When the word "indigo" is mentioned, many of us think of its vivid hue and common use as a dye (for that perfect shade of blue jeans) although, unfortunately, most indigo we see these days is synthetic and not the natural pigment extracted from the indigo plant. Victoria Tsai revives indigo's lesser-known history as a healing, anti-inflammatory ingredient in her newest collection, Indigo. Three products (a hand cream, body butter and face cream) offer soothing moisture for all skin types, but especially those who have sensitive, inflamed or irritated skin—regular symptoms for anyone who has eczema or rosacea, for example.
Tsai is the founder of Tatcha, a young skincare line inspired by the geisha beauty rituals she came across in Kyoto. The name comes from the Japanese words tatehana (describing the beauty of a single standing flower) and chabana (the arrangement of flowers for the traditional tea ceremony). "To us, it represents not only the unique beauty of each person who uses our line, but the inherent beauty within when you strip away all the excess," Tsai tells CH.
Using a manuscript written in 1813, Tsai learned of ingredients and processes the geishas used to preserve their porcelain skin—these include rice enzyme powder, red algae, camellia oil, liquid silk proteins and more. What the geishas didn't use, Tsai won't either; meaning Tatcha products are free of synthetic colors, synthetic fragrances, parabens, sulfate detergents and phthalates. While she works with scientists, scholars and modern-day geishas to develop her formulas, Tsai says, "In some sense the collection has been under development for over 200 years."
"Naturally grown indigo draws its nutrients from the soil around it, making the botanical notoriously difficult to grow," she explains. "Tatcha’s Indigo extract comes from a family-run farm on the banks of the Yoshino River, which floods annually to replenish the soil with vital nutrients and minerals. The extraction process is analogous to the creation of wine from grapes. Distillation and fermentation play a key role." She's also got the science behind the indigo extract down: it contains two active compounds (tryptanthrin and indirubin) that calm, restore and strengthen the skin due to their interaction with certain proteins and enzymes.
We noticed that the Indigo collection contains liquid silk, which is used as a hydrating ingredient. "Of course the fabric is renowned for its sensual feel, but has remarkable skin benefits when in liquid form," says Tsai. "Silk extract lays an invisible network on the skin, protecting it from the environment and retaining skin’s natural moisture because silk protein is biocompatible with the keratin in our own skin and hair. Beneath the network, it helps to repair cells, promote skin cell regeneration and condition the skin for improved elasticity and resilience." We were not only impressed by how vivid the blues are, but the color and silk texture of the creams immediately blend into the skin, invisible after a few strokes. (These products will not permanently stain skin or fabric, Tsai assures.) The products had an effect right away—the redness on our cheeks calmed down and was less noticeable. The hand cream and body butter are especially pleasant; thanks to the silk base, there's no oily or greasy residue, allowing you to to go back to your phone or keyboard right away.
With such successful outcomes, we're eagerly awaiting an SPF version of the face cream to come out, but Tsai herself says she is picky about SPF ingredients. While she reveals that they're working on a formula that will include sun protection, she offers some personal advice in the meantime: "I have a huge hat and a Japanese parasol that I will carry with me everywhere I go, and will literally zigzag across the street to stay in the shade."
Photos by Nara Shin, portrait courtesy of Tatcha