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14-01-2010
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lucy92's Avatar
 
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Is Crème de la Mer Just a Giant Scam?
It costs £530 a pot - but the
ingredients cost just £25... the
brow-furrowing truth about the
stars' favourite wrinkle cream, Crème de la Mer



For years, it's been one of the world's most talked about and sought-after anti-ageing creams. Women around the world swear by its powers and are happy to splash out £530 for just 250ml of this potent elixir.

In these circles of well-heeled and image-conscious women, Crème de la Mer is more than just a face cream - it's virtually a religion.
It is stocked only in the most exclusive department stores, and these women seem happy to pay whatever it costs in their bid to halt the ageing process.

But what would they say if they knew that the ingredients in their £530 pot of cream cost - as the Daily Mail discovered - no more than £25?

After a month-long investigation into the iconic beauty cream, cosmetic chemist Will Buchanan, who has spent years creating topical treatments for skin and hair, was able to deduce that of the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent each year on the cream, no more than about 5 per cent is accounted for by the ingredients.

Creme de la Mer - the name literally means 'cream of the sea' - have done their best to shroud their product in a veil of mystery. The company's website not only refers to a 'heritage' that is 'inspired by the sea', but also devotes entire sections to what it calls 'The Miracle' and 'The Secret.'

In fact, the cream is actually a very simple and ordinary cosmetic formula. Under European law, every cosmetic and toiletry product must display a full list of ingredients, in descending order of weight.




Using the ingredients listed on a pot of Crème de la Mer, alongside his knowledge of product formulations, Will Buchanan was able to suggest how much of each ingredient was likely to be in a jar. He then sourced prices for all the individual components.

Some of the ingredients, such as petrolatum (the contents of Vaseline), glycerine and eucalyptus leaf oil are widely available from beauty supply websites.

Other chemicals need to be bought in bulk directly from industrial chemical suppliers.

According to Will's calculations, recreating 100ml of a copycat Crème de la Mer cream from readily available ingredients is likely to cost no more than £9.71. A 100ml pot of Crème de la Mer retails for £160.
'This is a variation on a basic water-in-oil formula,' says Will. 'What I've done is, of course, only an estimate. To give the benefit of the doubt, I've been very generous in my pricing of the sea kelp, which is the main ingredient.

'Ultimately, of course, only the manufacturers know exactly what the recipe is, and how much their ingredients cost.'


Sought-after: Women around the world swear by the powers of the famous cream (posed by model)

Nevertheless, it is a startling discovery - especially considering that part of the selling point of the cream is its unique and hallowed origins.

The makers of the 'miracle' cream, Estee Lauder, claim that its formula was discovered in the 1970s by NASA scientist Dr Max Huber.

An aerospace physicist, Huber was badly injured when a routine experiment to develop rocket fuel went wrong, and an explosion left him with severe burns on his hands and face.

Huber then set about developing a product that would improve his scarring.

Over a 12-year period, he conducted thousands of experiments until he managed - according to the Crème de la Mer website - to 'perfect the art of bio-fermentation [a natural chemical process that breaks down a plant, for example, and allows chemists to make more concentrated versions of the active ingredients it contains], blending a mix of sea kelp with an array of vitamins and minerals, oils of citrus, eucalyptus, wheat germ, alfalfa and sunflower.

'Just as Dr Huber hoped,' the website continues, 'skin appeared dramatically smoother and miraculously improved. Even the driest complexions were soothed on contact.'

While these days it is commonplace to add vitamins and minerals to skincare, in the 1970s, Huber's concoction might well have been considered revolutionary. And although he originally developed it for personal use, as word spread, he began to sell it in small quantities.
After Huber's death, Estee Lauder, which owns Creme de la Mer, bought the rights to it from Huber's daughter, and began developing the brand.

However, over recent years, some beauty experts have started to question whether the astronomical price tag is justified.

While other, newer products have proved their efficacy in clinical trials, Crème de la Mer appears to trade more on its reputation than on hard science.

