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It was clear early on that I had expensive taste. While all my friends were painting Wet n' Wild on their nails and LipSmackers on their faces, I was tagging along with my mom to Sak's and sampling the wares at the cosmetics counter. In high school, I developed a passion for Chanel cosmetics, staying abreast of every new lip gloss and eye palette launch. Interestingly enough, I'm not much of a makeup enthusiast (it was more a snobby appreciation of designer goods than a true love for the products). When I recently received a small pot of Chanel Sublimage Essential Regenerating Cream (.21 oz) as a gift, memories of my long-forgotten love affair with the brand came flooding back to me. I wondered, would my childhood sweetheart satisfy a more mature (and discerning) me?
Having ruled the luxury fashion and fragrance markets for years, Chanel has always seemed markedly absent from the skincare category. Then in 2006, Chanel unveiled its answer to an aging customer base with Sublimage. The Sublimage Essential Regenerating Cream allegedly took more than six years to make it from Chanel's CE.R.I.E.S. research laboratory to store shelves. My drum of Sublimage is the Texture Supreme, the original and heavier version, as compared to the Texture Universelle (probably better for oily skin). Though I expected the product to evoke indulgence, nothing could prepare me for the sticker shock I encountered on my internet search.
$350...for 1.7 oz? Really? Granted, my first impression of the cream was, as anticipated, above average. But a price point requiring several Ben Franklins must automatically elevate any product to a whole new echelon of results-oriented skincare. I realized that I could not simply commend the cream for a luxurious texture, "soft as cashmere" to the touch, and thank it for a dewy complexion. Yes, it sufficiently hydrates and reflects light, but so do many other reasonably priced moisturizers. I had to demand more from Sublimage: More in the form of superior performance, clear science, and effective ingredients.
Would you be surprised if I told you it fell short on all three points? As is often the case with uber high-end cosmetics lines whose primary sales channel is the cosmetics counter of your nearest high-end department store, the cream's ingredients are rather elusive, immaterial even. (Unable to find a list online, I had to type out the full list from the packaging). Those keen department store sales associates working on commission have their pitch polished to a tee. All they have to do to win a sale is massage the lavishly comforting cream into your face while prattling about "polyfractioning" whoseewhatsits.
It is this mumbo jumbo that went into developing Sublimage's secret sauce, christened Planifolia PFA. Chanel's patent-pending blend is created by polyfractioning the fresh fruit of the vanilla planifolia plant, which was selected by Chanel's scientists for its rich supply of polyketones. According to Chanel, polyketones are anti-aging molecules that encourage cell renewal. According to Wikipedia, polyketones are thermoplastic polymers (translation: plastic). I could not find any literature linking polyketones derived from botanical sources to skin rejuvenation (or any other skincare product), except of course, in articles about Chanel.
Besides basing its formula on a shaky anti-aging foundation, where else does Sublimage cream go wrong? It doesn't take a trained nose to sniff out a pungent artificial fragrance (made to mimic notes of cylamen and linden flowers). Beyond some adequate natural emollients (squalane, jojoba seed oil, glycerin, shea butter) and a less desirable silicone, the next moisturizing agent is canola oil. Yes, you read that right- the commonplace oil that you cook with is one of the top entries in a $350 cream. None of these ingredients will do much more than make skin feel hydrated and supple, and superior emollients like Hyaluronic Acid are conspicuously absent.
The real anti-agers, including Chanel's darling vanilla planifolia, surface far down the list. It is hard to believe that beneficial components such as glucosamine HCL, algae extract, yeast extract, licorice root extract, and vitamins C and E, will do much good when buried at the bottom in negligible concentrations. But far more disturbing than their meager quantities is the company they keep. The good is not only surrounded by, but also preceded by the bad, led by the bully preservatives phenoxyethanol and two parabens. Though the cream isn't marketed as containing sunscreen, it contains a fair amount of oxybenzone a chemical photocarcinogen that may attack DNA cells and produce free radicals after penetrating the skin.
Chanel's jar of lackluster and questionable ingredients adds up to a big fat waste of money. Essentially, you are paying for exquisite packaging and years of research, which may or may not have been successful. Without independent clinical studies on the Madagascar vanilla plantifola plant to corroborate Chanel's claims, who knows whether it deserves to have top billing in an anti-aging line? Where's the proof that this "rare" botanical makes any significant difference to the skin and actually stimulates cell renewal? You never hear a dermatologist recommend this product line. Wonder why?
It's hard to believe that consumers regularly rack up about $400 in credit card charges online without first getting a glimpse at Sublimage's ingredients, or at the very least a smattering of clinical evidence. Worse still is the poor soul who gets sucked into a deferred payment plan, which is supposedly now being offered at certain stores. For the price Chanel is charging, one should expect near-miraculous results equivalent to a face lift.