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Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream- reviewed and rejected

Reviewed by Marta August 28, 2013 20 Comments

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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  • November 10, 2016

    by Erin

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for this informative review!! I started to use this product about a 4 days ago along with another new product. My skin seemed irritated in a few areas and I noticed some clogged pores beginning so I began to search the internet to find out if either product is really comedogenic (& luckily I'm someone who very rarely has a breakout). I found no information on Kiehl's site about it being non comedogenic but thankfully I found this site!!! I am throwing this product away!! I wanted to write this review to thank the author! Keep up the great work you have a new fan and loyal reader. Thank you for saving my skin from this product!!

  • September 17, 2016

    by Robin

    Thank you so much for this review! I have been using the Keihl's Ultra Face Moisturizer for about 3 months. I started developing a rash and inflamation all around my eyes about a month ago. Today I checked the ingredients of all my skin care products and cosmetics. Low and behold, the Keihl's moisturizer is the culprit. I thought I was getting such a highly regarded moisturizer with tons of natural ingredients. Boy, was I wrong.

  • May 28, 2016

    by Kellie

    I actually liked Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream the first time I bought it, about two years ago. I had just moved from Los Angeles to Dallas, and although I've oily skin, the Texas winter & general climate change were driving my skin crazy. I accidentally packed it in my carry on, so I had to pitch it (thanks again, TSA) and buy another one. I don't know what happened- did they reformulate?- but I absolutely hate it. I took the time to inspect the bottle & their website (that's how I found this site) and I realized that this product, despite what the woman at the Kiehl's counter at Nordstrom told me, is NOT hypoallergenic, NOT non-comedogenic, and KIEHL'S TESTS ON ANIMALS.

  • May 19, 2016

    by Chloe

    Ive just bought a bunch of their products but deffo wont renew the ultra cream. Their oils smell nice and effective,body cream is also quite moisturizing but the smell is only ok, the rare earth pore refining exfoliant and lotion as well are alright but no good smell and at the same time i cant say that it has no smell, but then the ultra face cream smells bad like plastic and burns my face.

  • November 9, 2015

    by Lauryn

    I started using Kiehls during the summer(midnight recovery oil) loved it!
    Decided to invest in a new skin care range. I bought the oil free cleanser, Midnight recovery, avocado eye cream & cucumber toner.
    After a few days my skin started to react, I went back to store where the sales person told me to stop using each product and re introduce.
    I now have been diagnosed with perioral dermatitis around my eyes and on my forehead.
    I've started the RCV, aloe plant & raw organic cocunut oil but I would love to know has anyone else reacted this way?
    My face hurts :-(

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