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Good Housekeeping put 900 beauty products through its “Beauty Lab” to come up with its 2014 Beauty Awards. I took a look at the Good Housekeeping Best of Skincare category and found only one real winner.
L'Oréal Age Perfect Glow Renewal Facial Oil ($25). You know facial oils are trending (remember, you read it here first) when Big Beauty jumps on the bandwagon. I must say, that Renewal Facial Oil is probably the first L'Oréal product I have been inclined to give the time of day to. And it proves my point about oils — they allow purer formulas (because there’s no water to grow germs in or the need to create creaminess). L'Oréal’s facial oil has lots to like, from olive to apricot to lavender oil. There’s even some nice plant extracts such as cucumber and antioxidant turmeric. To be sure, there are a few no-nos, including chemical fragrance, linalool, eugenol, alpha-isomethyl ionone (banned from perfumes) and alcohol. But for L'Oréal, this is positively squeaky clean.
L'Oréal has formulated with cheaper oils such as corn, and for a few dollars more it is possible to find much better quality. Snowberry Soothing Facial Massage Oil($32) has a base of nutrient rich macadamia followed by passion flower and sacha inchi (full of fatty acids) and absolutely no nasties. I also like Mukti Antioxidant Facial Oil($40) with a pure line up of antioxidant oils.
Lancôme Visionnaire ($69). Lancôme Visionnaire’s high-tech ingredient is a molecule dubbed LR 2412. It’s hard to get past the marketing gobbledygook, but I think this has to do with something called jasmonic acid, which modifies the growth and reproduction of plants (I have no idea what it does for skin). There’s nothing else to pin your hopes on in the Lancôme Visionnaire formula. In fact, it’s a rather bleak concoction with many silicones, standard emollients and synthetic thickeners.
If I were going to bet on a skin-saving serum with just one active ingredient, I’d more likely go for MitoQ Moisturizing Anti-Aging Serum ($119 in the shop). It has mitoquinone mesylate, a turbo-charged form of ubiquinone that was developed to target mitochondria (responsible for keeping cells alive). It is claimed to be 1,000 times stronger than other antioxidants. Closer to Lancôme Visionnaire’s price point is Medik8 C-Tetra ($70 in the shop), which offers a very effective and stable form of vitamin C, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate.
Exuviance Age Reverse Day Repair SPF 30 ($98).The problem with this pick is that the SPF actives are all very controversial and not all that effective. Octinoxate is notoriously unstable and when combined with avobenzone (as it is here), it degrades even faster. The third active octisalate is also a weak UV-B absorber. Note that avobenzone is not recommended for pregnant women and that all three can be skin irritants as can the many preservatives and synthetic ingredients in the mix. Exuviance Age Reverse Day Repair SPF 30 does have some useful ingredients, such as collagen boosting matrixyl 3000, coffee and pomegranate. An odd inclusion is retinol since this will make the skin more sun sensitive. Our tester, not surprisingly, broke out when trying this day cream and also reported lack of absorption (au contraire to Good Housekeeping’s gushing verdict) and pilling under makeup (see the review).
A better product at a much better price is Prana Reflect Antioxidant Skin Cream SPF 45 ($39 in the shop). Its SPF active is micronized zinc, and it has plenty of antioxidants in the forms of vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, grape and green tea as well as wheat protein amino acids.
Murad Intensive C Radiance Peel ($49.50). Until I learned better, I went through quite a few Murad products — without much success. This peel was not one of them. Although it does have some good ingredients, they do not outweigh the mediocre. I’m not keen on the synthetic beeswax (this is a filler by any other name), the low-cost castor oil or pentylene glycol. This is an exfoliating mask with glycolic acid (not, as Good Housekeeping says, an at-home peel). On a positive note, there are two forms of vitamin C, amino acids and plenty of nice looking botanical extracts. But then it’s back to a disproportionate amount of synthetics. Actually most of them are benign, but many are typically used in lipsticks and even hair conditioner (e.g., hydroxyethyl behenamidopropyl dimonium chloride) mostly there to give slip and a phony feel good factor.
PureCeuticals Cherry Glycolic Peel ($44). This extremely effective mask is formulated with a 15% blend of glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids for skin brightening par excellence. Cherry fruit pulp helps to reduce inflammation, treat acne and acne scarring and soothe damaged skin. There are no nasty ingredients and enough heft to remind you of a professional peel. A gentler option is La Vie Celeste’s Restorative Exfoliating Gel Mask($60 in the shop) with a 5% concentration of pure glycolic acid in an organic aloe vera base. Gentle exfoliation is provided by bamboo grains, and the mask gives a very desirable dewy glow
Hada Labo Tokyo Replenishing Hydrator ($17.99). There are really just two ingredients of note (and that, frankly, is a bit of stretch) in this moisturizer from over-hyped Japanese brand Hada Labo. They are hyaluronic acid/sodium hyaluronate and glycerin. The rest of the formula includes a solvent, dipropylene glycol (also used in the stuff that makes smoke machines smoke at rock concerts), a toxic preservative (iodopropynyl butycarbamate) and another that is a neurotoxin (methylisothiazolinone).
