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Beauty Notebook: Naruko
by Dain

It sometimes seems to me that with every passing year my skin becomes drier. My lips crack and bleed. My eyes develop fine lines. Flakes congregate on my nose—why my nose, I've no idea. Exfoliants that leave other skins smooth and bright bite into my sensitized, irritable skin. But I've gotten used to it. By the time February rolls around, the dehydration has become so entrenched that no balm nor unguent can shift it. I do the recommended things—humidifiers, reduce cleansing, sheet masks, liters of water, omega-3 supplements—but even after tonnes of moisturizer, I'm still bone dry.

My dehydration is seasonal. When the air is humid and warm, my paper-thin skin picks up moisture readily, so all that's required is a drop or two of face oil (low sebum year round). But as the weather cools, my skin starts to dehydrate, a steady accumulation of moisture loss that, by February, can be alleviated but never quite eliminated. I've accepted this as an inevitability.

Then, late in February, a box of Naruko goodies rolled in. Based in Taiwan, Naruko was developed by famed dermatologist Niu Er. Its popularity throughout Asia is grounded on solid formulations at modest prices. Like most Asian skincare, the products lean heavily on humectants and silicones. This means that the Naruko routine is complex, with multiple steps well beyond the Western norm: double cleansing, serums to address every concern, sheet masks, whisper-light sunscreens, massage peels, and sleeping gellys. Moisturizer is practically an afterthought. Even if you've long since graduated from the Clinique Three Step, you may still balk at the thought of such an elaborate routine. This is not a technique occasionally deployed, such as the deft application of false lashes, but a twice-daily commitment. But if you suffer from dehydration, layering is by far the most effective solution. For you, a single moisturizer isn't going to cut it.

The complete Rose & Snow Fungus range: meant to be layered.

Dehydration can affect any skin type. In order to combat it effectively, you need to saturate your skin with humectants, ingredients that bind moisture to your skin, then seal it in with emollients, ingredients that create a barrier to prevent moisture loss. If you are dry and skip the first step, thinking all you need are oils, then the emollients will sit on top of your skin, and underneath the grease the dehydration remains. If you are oily and skip the second step, because you hate the heavy feel of creams on your skin, your skin will not retain moisture for long. For that reason, skincare that's focused on hydration, typically most Asian skincare, tends to be layered: light-textured, readily absorbed layers are more effective than a single heavy cream.

Naruko's system features a number of important tweaks. Each layer has a cocktail of botanical extracts and actives that brighten the skin. The effect is temporary and lasts only a day, but the results are immediate: for that reason, I'd venture to say that Naruko's formulations cannot be dismissed as a mere gimmick (fermented sake? ten-year-old ginseng? puh-leese). On top of this instant luminosity, I've never had a brand so thoroughly, so effectively hydrate my skin.

That dead-o'-winter February dehydration—gone.

Like most Asian brands, the first step after cleansing is a "softener", the Rose & Snow Fungus Aqua Cubic Hydrator ($20), a humectant-rich solution that superficially resembles a toner but functionally acts as a pre-moisturizer. In Asian skincare, the softener (sometimes called "toner", "water", or "lotion", just to confuse things further) is considered fundamental, not optional. It looks and feels like thickened water, and if you're not used to them, can feel sticky on the skin. I recommend patting it into your skin with your hands: it saves on product and aids absorption. Naruko's offering is similar to the no-frills, alcohol-free basic, Hadalabo, but less sticky (hyaluronic acid but not glycerin). It has a strong but pleasant grassy-rose fragrance, like a fine rosewater, and, like all products in the Rose & Snow Fungus range, that little extra kick from the brighteners.
    water, Phytoferulin® Extract [Kalanchoe spathulata, Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice), Scutellaria alpina (skullcap), Peucedanum ostruthium (masterwort), Ginkgo biloba, Artemisia umbelliformis (wormwood), Leontopodium alpinum, Epilobium fleischeri (willowherb), Calendula officinalis, Chamomilla recutita, Camellia sinensis (green tea)], snow fungus (Tremella Fuciformis) extract, sodium hyaluronate, hydrolyzed beet starch, sodium chondroitin sulfate, ATP, vitamin B5, willowbark , L-serine, Phragmites kharka Extract, Poria cocos extract, Rosa damascena extract, PPG-26-buteth-26, hydrogenated castor oil, methyl lactate, phenoxyethanol, iodopropynyl butylcarbomate, methylisothiazolinone, essential oils of rose, rosewood, palmarosa, and petitgrain
And here is Naruko's twist on the layered Asian skincare routine: instead of moving onto a serum, the emulsion step, the Rose & Snow Fungus Aqua Cubic Moisturizer ($21) comes next. The Asian "emulsion" is a thin fluid, analogous to a Western lotion (rather than a cream). Some brands call this step a "milk", which may describe its texture better, because it's designed to absorb very quickly into the skin without a greasy feel. Naruko takes advantage of the high-absorption of the Asian emulsion for a unique double-hydration step: together, the softener and emulsion take care of dehydration first, before serum, before cream, before sunscreen. Such a simple edit, and it works like a charm.

