a product that combined the protective qualities of a balm with the effective penetration of a cream, and one that delivered unparalleled hydration, to boot. Simples, right?
I was lucky to try a sample of the Vital Balm Cream prior to its release and I honestly cannot remember the last time I fell this hard for a product. Typically, I loathe samples on sheer principle and they tend to languish in sad piles in my bathroom until I go through a periodic purge. Not this sample though. Since first try, I used it morning and night, featured it in three consecutive Instagram posts and, once it ran out, scraped the bottom of the little pot in a manner most undignified.
Here was a product that did everything I wanted, and brilliantly at that. It was rich and cushiony and lush, making my pregnancy-sensitive, dehydrated skin feel protected, nourished and healed. It then absorbed virtually without a trace, leaving behind just pleasant dewiness. And my skin retained that dewy plumpness well after use – something it was refusing to do with my other products. Of course, this effectiveness is no lucky accident, but rather the culmination of Josh’s obsessive research and development, all directed at creating the ultimate hydrators.
Now this is the part where we talk science and ingredients (i.e. my favorite part). If you are a skincare obsessive like myself, you probably know all about TEWL, or Trans-Epidermal Water Loss. TEWL is the process of water evaporating and/or diffusing from human (and animal) tissue via the skin. It’s also the annoying biological function responsible for our faces cracking off in the winter or in dry climates and premature aging, to say nothing of such delightful conditions as eczema. Aside from aforementioned climate conditions, TEWL increases when the skin’s barrier function (i.e. its essential protective function) is compromised by things like illness and inflammation. The way to decrease TEWL is by increasing water levels in the skin and creating an occlusive barrier on its surface to prevent water escaping. The former can be accomplished both by using skincare with water-rich ingredients like plant hydrosols and humectants (i.e. ingredients that help water retain moisture) like hyaluronic acid and glycerin.
Currently, there is a bit of a debate raging in the green beauty world as to whether oils so beloved by the green beauty consumers are actually beneficial to the skin or whether we are better off using water-based products like creams and hydrating serums. The truth is that you need both. Oils nourish and support the skin, but dehydrated skins need water. Here’s what Josh has to say on the subject: “Hydration is the foundation for all skin health and beauty. A full moisture level in the dermis is imperative for a beautiful appearance. Your skin cells cannot repair and regenerate if they are compromised by dehydration. If you want to encourage “anti aging” or slowing skin decline, as I like to call it, and you are dehydrated – you are accelerating the deterioration of your skin. There is a lot of talk about whether dehydrated skin is a lack of water and if a lack of oil should be defined as dry. Technically, dry and dehydrated are the same – lack of water or moisture. Oils are not moisture/water, they have a different function. We hydrate with infused, active aloe waters or hydrosols and we boost barrier function with oil. If your skin is lacking oil, it needs oil support – you need an oil moisturizer but in order for it to work, you have to hydrate.”
If adding “wet” (come for product reviews, stay for the super-scientific terms!) ingredients is Skin Hydration 101, then including humectants is Advanced Hydration. Ingredients like hyaluronic acid help trap moisture within the skin and retain it, helping to boost hydration and decrease TEWL. Some tout HA as a miracle skincare ingredient, yet it isn’t exactly perfect. Since hyaluronic acid helps draw moisture into the skin, for some skin types (like my own), if the surrounding air is particularly dry, it can actually draw moisture from the skin instead, actually making it dryer. This means that HA-containing products must be especially well formulated (although I still tend to avoid HA-heavy serums when the air is particularly dry).
At this point you may be wondering why I am wasting your time talking about hyaluronic acid, when neither of the products I’m discussing appear to contain it in their list of ingredients. As it happens, what makes the Vital Balm and the Advanced Hydration Mask so special is that their botanical formulas (more on which later) contain Indian Senna Seed extract: a botanical substitute for hyaluronic acid that has actually been shown in clinical studies to be more effective than HA. Why not use the industry standby, you may ask? I’ll let Josh answer in his own words: “Why is this botanical mimic my choice? Because I don’t include man-made synthetics in my formulations. They take away, they don’t contribute to real natural synergy that makes a product extremely powerful. If I was to introduce any synthetic active into my formulations – however proven they are – it would diminish the subtle, extremely vulnerable, powerful force of natural synergy – and that is why truly pure, totally organic products can be so much more effective than anything synthetic and man made. It’s the power of nature commingling and synergizing.”
I should say that while I am in constant awe of Josh as a formulator (and a human, which may not mean much in terms of creating skincare, except that I truly believe that Josh’s love and intention are infused into everything he creates), I don’t necessarily agree with his view on synthetics. There are plenty of effective, powerful and perfectly harmless man-made ingredients that can improve the condition of the skin and I love a high-tech formula. Yet, the power of plants in skincare is undeniable and I completely understand and agree with Josh’s point about maintaining the delicate balance of plant synergy by avoiding the use of synthetics. After all, sometimes the best way to let nature do its job is to get out of its way. Ultimately, with Josh’s entire line of skincare in general and these two products in particular, the proof is in the proverbial pudding. These products work and they work beautifully. In fact, this is thoroughly unscientific and not backed by any trials other than ones conducted on my face, but whether due to the cleverness of the formula or because the botanical alternative to hyaluronic acid is, indeed, superior, I did not have any dryness-in-cold-weather issues with the Vital Balm.
Fancy, newfangled ingredients aside, the rest of the Vital Balm ingredient lineup is absolutely stellar. Like all of Josh’s products, it’s a veritable garden of plant actives, enveloped in a base of elegant butters, oils and certified organic aloe vera juice. Of course, ingredients and performance are only half of the battle: a truly excellent product must be a pleasure to use. Thankfully, the Vital Balm succeeds on this count as well. From its creamy, deliciously soft texture, to its pale blue color to the light smell of blue tansy, this balm is a calming, sensory delight. And don’t worry: if you’re not a blue tansy obsessive like me, you won’t find the smell overpowering, as blue tansy EO is listed at the very bottom of the ingredient list. Rather than dominating, it helps create a comforting softness.
