If you find yourself on the Dolphin Coast, set aside time for some life-changing self-indulgence at the Koop-designed Esse Concept Store and spa in Ballito. In fact, after my recent 60-minute Bespoke Treatment in the gentle hands of manager-therapist Anke Smit, I’d say book a special flight to King Shaka International.
Esse is the award-winning South African biotech skincare range established in 2002 by organic chemist Trevor Steyn on his farm in Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal. This global phenomenon is the first certified organic brand in SA, with fair-trade, vegan, and carbon-neutral credentials, not to mention an impressive network of community-based farmers who supply ingredients such as Cape chamomile, ximenia berry, and neroli. And if that’s not admirable enough, in 2015 Steyn and his team became the first in the world to introduce a live probiotic product.
When the first results of the human microbiome research were published around 2010, Steyn started to reformulate his products to account for the skin microbiome, which is critical for skin health. “We have co-evolved with our microbes over the last 2-million years or so, and we kind of need each other now. But we have been treating them very badly,” Steyn explains.
“We’ve been killing our microbial friends for a long time. Skin diseases such as eczema and acne are almost nonexistent in hunter-gatherer communities but have become common across the world as we’ve slowly killed off our symbiotic allies that protect our skin from pathogens and toxins.”
Most people associate probiotics with maintaining a healthy gut. Just as we’ve been warned to stop using antibacterial products and eat healthier food without synthetic ingredients and preservatives, so too should we be more kind to the microbes on our skin.
For commercial success, however, Steyn faced the challenge of keeping our little friends alive and extending their shelf life without using preservatives, which probiotics don’t like. Added to this is the fact that they don’t like oxygen, so his solution was to encapsulate the bacteria in an airless product that keeps them alive for 18 months. “When we launched, we had 1-million live microbes per millilitre. European legislation said you can’t import a cosmetic product into Europe if it has more than 100 live microbes per millilitre — obviously to protect the consumer from spoilage and other nasty stuff. So you can imagine the hurdles. It took six months to convince the legislators, and now all our testing takes place in Germany.”
Although Esse only sells through the global network of professional skincare spas, the Ballito space is the only one offering full immersion into the world of Esse. Interdisciplinary architect Richard Stretton created the elegant retail and spa experience that welcomes the customer into a calm “bay”.
Settled in for my bespoke treatment, which gave the therapist an opportunity to properly assess my skin type and apply the appropriate product and procedures, the session began with “the touch”: a light pressure-point session to help me slip into a more relaxed state. The Sensitive Cleanser was used first, to clean my skin and also to determine how sensitive it is and establish which one in the range is optimal for me. Smit then applied the Refining Cleanser, “a purifying clay-based product with a satisfying foaming effect”. This cleanser smelled so good and contained a citric-acid micro exfoliant.
No surprise is that with sun damage, broken capillaries, and what Smit describes as a “shallow look” (no glow to my skin), I clearly needed help. Despite having dry skin, my T-zone was also impaired from over exfoliating with the wrong, overly abrasive product. With age, the body begins to lack in hyaluronic acid, and so in trying to repair the T-zone produces excess sebum (oils), which doesn’t moisturise it.
The treatment continued with a salon-only deep cleanse from a beta-hydroxy exfoliator mask, applied ever so gently with a brush, and a hydroboost ampule. This was followed by the flagship anti-ageing Probiotic Serum and a mattifying light moisturiser.
Steyn’s approach to the cosmetic industry is to make products that are more effective, in a more responsible way. As the sole shareholder and CEO, he also holds himself totally responsible for all of his actions and products. This is certainly no flaky, hippie, organic line but he has to substantiate his claims that Esse is more effective than other brands out there.
Just as we observe our gut health, so too should we deal with life at a dermal level. The little creatures applied to your face through the Esse serum are lactobacillus that grow on human skin, and which I learned are part of the same family used in good yoghurt to reduce your lactose intolerance. “We used skin isolates, taking samples from people with fantastic skin, and cultured the microbes that were growing there. Then followed a series of tests. We used three separate strains that have been optimised to produce hyaluronic acid, keep skin pH low, and to communicate to skin cells to improve barrier function.”
WHAT THE EXPERT RECOMMENDS
For my active lifestyle that involves frequent travel, I’m always trying to reduce the number of products in my toiletry bag and my skincare regimen. I asked Steyn for his recommendations for a man on the move.
Firstly, he insists that we don’t use soap to cleanse our faces as it just washes your natural sebum down the drain. Sebum also melts at 32°C and the average shower is 44°C. Applying petrochemicals on your face also doesn’t help. (Most mineral oils that go into cosmetics are a byproduct of the petroleum industry).
“Women need a more ‘hardcore’ regime to get makeup and other products off their faces, but for guys, the simpler the better. The Sensitive Cleanser is one of our top-selling products that doesn’t strip the oil off your face. I’d then choose one sensitive moisturiser, either the Hydro or Nourish. If you want the anti-ageing effect then you can add on something like the Protect Oil or the Probiotic Serum.”
Sun protection without the use of chemicals doesn’t come cheap at Esse. But for sensitive skin, the fragrance-free, “coral-reef friendly” Esse Sunscreen is SPF30, only uses zinc, and will complete your selection.
• For more information or to book an appointment visit the website or call 032-648-0040. Esse Concept Store, Shop 59, Lifestyle Centre, Ballito