From here, it's up to you. If you are acne-prone, then the Tea Tree Oil Out Balancing Serum ($23) might be your speed, if you want extra brightening, the Magnolia Brightening & Firming Serum ($23.50), while the Rose & Snow Fungus Aqua Cubic Complex ($23.50) adds a boost of moisture. The brand is affordable enough that you can switch according to your skin's needs. Personally, I don't care for serums, because actives usually trigger sensitivities, so instead I move onto a cream, but you can be certain I'll be saving this trick for winters to come. I was already using a softener, but it wasn't quite cutting through my winter dehydration. The thin emulsion sandwiched between the softener and the cream is brilliant. Normally, balms and butter and oils and very thick, heavy barrier creams cannot be applied to dehydrated skin. The softener and emulsion take care of that for you.
    Purified Water (Aqua), Phytoferulin® Extract [Kalanchoe Spathulata Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Alpine Skullcap (Scutellaria Alpina) Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract, Masterwort (Peucedanum Ostruthium) Leaf Extract, Ginkgo Biloba Leaf Extract, Alps Wormwood (Artemisia Umbelliformis) Extract, Leontopodium Alpinum Extract, Alpine Willowherb (Epilobium Fleischeri) Extract, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Chamolmilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract], Snow Fungus (Tremella Fuciformis) Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Salix Alba (Willow) Extract, Panthenol, Ceramide, Serine, Alpha-Arbutin, Saccharide Isomerate, Retinyl Palmitate, Encapsule Vitamin E, Tocopheryl Acetate, Glycereth-26, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Hydrogenated Polydecene, Dimethicone, Polyquaternium-51, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, PEG-7 Olivate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-40 Stearate, Ceteareth-20, Phenoxyethanol, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Essential Oils of Rose (Rosa Damascena), Rosewood (Aniba Rosaeodora), Palmarosa (Cymbopogon Martinii), Petitgrain (Citrus Auratium Var. Amara)
At night, Naruko recommends applying their famous Night Gellys on top of your serum, which are silicone-based gels that seal in the moisture overnight, a hybrid between an overnight mask and a barrier cream. While I can see the appeal of silicones instead of oils as an emollient barrier—they slow moisture loss but with a lighter, more elegant texture—but my skin does not (it loves oils). If your skin is the other way around, you might have better luck. A more standard moisturizer, such as the lavender-scented, shea-butter based AM/PM Indoor Defense Cream ($25.50) better suited my preferences. Unlike most shea-butter barrier creams I've tried, the finish is matte, so though it's quick thick it does not feel greasy. Since Naruko takes care of dehydration so well, I did not need quite so heavy a cream as usual. Nevertheless, on dry skin, it serves better as a day cream; it's not quite rich enough for nighttime use.
    water, Bifidobacterium bifidus, Eridictyon californicum (Holyherb) extract, marigold extract, Rhodiola rosea extract, Ginkgo biloba extract, tocopheryl acetate, hydroxyethylcellulose, soybean oil, retinol, lecithin, glycolipids, ceramide 3, ceramide 6II, ceramide 1, phytosphingosine, cholesterol, hydrogenated grapeseed oil, shea butter, glycerin, ethyl macadamiate, beta-carotene, scleroglucan, urea, glucose, citric acid, calcium pantothenate, magnesium chloride, sodium citrate, jojoba esters, hydrolyzed jojoba esters, butylene glycol, propylene glycol, caprylyl glycol, acetyl dipeptide-1, cetyl ester, octyl cocoate, ethylhexylglycerin, cetearyl olivate, sorbitan olivate, laureth-3, sodium lauroyl lactylate, carbomer, potassium chloride, potassium lactate, magnesium lactate, cetearyl alcohol, xanthan gum, sodium polyacrylate, polyisobutene, cyclomethicone, dimethicone, titanium dioxide, alumina, silica, chlorphenesin, phenoxyethanol, methyparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, essential oils of lavender, eucalyptus, marjoram, thyme, clary sage, rosemary, ho wood, iron cxide Cl 15510
Overall, my experience with Naruko has been positive: there is no real Western equivalent to Asian softeners and emulsions. Hydration may seem like a basic requirement; nevertheless severe dehydration can be difficult to treat. This layered system not only extremely effective, it offers flexibility that you can adjust to your skin's changing needs. The silicone-heavy serums and night gellys don't work with my skin, so I'll stick to my oil-rich barrier creams, but if your skin type is oilier then they might be perfect for you. The Naruko formulations are heavy on actives and botanical extracts; it's nice to be able to try these ingredients at such modest prices, but be careful if your skin is sensitive, there is a greater chance of a reaction. So be sure to check the ingredients on the Naruko website. I would suggest trying out the most popular line, Narcissus, first.

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