Sheer Miracle Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($22 in the shop) is a pure hyaluronic acid serum. Hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate is the same thing with a smaller molecular size) is able to attract water and retain it — and I mean a lot of it, up to 1,000 times its weight in water! The difference between Hada Labo and Sheer Miracle is that my pick hydrates with no nasties.
Weleda Hydrating Facial Lotion ($21). Weleda, it seems to me, almost gets there — but not quite. While there are no synthetics, there are only four ingredients that you would want to put on your face — the jojoba oil, witch hazel, calendula (a soothing botanical extract) and iris root extract. According to Weleda, iris root stimulates the skin so that it retains moisture. I can find nothing to corroborate this — typically it is used as a stabilizer in perfumery. For some reason, German companies cannot formulate without alcohol, and its potentially drying and irritating effects may put some people off, as might the inclusion of magnesium aluminum silicate. Linalool is another controversial ingredient since it is cytoxic (the amounts here are likely to be extremely miniscule though).
Blissoma Awake Morning Firming Facial Moisture ($25.99). There’s a ton more botanicals for your buck here — over 20, in fact. There’s organic red raspberry seed oil, which contains vitamin E and essential fatty acids, as well as tamanu oil, witch hazel, lemon balm, eyebright and quercetin. Puffy morning faces are calmed with an herbal infusion. Dollar for dollar, Blissoma provides much more value than Weleda. Note that there is a linalool alert here, too.
Philosophy Miracle Worker Retinoid Eye Cream ($66). A retinol cream would not be my first choice as best for hydration. I have a feeling that Good Housekeeping’s testers were duped by all the silicones (the most dominant ingredients) that impart a superficial silky feeling. Although it must be said that there is squalane. Nonetheless, I must admit that Philosophy’s choice of retinol, hydroxypinacolone retinoate, is rather interesting. It does not require metabolic conversion in the skin and it is supposed to be less irritating than most retinols. Overall, it is one of the better Philosophy formulations with some peptides, aminobutyric acid (for controlling expression lines) and panaz ginseng. Philosophy’s philosophy is not squeaky clean as can, for example, be shown by the inclusion of barium sulfate. It is typically used as a radiocontrast agent in x-rays and in making white paint. I can only imagine that it is used here as a cheap way of whitening the cream. It can be a skin irritant.
Amarte Eyeconic Eye Cream. This is a great performing eye cream with a 3.8% concentration of retinol and nano-encapsulated epidermal growth factor. The non-irritating formula is well balanced with a base of moisturizing glycerin and argan oil. Elemental sulfur is a pH balancer. The botanical extracts include ginkgo biloba nut, which has high levels of quercetin, a common and powerful antioxidant. Nutmeg is an antioxidant due to an abundance of myristicin. Apart from preservatives, there are no nasties.
Olay Pro-X Advanced Cleansing System ($30). I bought an Olay brush when it first came out. What a disappointment — the brush head is tiny, more of an outsized toothbrush. But the worst thing about it is that the brush fits on to a stubby stem. And from this perch, Olay’s diminutive brush wobbles drunkenly. The movement of a cleansing brush is really what a cleansing brush is all about (otherwise, you may as well forget the whole thing and use a wash cloth).
Ultra Clear by Truth In Aging ($86 in the shop). You can always splash out on a Clarisonic, but (if I do say so myself), the Ultra Clear will give as good if not better results. It is uniquely both powerful and very gentle. Because it has 1800 micro vibrations per second, it is extremely effective while being kind to sensitive and/or mature skin. Proper cleansing and exfoliation is the foundation for good skin.
GlamGlow Mask ($69). GlamGlow’s much hyped mud mask is supposed to have celebrity devotees and has been heralded as skincare’s next big thing. So here’s the dirt on GlamGlow. Although mud gets star billing, it is really an AHA exfoliator. The base is a common — or garden — mask ingredient, kaolin. The next two ingredients are magnesium aluminum silicate, a clay-derived thickener, and sodium hydroxide, used to balance pH. It is a neurotoxin and irritant. The key actives are mandelic, glycolic and another four AHAs.
Your Best Face Prep ($80 in the shop). Now, if you really want to glow, try this microdermabrasion treatment that infuses skin with botanicals that brighten and soothe, vitamins and antioxidants. It is teeming with collagen-boosting peptides, including matrixyl 3000, relistase and tego Pep 4-7. Skin brighteners include spicy turmeric, aspen and licorice.