Even the jar is a sensory delight. I knew for some time that Josh has been planning on repackaging the entire line in white glass, but the end result is even better than I had anticipated. The satisfyingly hefty jars are milky and beautifully opaline and make the products inside feel that much more high-end and luxurious. I have always been a fan of Josh’s minimalist and unisex packaging, but I’m thrilled that the rest of the line will follow suit and get dressed up in the same lovely glass: it seems like a natural next step in the evolution of the brand.
If it seems like I have less to say about the Mask, it’s certainly no indictment on its awesomeness. For starters, it shares a lot of similarities with the balm (the new and improved packaging, the Indian Senna as the star ingredient, the color and the smell and the general fabulousness). To be fair, I also didn’t have a chance to test it for an extended period of time, though I did use it immediately upon receiving it, as did my mother. Since masks are occasional use products, I feel perfectly comfortable giving an objective review without an extensive period of testing, but I will update this part of the post in the unlikely event my opinion changes going forward.
The Advanced Hydration Mask is yet another example of Josh’s iconoclastic thinking. His fans know that, much like the French, he isn’t the biggest fan of water. His cult Herbal Infusion Oil cleanser is meant to be wiped off, rather than rinsed off to allow the oils to work their best at dissolving surface impurities. Similarly, Josh believes that washing off a hydrating mask tends to increase TEWL and negate the benefits of the treatment and he thus suggests that AHM be wiped off with a dry cloth. Now, I must confess that although I understand Josh’s reasoning, I need that feeling of water on my skin for it to feel fully cleansed. I might be misguided, but this bias has kept me from fully embracing the dry oil cleansing method (although I do enjoy it when my skin is feeling particularly dry). On the other hand, the mask thing just makes sense to me. I always feel a little sad rinsing off all those gorgeous ingredients and since I apply masks on already clean skin, any remaining residue is a good thing: it simply gets incorporated into my skincare.
For Josh, the challenge was to create an effective mask that felt great on the skin and didn’t require water to be removed without leaving too much behind. The result is a rather unusual mask. Applied on the skin dampened with Josh’s Hydrating Accelerator (you can use any hydrating toner mist, but I find that HA works beautifully both in terms of ingredient synergy and scent), the Mask feels more like a thick balm-cream than a standard issue face mask, but although I expected it to absorb into my skin (which just happened to be particularly dehydrated the evening I tried it), it didn’t. I applied it all over including around my eyes and dry lips and waited the suggested 25 minutes.
After some lolling on the sofa, I wiped the Mask off with the softest washcloth I could find and… well, I gasped. My skin was remarkably soft and velvety, with fine lines caused by dehydration and lack of sleep the night before smoothed out and texture evened. I also looked like a porcelain figurine (or at least my skin did): even-toned, brightened, with pastoral rosy glow. Before applying the Mask, I had a tiny pimple just sprouting near my chin – it was gone. Do note that I am not making the claim that the Advanced Hydration Mask will help with breakouts. I think in my case, the pimple was caused by tiredness and dehydration, so the Mask’s hydrating and anti-inflammatory effect helped nip it in the bud, yet I do think it’s a testament to the aforementioned anti-inflammatory action. By the way, the “applying all over” approach worked perfectly: my eyes were brightened and my lips no longer dry and flaky.
A couple of night’s later, I gave the mask to my mother as she was getting ready for an evening out with my dad. She isn’t one for referring to herself as a porcelain figurine, but she loved the way her skin felt afterwards and, apparently, my dad couldn’t stop giving her compliments. I think that counts as a win.
At this point you might be wondering if I am even capable of critical analysis of these products. While I will admit that I might be a tad too smitten for objectivity, I will power through any inherent bias to point out that no product is perfect and that these two might not work for everyone. For starters, both of them are, unquestionably, very rich. According to the Josh Rosebrook’s website, they are formulated for “normal to dry, dehydrated and sensitive skins” and folks with acneic skin types or those prone to congestion should tread carefully. As I previously mentioned, both products also feature a smorgasbord of plant extracts. This is, while fabulous, a bit of a double-edged sword. The more natural ingredients a product contains, the higher the risk that you may end up being allergic to one of them. Of course, these particular botanicals were selected, at least in part, for their compatibility with sensitive skins, but do check the ingredient deck for potential allergens.
The final note is about smell. Josh mentioned that some of his testers found the Mask to have a slightly tart or medicinal smell from the Indian Senna. He was reluctant to cover it up with too many EOs, since that could cause sensitivity in some skin types – another example of the integrity in his approach to formulation. Now, I didn’t find the Mask to smell either medicinal or tart, but that’s probably because my obsession with blue tansy turns me into a bloodhound whenever it’s present in a formulation and makes me incapable of smelling anything else. Still, if you happen to find that the Mask smells less heavenly than indicated in my review, now you know why.
If you look back at the single-brand reviews I have done in the past year, they all have one thing in common: a passion for innovating and using the science of plants and the gifts of nature to create truly effective, elegant skincare. Josh’s latest creations are a perfect example of this passion, creativity and talent. If anyone ever asks me why I choose green skincare over conventional, all I need to do is point them to products like these. Because quality, effectiveness and integrity speak for themselves.
The products were kindly sent to me by Josh, but after trying a sample of the Balm, I had been waiting for their release date, credit card at the ready, like a faithful dog awaiting its master. I will be repurchasing the moment I run out.