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Anti-Aging Skincare Secrets from a European Pro
SPFs in your creams are BS and other insider tips from a master skincare developer
Full disclosure: I am a junkie. A skincare junkie.
Open my medicine cabinet and you shall find a plethora of neatly arranged jars — all professing to de-puff my eyes, erase lines, and defy the aging process.
My friends have been telling me to become a beauty blogger for years. So, naturally, I jumped at the chance to chat (and chat) with Harriet Ploeger — a European skin care guru with 25 years of experience working in skin care product development, formulation, and distribution for the leading brands of the world.
Two years ago, Ploeger, who has a radiant, ageless complexion herself, became the executive director of the Swiss skin care line Instytutum — a select, yet comprehensive line of products (with prices ranging from $45 to $140) devoted to delivering “real results” with a minimum of steps. The line is currently available globally in beauty retailers and online, launching this season in the US at Knock Out Beauty.
Covey tracked down the outspoken Ploeger by phone from Europe to find out not just about Instytutum, but about what Ploeger knows really works — or doesn’t about the best anti-aging cream and her skincare secrets.
TheCovey: Can you tell us about Instytutum, its origination, and the science behind it?
Harriet Ploeger: The brand was [founded by Nataliia Derkach, MD, Ph.D.] and developed four years ago by a prestigious lab in Switzerland known for innovative skincare systems using powerful cosmeceutical ingredients.
Every product is super-packed on its own and multi-beneficial — with ingredients such as glycolic acid, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and raspberry stem cells — [that will impact your skin] no matter what [your] ethnicity or age.
TheCovey: Why would women over 40 choose Instytutum (relatively unknown in the US) over the multitude of skin care brands on the American market?
Harriet Ploeger: Once you are over 40, you need to target ALL skin concerns — not just a few as when your skin is younger, and you need to truly resurface the skin before you can see results. If you are not renewing the skin — such as with our Triple Action Resurfacing Peel, which is like having a professional at-home treatment — you can’t change your pores or your texture or remove age spots. And after 40, you really need active ingredients such as Vitamin C that will target dullness.
TheCovey: Is there an MVP in the line, or a top seller?
Harriet Ploeger: We don’t really have any star products. We are a small line [and so] each product is outstanding in its formula and texture. But our Triple Action Resurfacing Peel and Truly-Transforming Brightening Eye Cream sell very well.
TheCovey: What was the impetus for revamping the fairly young brand as well as its packaging?
Harriet Ploeger: I had loads of conversations with large retailers who absolutely loved our products, but today the consumer really wants to see the list of ingredients on the packaging and learn about what the product’s job actually is — such as brightening, firming, etc. — which we did not have on our packaging before I joined the company.
For consumers who are buying products themselves off the shelves with no salespeople assisting them, this is very important.
Also, since it takes about one year to develop a truly great formula, I thought why not upgrade some of our formulas during the process. We also discontinued some products and added some new ones.
We are launching the new Powerful Retin Oil in the next few weeks which is incredible, especially on the neck and decollete.
TheCovey: How does the line compare cost-wise to other products in the sector? What role does cost play in creating the best products?
Harriet Ploeger: It’s an extremely complex question and answer. But does the price affect the quality? Absolutely not. This I can tell you without mentioning any names. Just because you spend $400 on a cream, does not mean it is the best. Pricing depends on how many active ingredients are incorporated, the cost of raw materials used, packaging, marketing, etc. that comes into the overall cost of the product. But you can absolutely find products in the drugstore for $20 that truly do the job. Look at L’Oréal for example. They make really great products that so many women use.
But our line is very reasonably priced in its category using cosmeceutical ingredients.
TheCovey: Is there anything particularly Swiss about Instytutum? How does it compare with other luxe skin care lines that emanate from Switzerland such as La Prairie and Valmont?
Harriet Ploeger: You cannot compare us to those brands. I know them extremely well. They are fantastic brands, no doubt about it. But they are not new age brands; they have existed for 20 to 30 years.
