I've been seeing lots of skincare capsules, or ampoules I think they’re called: little pod-type beads in a jar with serum inside. They look really pretty and I like the idea of a serum being pre-dispensed for you, but are they any better for your skin than pumps or tubes? Thank you!
The origin story of skincare ampoules is a little murky. Like a lot of recent skincare trends, some say they first originated as a K-Beauty movement but they've had a Western footprint for some time – Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Capsules launched way back in 1990. But as you say, there are so many on the market now, I suppose it's beside the point. They exist across all price points: Beauty Pie has its Superactive Capsules, Estée Lauder has its Advanced Night Repair Ampoules and L'Oréal Paris has its Revitalift Filler Replumping Hyaluronic Acid Ampoules. They almost always contain a serum rather than anything else and as you said in your letter, they do look really pretty, like sweets in a jar.
"The big selling point of the capsule or ampoule is product preservation," explained cosmetic formulator, Nausheen Qureshi. "Even with a standard pump, the product comes into contact with the air as soon as you make that first pump. An ampoule gives a little protective shield against the atmosphere which helps insure the product potency."
Preservation of active ingredients is a big deal in beauty – it's what keeps your favourite skincare delivering the same glow-giving results on the third month of use as it did on the first. Some ingredients, like vitamin C, are unstable on a chemical level and can be hard to preserve, so ampoule-sealed vitamin C could theoretically be a good workaround. But as Nausheen explained, potency preservation goes beyond that: "Brands should technically be doing packaging compatibility tests on all of their products. These are basically specialised tests which show how your product reacts with the packaging itself over time," she added. For example, a tube of cream might be fine and secure but once that tube is in your bathroom (where you shower and bathe, raising the temperature of the room) or in a bedroom in a hot country, there's no guarantee that the stress of that heat won't alter the product potency. "The packaging should be properly stress-tested under heat, up to 50 degrees, to make sure it doesn't degrade or leach into the product," said Nausheen.
As for ampoules, Nausheen said they're usually made of polypropylene and are generally plastic-based. Some brands say their ampoules are biodegradable or fully recyclable, so it pays to read the fine print. "If even they are recyclable, quite often they have to be mixed with virgin plastic to be created," she explained. Plus, not all of us are as diligent about separating our recyclables as we should be, especially in shared housing. Using a recyclable product isn't much good to the environment if you don't get it in the right bin.
As cosmetic chemistry moves along, we're finding more ways to ensure product potency. The aforementioned vitamin C can be stabilised with other ingredients like gold, for example. "Unless you’re using an old-school version of vitamin C like L-ascorbic acid, there's actually quite a few ways to stabilise it," explained Nausheen.
As you said, there is something nice about having a product pre-dispensed for you, but with a few uses of a product, you should work out roughly how much of it you need to use. Dr David Jack's skincare line is formulated with what he calls "the one pump principle", where a single pump will give you exactly enough for your face, neck and décolletage. That's something I'd like to see more of.
If you're still concerned about product potency, Nausheen said an airless pump is the industry gold standard: a pump that's double-walled to stop the serum or gel or cream inside from coming into contact with the air. These are a little more expensive for brands but they're growing in popularity – The Inkey List has a few products in airless pumps, and Nausheen said Estée Lauder Re-Nutriv Brightening Serum also has great airless packaging.
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