One of my most memorable Christmas parties occurred in college, when I was introduced to a certain sickly-sweet cinnamon schnapps that featured real gold flakes in the bottle. Real gold flakes! I marveled. To drink! I was so taken with the novelty of drinking something so expensive and unnecessary that I overdid it and suffered the consequences for two subsequent, painful days.
I learned my lesson, and now every time I hear of a new luxe skin care ingredient that’s normally not applied to one’s face, I shudder slightly. The thing is, more and more women are looking for “green,” or minimally processed, ingredients in their skin care, and high-end beauty businesses are answering this demand — with ingredients that sound natural or elemental (orchids, gold) but command a very high price.
Will slathering caviar or fermented sea kelp infused with light and sound keep the wrinkles at bay better than your average bottle of Olay? Read what the experts say, and be aware that novelty can come with a hefty bill.
Find it in: La Prairie Skin Caviar Luxe Cream ($241 per ounce)
The claim: “Protein-rich Caviar Extract helps nourish and energize your skin, resulting in refined texture and a silken smoothness.”
The facts: The only scientific studies on caviar extract have been commissioned by the cosmetic companies that manufacture and sell the stuff, but since fish eggs are rich in fats, vitamins and minerals, it likely has moisturizing properties — but nothing that justifies extreme price tags. Studies suggest, however, that consuming fish oil may protect your skin against damaging UV rays, so you’re better off enjoying your caviar on toast points.
Try this instead: Eucerin Soothing Face Cream 12% Omega, $27.70, which is packed with the same powerful fatty acids found in fish oil.
Find it in: Chantecaille Nano Gold Energizing Face Cream ($840 per ounce)
The claim: “[N]anoparticles of 24-karat gold are bound to silk microfiber, a natural protein that is moisturizing, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Through nanotechnology, these elements reach the cellular level where they act as the ultimate healing and preserving force.”
The facts: Gold is a “frequent sensitizer” that can cause the unpleasant-sounding oral lichenoid dermatitis. In fact, the shiny stuff has the dubious distinction of being named Allergen of the Year in 2001 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. The fact that there are no peer-reviewed studies that support gold’s alleged anti-aging effects simply adds insult to injury. Why spend a car payment on something that may break you out in a rash?
Try this instead: Clinique Super Rescue Antioxidant Night Moisturizer, $45, features plenty of anti-inflammatory antioxidants for stressed skin.
Find it in: Forever Flawless Diamond Infused Collagen Boosting Cream ($242 per ounce)
The claim: “Our research team has discovered that skin care products containing extra-fine diamond powder gently exfoliated the top layer of skin, allowing the vitamins, moisturizers, botanicals and age-defying ingredients in our products to penetrate deeper and more effectively.”
The facts: While diamond powder can work as a physical exfoliant, any exfoliant applied before your skin cream will also get the job done, for a lot less money. The company also claims that diamonds “reduce fever, fight infections, invigorate metabolism, rejuvenate blood circulation and help with many skin disorders,” but offers no studies no back these claims up.
Try this instead: Beauty Without Cruelty Moisture Cream, Skin Renewal 8% Alpha Hydroxy Complex, $9.96, combines an effective chemical exfoliant with nourishing moisture.
Find it in: La Prairie Platinum Rare Cellular Cream ($618 per ounce)
The claim: “Pure platinum inspires perfect balance to improve hydration, protection and receptivity to nutrients.”
The facts: There’s one study that suggests that platinum nanoparticles can reduce skin inflammation caused by UV rays, but that’s the extent of the independent scientific study of platinum’s benefit to skin. Most of the scientific research on platinum, however, is centered around its cytotoxic (cell-killing) qualities, which are harnessed in certain chemotherapy treatments.
Try this instead: Replenix Power of Three Cream, $63.95, calms skin with a hefty boost of green tea polyphenols and lecithin.
Find it in: La Mer Crème de la Mer ($155 per ounce)
The claim: “A blend of sea kelp, calcium, magnesium, potassium, lecithin, iron, Vitamins, C, E and B12, plus oils of citrus, eucalyptus, wheat germ, alfalfa and sunflower go into the broth, but its ‘miracle’ lies in the way these ingredients are combined — a process called biofermentation.
This three to four month process results in a whole far greater than the sum of its parts, with the power to transform the skin's appearance.”
The facts: Fermented algae can contain minerals, proteins and trace elements that are beneficial to skin, but that’s as far as it goes. Claims that La Mer can regenerate skin and transform its appearance are not supported by peer-reviewed independent scientific studies.
Try this instead: H20 Plus Marine Calm Hydrating Face Complex, $35, is a more affordable way to try the benefits of sea kelp.
Epidermal Growth Factor
Find it in: Bioeffect EGF Serum ($399.92 per ounce)
The claim: “A pure, natural, vitality-boosting EGF serum that reduces fine lines and gives your skin a truly noticeable youthful and radiant glow.”
The facts: Epidermal Growth Factor, or EGF, is a type of Human Growth Factor (HGF) used for short-term wound healing; however, its ability to encourage cell multiplication may also theoretically aid the growth of some skin cancers. As this report (by Navin Geria, a senior technical advisor and principal of the dermatological company, Doctors Skin Prescription) states: “Until long-term safety/efficacy studies are completed, [HGF] topical use in cosmetics should be of concern to consumers.”
Try this instead: Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream, Night Formula, $14.49, reduces the appearance of fine lines with retinol, an ingredient that has plenty of research behind it.
Find it in: SK-II LXP Ultimate Revival Serum ($166 per ounce)
The claim: “The combination of Pitera™'s delicate balance of vitamins, amino acids, minerals and organic acids, and the Natural Moisturising Factors it contains, gives it its unique ability to adapt to the skin, yielding multiple skin benefits to bring skin back to harmony.”
The facts: Pitera™ is the brand name for Saccharomycopsis Ferment Filtrate (SFF), a type of fermented yeast extract. An independent published study observed that SFF prevented skin damage and “possesses potential to be further developed.” But since the effectiveness of SFF has not been compared to other ingredients that are known to make skin smoother and more hydrated — like vitamin A and niacinamide — it’s up to you do decide how to spend your money.
Try this instead: MD Formulations Moisture Defense Antioxidant Hydrating Gel, $36.79, combines yeast extract and licorice to soothe skin and leave it silky.
Find it in: Guerlian Orchidée Impériale Longevity Concentrate ($498 per ounce)
The claim: “This molecular blend of Guerlain orchids acts on the key mechanisms of cell longevity.”
The facts: Guerlain may assert that “[o]ne in two women had been complimented by those around her on the beauty of her skin after eights weeks of Orchidée Impériale Cream application,” but there’s no independent scientific research to suggest that topical application of orchids can make you look younger (although it can give you dermatitis). At almost $500 per ounce, you should expect more.
Try this instead: Sukin Rose Hip Oil ($25.99) soothes irritated or dry skin with moisturizing rose hip oil. while assisting with skin renewal and repair.
Human Stem Cells
Find it in: Lifeline Recovery Night Moisture Serum ($190 per ounce)
The claim: “Scientists at Lifeline Skin Care discovered that human non-embryonic stem cell extracts can renew skin — by replacing old cells with healthy new ones.”
The facts: Stem cells conjure up the idea of miraculously regenerating skin, but the fact is that stem cells can only work when they’re alive, which occurs in a lab, not in a jar of skin cream. The brand steps around this point by talking about extracts from stem cells, which involve potentially good things like peptides and amino acids, as well as more questionable ingredients like Human Growth Factors.
Try this instead: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream, $21.49, contains peptides that promote collagen production and firm skin.