Instytutum comes from a different time. We are not a luxury skin care line from Switzerland, but we use the Swiss lab because of its outstanding formulation in terms of its active transport systems, active ingredients, and testing.
TheCovey: Your tagline is “result-driven skincare.” Can you explain how women can get the best results out of their skin care routine? What are your secrets?
Harriet Ploeger: This is no secret, but good skin care always starts with a good cleansing. But if you don’t resurface the skin, your follow-up products such as serums and creams are not going to penetrate the skin effectively.
Resurfacing your skin is the star! You need to use a peel two times per week. Use our Flawless Pads every day, and always do a good cleansing and toning packed with good, renewing ingredients, such as tripeptide-1.
TheCovey: How long does someone need to stick with a skin care line before they see results?
Harriet Ploeger: Of course, this all depends on where your skin is at when you start off with a new line. If you’re 60 and have never done anything before and have deep hyperpigmentation, you will see results, but over a longer period of time. Skin care is not a knife, however. If you commit to a good routine, and I see this all around me, you will see results after four weeks — we have shown some clinical results [for our brand] on our website. Some people have even seen results in 10 days.
TheCovey: You mentioned that having an SPF in a skin care product is not always effective. Why is that? And how should women protect themselves from sun damage then? What else is BS?
Harriet Ploeger: The main reason our skin gets old is because of light — UVA, UVB, infrared, and office light. So, you need to protect the skin with sunblock, but it doesn’t mean SPF 15 or 20 (which will not offer much protection from age spots); it means SPF 50. But when you formulate a cream that has an SPF filter, it becomes very heavy on the face (which I do not want to do with our brand).
At the same time if you want to have active, effective ingredients in your products, they will be blocked from going into the skin because of those heavy filters.
So, do your whole skincare routine and then over that, you have the most fantastic, translucent sprays and powders on the market today. I use La Roche-Posay Anthelios, which is the number one brand in Europe, and I spray it over my makeup. Also great, especially in the US, are mineral brush-on powders with an SPF 50.
TheCovey: Is it OK to mix and match products from different lines? What are the risks from a consumer point of view?
Harriet Ploeger: Absolutely! People have their favorites. I even have products that I have used for 25 years because they are iconic. I used to work for Chanel and since then I have been using their eye-makeup remover Dèmaquillant Yeux Intense Gentle Biphase Eye Makeup Remover. It really does the job very gently but is very effective.
I also love Shiseido Benefiance Concentrated Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream because of its beautiful texture.
Besides our triple peel, which is so fantastic, I really do love the Philosophy Resurface: The Microdelivery Peel dual system as well. I have tried many, many things, and I mix and match products all the time. There is no harm in it as long as it makes sense. All the products on the market are regulated by law.
TheCovey: What insider skin care secrets and principles do you use that our readers can truly benefit from?
Harriet Ploeger: What is truly effective on my own face? On the weekends, I love to do a very thorough triple peel and then use our Flawless Skin Mask.
After that, the effect is amazing! The combination of these two products I use when I need an immediate wow effect, say for a presentation.
When I have the time, I also really like to do microneedling, microdermabrasion, or have a Fraxel laser treatment, which I think really helps keep the skin youthful and can transform the skin over time.
But it needs to be done with a good dermatologist.
TheCovey: If you had a late night out, what is the one product you would use on your face each night before hitting the pillow?
Harriet Ploeger: Eye cream. Definitely.
TheCovey: You also carry an ageless complex vitamin. What kind of results do you have that show these supplements actually work in achieving beautiful skin?
Harriet Ploeger: It’s a dietary supplement, it’s food, which means it’s supportive to all of the other things that you are doing like drinking water and doing sports. But there is no pill in the world that’s going to give you a facelift! We have made a cocktail of beneficial ingredients that will help support certain functions of the skin. Shop Instytutum here.