Sometimes I seem to get stalked by brands and this week it is Kiehl’s. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been spending my time with 30-something women – the demographic sweet spot of this brand that manages to convey a quaint and quirky wholesomeness, affordable luxury and pampering without being girly. If Kiehl’s was a place it would be – thanks to its brilliant marketing – a pristine fishing town in Maine. In my view, however, Kiehl’s is more akin to Staten Island, the site of New York City’s landfill.

Take Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream ($24.50), one of the product’s my 30-something friends seem to go for.  We are talking chemical waste. OK, so I don't feel the need to don my hazmat suit, but there’s no way I’d smear this stuff on my skin.

For a start, there is phenoxyethanol, a preservative that is a skin irritant and a neurotoxin. I don’t much care to come into contact with this ingredient at the best of times but in Ultra Facial Cream, it is high up on the ingredients list – way before we get anywhere near the actives touted by Kiehl’s (to which I’ll come to later).

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There are so many preservatives in this cream that the one thing you can guarantee is that it will outlast us all: two parabens, irritants that are controversially associated with cancer; chlorphenesin, a neurotoxin that is restricted in Japan; disodium EDTA, which enhances the penetration of other ingredients; triethanolamine, animal studies show can cause sense organ effects at very low doses, especially when used around the mouth, eyes and lips, and one or more in vitro tests on mammalian cells show positive mutation results; and sodium hydroxide, which has been shown in solutions as weak as .12% to destruct healthy skin cells within one hour. Lovely.

The third ingredient Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream is cyclohexasiloxane has been of concern to environmentalists for some time because it is relatively ubiquitous and has a tendency to hang around in the environment for a really long time – however, a recent study in Canada concluded that it isn’t harmful to humans or animals. As a silicone, it will (along with Bis-PEG-18 Methylether Dimethyl Silane and another chemical tongue-twister Pentaerythrityl Tetraethylhexanoate) impart a superficial softness to the skin without doing it any good.

In the midst of all of this is one of the actives - imperata cylindrica, described by Kiehl’s as an Australian desert plant with superb water retention properties. Unfortunately, it has a less than convincing pedigree. It was thought that this was an inflammatory, but that has been disproved in clinical tests. Kiehl’s also touts Antarticine as something that will “protect the skin from cold temperatures. This is actually pseudoalteromonas ferment extract. It is perfectly respectable ingredient that seems to have impressive water retention properties (although there isn’t any independent research backing this up). A pity that it is so near to the end of the ingredient list.


Aqua, Glycerin, Cyclohexasiloxane, Squalane, Bis-PEG-18 Methylether Dimethyl Silane, Sucrose Stearate, Stearyl Alcohol, PEG-8 Stearate, Urea, Myristyl Myristate, Pentaerythrityl Tetraethylhexanoate, Prunus Armeniaca Kernel Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Persea Gratissima Oil, Olea Europaea Fruit Oil, Oryza Sativa Bran Oil, Cetyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, Imperata Cylindrica, Stearic Acid, Methylparaben, Chlorphenesin, Disodium EDTA, Propylparaben, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Carbomer, Triethanolamine, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis Oil, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Hydroxide, PEG-8, Glycine Soja Oil, Tocopherol, Pseudoalteromonas Ferment Extract, Myristyl Alcohol, Collagen, Hydroxypalmitoyl Sphinganine ,Chitosan, Sodium Chondroitin Sulfate

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