Albion has long been one of the top high-end beauty brands in Japan, and even before I'd seen the products myself I'd heard of people passing Albion shopping lists to travelers visiting Tokyo.
This skincare line is based on rigorous scientific research and officially supplies the Japanese Imperial Family, so they've certainly got a prestigious reputation as well as the sales figures to back them up. But I admit I am pretty jaded when it comes to skincare, especially toners. In this day and age when removers are much more effective at removing makeup and rinsing off without residue, the whole "cotton pad and toner" step in skincare routines is outdated and redundant, and meant to dig more cash out of wallets. There are little to no skincare benefits, and in cases of harsh astringent formulas (e.g. exfoliating toners) they are overly harsh on the skin and can cause more skin problems.
For me, it only makes sense to add that extra step if the product in question is a "treatment water" of sorts, which contains ingredients more concentrated than, or complementary to, the rest of your skincare routine. They should also be gentle and contain enough beneficial ingredients (none of that spring-water nonsense; sorry Evian!) to be used as a misting spray throughout the day to soothe, condition, and protect the skin without disturbing makeup.
Albion's Skin Conditioner (SGD$140) meets all these requirements, happily enough. This product, more fondly known to fans as "Ski-Con", has been the No. 1 seller in Japan since 1974. They sell over a million units per year in Japan alone. Based around Jobs' Tears, the formula is meant to help skin maintain optimum health by regulating cell metabolism and helping to reduce the negative reactions caused by external factors like weather, as well as internal factors like hormonal fluctuations and a poor diet.
This year, they've brought out a limited edition Skin Conditioner Mist in a small spray bottle, which can be tucked in your purse for on-the-go refreshment, which is perfect for me because I find treatment waters more useful on the go. Unlike Caudalie's Beauty Elixir, which has menthol and contains alcohol, this is more suited for dry, sensitive skins. Skin Conditioner has a medicinal-floral scent, which I kinda like because it smells a little like old-school cologne waters my grandparents used to use.
The bad news is, this mist bottle is not for sale. The very good news is - it actually comes free in a limited edition Summer pack with every full-size Skin Conditioner purchase while stocks last. As a nod to the legion of Ski-Con fans, the kit also includes 2 packets of facial cotton and a pack of sheet masks, which you can saturate with Skin Conditioner and place over your face for quick treatment sessions, something loyal users have been doing for decades.
I did take my time trying out the product before typing up this review, so I'm not sure if there are any stocks left right now!
If you use Albion skincare products already, you will be aware of the rather different order in terms of skincare application. Skin Conditioner is supposed to be used as Step 3.
1 - Cleanser
2 - Milk lotion
3 - Skin Conditioner
4 - Serum
Those who have never tried Albion before might find it odd to apply the lotion before "toner" and serum, but Albion's milk lotions are more like preparatory products that help prime and soften the skin to increase product penetration and moisture retention.
Skin Conditioner is extremely light-weight and leaves no residue or scent once it sinks in. It's also extremely good at soothing inflammation and general skin stress, so the product is recommended for acne-prone skins as well. I test many skincare products each week and I often get reactions to some of the harsher ingredients. I do have "SOS products" that I use in these occasions, but I've found placing a cotton pad soaked with Skin Conditioner over the raw, red areas and being able to mist my face every couple of hours - even when I'm out and wearing makeup - really helps subdue any reaction faster.
The most surprising thing was how conditioned and moisturized my skin felt. There's no dewiness or grease but my skin just felt more supple and balanced, even after hours in cold air-conditioned rooms. I was previously a fan of the brand's Exage Moist Rich Serum Mist for hydration, but I have to say this has taken the top spot because it feels lighter on the skin, more soothing, and seems to have a balancing effect that lasts for hours. My guess is I needed the extra soothing, conditioning properties instead of just hydration.
I probably haven't said this of many treatment waters to date, but I highly recommend anyone with sensitive or reactive skins try this out, regardless of whether you are oily, normal or dry. It's not a cheap buy, but one I feel is worth the investment, if you're in the market for a proper treatment water.