Vitamin K, CBD, caffeine... Heaps of buzzy beauty ingredients made their way into skincare this year, each promising to banish dryness, even out skin texture and impart an otherworldly glow. But it looks like one is set to trump them all in 2019, and according to the experts, there isn't much it can't do. Enter: saffron.
You might already be familiar with the ruby red ingredient if you fancy yourself as a bit of a chef or if you're into fragrance, where it lends an earthy, bittersweet element. And according to Steven Cannizzo, director of education for Korres, it's a clever all-rounder in skincare. "Lots of Mediterranean countries know the benefits of saffron in spice form, but it’s also such a great pharmacology ingredient," he told R29. "What makes the saffron red is crocin, which is a super powerful antioxidant," Cannizzo continued. In fact, its powerful antioxidant properties are backed up by numerous studies, with some experts hailing it for its high vitamin C content. "Saffron is for all ages, all concerns and all skin types – it’s completely universal. Not only does the crocin in saffron help with fending off pollution, but we've seen it help with increasing brightness in the skin, reducing lines and wrinkles, lifting, firming, improving radiance, hydration, skin tone, skin texture and boosting the immune system of the skin."
Korres' Golden Krocus Ageless Saffron Elixir Serum, £69, penetrates the skin to provide a barrier against environmental aggressors such as smoke and pollution, and Cannizzo suggests following this with a moisturiser for extra topical hydration, especially in the winter months. If you're after more of a plumping effect, try Nuxe's Nuxuriance Ultra Day Cream, £44, which, alongside brightening saffron, contains humectant glycerin to keep moisture under lock and key. For a quick pollution-buster, pick up Mauli Rituals' Radiance Mask & Exfoliant, £34 (to be mixed with water or milk), which boasts saffron extract to improve radiance and mineral-rich clay to absorb excess oil and grime.
If you're wondering why saffron tends to be more expensive than other ingredients, it's because the harvest window is pretty small. "Kozani saffron, for example, is the most red and rare kind of saffron you can find," explained Cannizzo. "It’s wild and organic and is collected by the Kozani crocus villagers in Greece, who only harvest it for 14 days a year. This is because it only blooms for those two weeks. In October, they wake up and the fields are veiled in purple flowers and they hand-pick every single one. It takes 170,000 flowers for us to get one kilo of the saffron stems and, per kilo, it is more expensive than gold. When the saffron is harvested, it’s extracted within 24 hours to stay at its most potent." In other words, it needs to be harvested fast to maintain its efficacy in skincare.
So when is best to incorporate saffron into your skincare routine? As it's a powerful antioxidant, R29 recommends using saffron-infused products during the day (just like vitamin C) so that it has a better chance of mopping up free radicals, like pollution, before they can cause dark spots, dullness and other bugbears.