Creme de la creme
Hold on to your purses, ladies: the new crop of power creams has arrived at beauty halls and department stores, and you'll get very little change from a couple of hundred quid for the majority of them.
The past few years have seen much-hyped marketing campaigns from cosmetic companies for their latest, greatest innovations. Syn-Ake synthesised snake venom was claimed to mimic Botox and made global headlines a couple of years ago, Lancôme has been tinkering with genomics for their Genefique products and Dr Howard Murad regularly plunders far-flung regions of the globe for his high-end, Dr-branded skincare.
Fungi, algae, camellias, desert roses and orchids are the hot new anti-ageing ingredients and are probably co-existing in a moisturiser near you, right now.
But no matter how seductive the claim or far-fetched the ingredient, can a product costing a couple of hundred euro ever be worth the price?
"That isn't really the right question," says Colin Sanders, a Britain-based cosmetic scientist and author of the addictive colinsbeautypages.co.uk blog.
"Is a Prada handbag value for money? If you want that kind of lifestyle you have to pay for it. In a sense, you want that lifestyle because it is expensive," he states.
The myth and the marketing is what counts a lot of the time, and there is no better myth-maker than Crème De La Mer.
"This really was the template that all the others followed," Sanders reveals. The first thing you need is a story," he says. "In their case it was the unfortunate NASA scientist Dr Max Huber who suffered facial burns. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to come up with a winning cream formulation, but as it happens this guy really was a rocket scientist."
Sanders charts the trajectory of a winning cream campaign: "Once you have your story you then need to get hold of some testimonials; Crème De La Mer gets support from big names including Jennifer Lopez. You then need to get the stuff on sale in prestige places; you don't see it in your local supermarket. You have to go to somewhere like Harrods to get your hands on it."
All this adds to the myth and the cult of exclusivity and desirability which, in its case, has helped the brand shift countless pots of product. But, despite Sanders' wry take, he's not a naysayer.
"I think that Crème De La Mer is a good skin cream. The active blend, the 'miracle broth', is made precisely according to Max Huber's formulation which involves several months fermentation, so it isn't a cheap cream that anyone could make. The stories you see on the internet that it is the same as Nivea creme are not true."
And as for the rest of the new wonder ingredients, are botanists digging up on remote mountain plateaux, dislodging delicate eco-systems and potentially wreaking havoc?
"It is all just marketing," Sanders insists. "None of those ingredients are any good. But don't worry about plundering the planet -- the levels used are tiny. They are what we call in the business 'tip ins', and use just enough to allow them to be claimed on the pack."
With regards to inclusions of ingredients such as pentapeptides and ceramides, he says that while they may well be expensive ingredients, worth thousands per kilogramme and therefore a justifiable add-on to the price we pay, we have to keep in mind the fact that the skin is actually an excellent barrier.
"Not many things can get through the skin, and only quite small molecules can do this. A lot of the things that get added are much too large to penetrate. Collagen and ceramides for instance are not going to get very far into the skin," he advises.
That's not to say that everything in skincare is a nonsense, stresses Sanders, who thinks Retinol has potential and puts his faith in the humectant properties of moisturising ingredients such as lanolin.
"Hydration is the major benefit you get from most skin creams, and this is a benefit well worth having," he stresses. "As soon as you are into your twenties your skin starts to get drier and tends to get steadily worse. Holding that moisture in is just about the only thing you can do to keep your skin looking as good as possible, for as long as possible. The good news is that any cream with a reasonable amount of oil, which would be all but the very cheapest, should do a pretty good job. You don't need to spend outrageous amounts of money," he insists. "My advice would be to find a cream with a texture and a smell you like and to use it regularly. A 50ml pot of skin cream should last several weeks so even if it costs €30, it is a not a lot of cash," Sanders says.
Equally, he stresses: "If the cream isn't expensive that doesn't mean that it won't give you a good effect. The big thing is to find one that suits you."
None of this, I'm guessing, will cure us of our lust for super-priced, super-pretty products that look great on our dressing tables and allow us entry to an elite beauty club where we worship at the marble feet of gods named Estée and Guerlain.
The fact is, while we may know deep-down that no topical skincare product can deliver the same results that surgery and injectibles can, we still buy for the same reasons we covet expensive leather goods.
So, if you've got a few hundred euro spare burning a hole in that aforementioned Prada handbag, see the above panel for the gen on three new luxe launches.