Paula Begoun, a beauty expert who is renowned for her in-depth research of cosmetic products and their ingredients, reviews thousands of products - and she is scathing in her assessment of Crème de la Mer.

'It's just a really dated formula,' she says. 'Something straight out of the Seventies.

'Product formulations have become much more sophisticated since then. Estee Lauder itself has gone on to develop skincare that is far better than Crème de la Mer, and doesn't cost as much.'
So just how does Estee Lauder justify the price? Cynics might suggest it's simply marketing trickery. After all, making something 'reassuringly expensive' automatically confers on it a sense of desirability and exclusivity.

Star favourite: Julia Carling enjoys a Creme de la Mer facial at Harrods

Will Buchanan points out that the cost of a beauty product is about more than just its contents.

'Looking at the raw ingredients doesn't take into account the cost of manufacturing or packaging,' he explains. 'Or the costs of transport, marketing and PR - all of which, of course, you're paying for when you shell out for your skincare.'

The brand's global president, Maureen Case, is at pains to point out that La Mer uses nothing but 'superb quality ingredients, and, in the case of the sea kelp, the cost reflects not only the raw materials but also the costs of helping maintain the ecosystem from which it comes by harvesting sustainably'.

Seaweed and algae are frequently used in cosmetic preparations as they have a high mineral content and are thought to be rich in antioxidants.

They also contain compounds which can have a temporary tightening effect on the skin.

While La Mer uses a special form of Californian sea kelp that is harvested just twice a year when it is at its most nutrient-rich, then shipped on ice to the Estee Lauder labs on the other side of the U.S., suppliers of skincare ingredients sell bio-fermented sea kelp for around £65 a litre.

Maureen Case argues that it is the long and labour-intensive production method that bumps up the price of Crème de la Mer. Indeed, the company make much of the process which, to this day, is true to Huber's original design.

'We are always looking for ways to make things more efficient,' says Maureen Case, 'but there is simply no way to replicate Crème de la Mer by modernising it into a mass-produced item.'

Even apparently hard-nosed scientists, who should know better, seem to imbue a basic chemical process with magical properties when talking about the four-month bio-fermentation method that transforms these unremarkable ingredients into the trademarked 'Miracle Broth'.


Andrew Bevacqua, now vice-president of research and development for the Max Huber Research Labs, was the man tasked with producing Huber's magic potion on a grand scale.

Initial attempts to create the cream produced something similar, but not as effective, so Bevacqua went back to the drawing board. The only part of Huber's process that he'd initially ignored was an aspect inspired by sonochemistry - which looks at how sonic waves affect chemical processes.

Put simply, Huber had recorded the sound of a batch of sea kelp fermenting and used to play this tape to the new batches while they fermented.

The story goes that when Bevacqua reluctantly agreed to try what he called 'hocus pocus', the result was a cream that apparently had three times the potency of his earlier attempts.

Bevacqua also continued Huber's tradition of 'seeding' - putting a tiny amount of the existing batch into each successive batch, ensuring that every pot contains an infinitesimal fraction of the original.

Quite why this is important, or whether the opal glass jars really need to be filled by hand, rather than by machine, to - as the company claim - sustain the cream's 'delicate balance', is anyone's guess.

Sceptics might say these little touches of quackery are all about justifying the exorbitant price. Ultimately, though, if it works, who cares if you can't explain why?







Celebrity fans: Marcia Cross has admitted to using Crème de la Mer, and Jennifer Lopez reportedly slathers her entire body in the stuff


Unfortunately, while the company literature boasts of impressive results, the sort of data that impress scientists and sceptics, like large-scale, peer-reviewed, double blind clinical trials, are notably absent.

We live in an age when we can actually test the claims made by products. Technology exists that can objectively evaluate whether some £160 'Miracle Broth' is going to work any more effectively than a £3 pot of Nivea - yet such tests have never been done.

Real 'facts' and quantifiable 'proof' might help Estee Lauder justify the exorbitant prices that a pot of Crème de la Mer commands. But without them, the legend of the cream starts to sound like little more than a money-spinning fairytale.
'As enticing as this dramatic story sounds, the reality is that this very basic cream doesn't contain anything particularly extraordinary or unique,' says Paula Begoun.

But Maureen Case reiterates that you can't just look at the ingredients.
'I believe that Crème de la Mer offers value for money because it is a luxury product made in artisanal fashion that performs brilliantly and delivers what it promises,' she says.
'Do we make money from Crème de la Mer? Of course - we're a business. But do we gouge the consumer? Absolutely not.'

Devotees and those won over by her words might think they're going to find the secret of eternal youth at the bottom of a pot of Crème de la Mer.

But I'm afraid I'm not convinced.



Claire Coleman - Dailymail.co.uk

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14-01-2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lucy92 View Post
We live in an age when we can actually test the claims made by products. Technology exists that can objectively evaluate whether some £160 'Miracle Broth' is going to work any more effectively than a £3 pot of Nivea - yet such tests have never been done.
The German consumer protection organisation "Stiftung Warentest" did this exact test a few years (2003) ago and Nivea tested almost as good as Creme de la Mer.

The articles are in German of course but the charts should be easy to understand:
complete article
result

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14-01-2010
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I don't know if I trust any anti-aging cream.

Thanks for posting, lucy92.

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14-01-2010
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This is... in a word... scary. I thought buying stuff because it's expensive is paying for quality but after reading this.. I think I might just read the ingredients list each time I actually purchase some anti aging elixir or something.

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14-01-2010
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oh sh!t this makes me pissed...

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14-01-2010
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This article is very right. IMO, it's a huge, huge, huge, huge ripoff. I don't think it's just a ripoff in the skincare industry, I think it's one of the biggest ripoffs in the world. The first time I checked out the cream, I was disgusting by the fact that they used the cheapest ingredients on the market while overpricing their crap as if they put diamonds in the cream.
The entire cream is concentrated with icky petroleum by-products. I'm fine with mineral oil, but I'm not okay with it when I'm paying $1390 for it. At least have the decency to choose a plant-derived oil.

The counterargument (the pro La Mer side) seems to have a very weak defense. Really, who cares if J-Lo slathers the stuff all over her body? Does she have a M.D. in Dermatology? Didn't think so

I wrote a review for the cream on MUA and it got deleted, along with many other negative reviews that I read in the past... Pfft. I swear die-hard religious La Mer fans go around reporting all the negative reviews for the product like it's blasphemy or something.

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14-01-2010
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doesnt mineral oil clog pores?

i only tried the stuff once from a tester at the Stuttgart Airport duty free store when the salesperson wasnt looking.

it seemed heavy and greasy.

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15-01-2010
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^Yes, it can be comedogenic for certain people. It works fine with my skin though, but plenty of people get terrible reactions to it.

Haha, I've heard about the cream being heavy and greasy too. Doesn't really absorb into your skin at all apparently, so most of it gets eaten up by your pillows and bedsheets at night.

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what other creams contain sea kelp or have a similar formula?

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15-01-2010
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This really isn't surprising. Half of all skin care ingredients are manufactured at incredibly low prices, anyway. People who believe half the lies these companies tell them really have it coming to them. I mean, just how many "break-through" miracles could there possibly be in the world of skin care?

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16-01-2010
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cant say i'm really surprised by this.

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16-01-2010
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Cream de la mer is good if you live in very cold weather and you should only use very little since it is very oily.
For people who are living in humid/hot countries the cream is no good because you get spots becuase its so oily.
I like the lotion, its much lighter than the cream.

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16-01-2010
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please tell me it isn't so with la prairie???

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^La Prairie is probably worse.

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I'm always reluctant to use the kind of skincare where I can't even pronounce the ingredients properly and much less know what exactly they're used for. When you know what's in it it's way easier to judge if it's worth the money or not. In most cases you pay for nothing but a famous name. I'm sometimes shocked that people are willing to spend that much on a jar of weird chemicals.

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