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Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream- reviewed and rejected

August 28, 2013 Reviewed by Marta 30 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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  • September 14, 2018

    by Sonia

    I’m using this product for the past 2 months. Since then I have developed some skin reaction around my forehead and eyes. My eyes have swollen 4 times already and severe acne on my forehead thought was caused by my diet ( but I was wrong) I’m grateful that I came across this site. Im throwing it all

  • March 26, 2018

    by sandra

    OMG!!! Could my face bee burning right now because of Kiehl´s products. I had to go to doctor to have steroids because my face is on fire and my eyes are swollen... I am shocked.!

  • March 22, 2018

    by Marina

    I have bought the Adventskalender from Kiehl's and since December I have been using their face products alternating them with some other products- so no daily use.
    For one week now I have a skin rash, especially on my forhead and cheeks - the skin was red, swollen and sometimes itchy; now it's better. I am quite worried because it's the first time I get such an aggresive face rash.
    In my search I came across this page and I can relate my symptoms to the ones described in the comments below.
    Thank you for sharing this. It is quite serious and I am puzzled why there is so little information about the side effects of their products.

  • March 15, 2018

    by Ricky

    Last night after cleansing my face I apply kiehl midnight recovery concentrate serum on my face then after 20 min I started feeling irritation ,then I thought maybe it get stop after an hour or so,suddenly I slept and when I woke up in the morning again I feel burning on my face.then I washed my face with water only after I apply kiehl ultra facial moisture on my face and tvaksh face guard susnscream but burning couldn't stop then after 2hours I washed my face with face wash but didn't notice any change on the face..I am very much worried please suggest some ideas how long this burning stay on my face..I am from banglour India and I have sensitive skin.please help me

  • March 1, 2018

    by Rose

    Thank you for the very informative review. I too have experienced a very similar reaction to two other Kiehls products; Super Multi-Corrective Cream and just recently Rosa Arctic Light Weight Cream. After using both products, the latter was a sample, I looked like I had suffered a chemical burn on my face. Swelling, redness, heat and itchy skin. It has been almost one week and my skin is still tight, a bit itchy and now very dry and peeling. I compared the ingredients in Kiehls Ultra Facial Cream to the two products I listed and found at least (10) of the same ingredients. I have purchased many Kiehls products throughout the years
    and have only had two bad reaction, which is two too many considering the price. Thank you again for your review....

  • January 15, 2018

    by Mayela

    Waste of money. My face is now full of blotchy dry spots

  • January 5, 2018

    by Tony

    I have used this product on my face and scalp for the past week.

    I have developed severe and sore itching sensation on the treated areas of skin.

    I won't be using this product again as I believe that it has caused the itching and soreness.

  • November 1, 2017

    by Debbie

    Kiehl's ultimate strength hand salve makes my skin itchy. It was great when I first used it on my very dry hands a year ago. Since then I developed severe eczema on both hands. The dermatologist said it is from something my hands come in contact with. Tracing it back to when this all began it was after I started using this lotion. I hadn't put it on in a month. When I used it last night my hands began to itch like crazy!!

  • October 17, 2017

    by Anon

    I am so pleased I found this website! I have been breaking out in a puffy rash, most noticeable around the eyes and forehead (which become significantly inflamed and swollen). I had put it down to an allergic reaction and slowly cut out various foods from my diet, all the while still using this new cream... there is clearly something in this cream that I am having a serious reaction to. Surprised that there is so little about this.

  • June 21, 2017

    by Sweta

    Do you have a more safer alternative you could recommend instead of this one? Thanks!

  • 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 :-(

  • October 25, 2015

    by Ruth

    I wish I had read these reviews before purchasing this product. I've been using it on and off for about a month now. When the weather's nice I use a different brand's sunscreen and no moisturiser so it took me a while to realise that every time I use this moisturiser my eyes sting terribly even though I don't use it on my eyes. For the first week or two I came up in pimples which I don't usually but thought it was coincidence about the stinging eyes. I've put it on today and my eyes are stinging yet again so googled reviews and found those above. I will be throwing it away now!

  • April 1, 2015

    by RS

    Thanks for posting this article. I have just realised that the Kiehl's range has been creating a serious reaction on my face.

    It has caused my eyes to swell up and caused eczema over my face! The worst thing is that the sales advisor told me everything within the cream was natural!!!

    I feel really ripped off and I spent £100 on a number of products a few weeks ago.

  • March 17, 2015

    by ava

    Thank you for this article - I recently read the ingredients on the Kiehl's label and was SHOCKED at the toxic ingredients.

  • February 11, 2015

    by jonathan

    I don't think Kiehl's ever claimed to be an organic brand. In fact, I recently went to my local Kiehl's store and asked them about it. They openly admitted to have preservatives in their products.

    I have very sensitive skin and spent a lot of money in the past trying to find the right products for myself. Kiehl's is the only brand that feels gentle to my skin and doesn't give me unpleasant side effects (like burning sensation, itching, flaking...). This even includes products from some medical-cosmetics brands that are supposed to be especially designed for people with super sensitive skin.

    I have the ultra facial cream at home, although I haven't used it for a while. This week I started using it again and I am impressed by it. But I admit, I would feel much better using it, if it hadn't all the chemicals inside...

  • January 1, 2015

    by Marta

    Hi Sno Melon, thank you for the tip about Pai. I was not aware of this brand, but it looks interesting and we will reach out to them to give it a try.

  • January 1, 2015

    by Sno melon

    I have been using kiehls for 6 months now and really noticed how it moisturised my skin for many hours. I really liked it until l peeled off their outer ingredient label today and shocked to find paraben in my cream! l think this packaging is very clever, you wouldn't normally peel off the sticker to read the inside as it isn't convenient. I know lm moisturised but l think l will have to switch to a organic brand to avoid long term damages to my face and body. I have been interested in thid london based organic skincare called 'Pai Skincare' , wondering if anyone has tried it yet? It claims to be 100% pure and organic for the most sensitive skins out there.

  • November 7, 2014

    by sara

    At least there are some sites out there trying to reveal more about these brands that pretend to be 'organic' when that's far from the case:

  • October 11, 2014

    by Vicky

    I was totally shocked the other day when I went into a Kiehls shop and by chance started studying the ingredients list on the back of their products. Talk about a chemical soup of the nastiest order. Don't be fooled by the cute ye old apothecary branding.......... it's Monsanto in disguise. Not sure how they get away with some of the stuff in there formua's. It was a real eye opener.

  • June 19, 2014

    by Tanner

    If you reject the product how about suggesting a product in its place and why that product would be better.

  • February 12, 2013

    by Eva

    This is a hysterical review with hysterical commenters trying to create hysteria over these products. My skin has never been better than after I started using Kiehls on it - and hey, my skin is not sloughing off nor am I slowly dying from toxic exposure. I have used Kiehls for 15 years and my only complaint is that they put petrolatum in their lip balm. I worry more about the pollutants in the air that we breathe in each time we step out the door. Save the hysterics for that, please.

  • January 16, 2013

    by katie

    Thanks for your report. Many people need to look beyond the fancy marketing and the so-called word-of-mouth and start to make up their own mind.
    As my boyfriend raved about Kiehl's products I thought about buying one or two. Then I started seriously researching their product range, and found that they are rated poorly on this website,which monitors the safety of the ingredients used, among other things:

    To be honest I am a minimal skincare person. I always think genetics have a lot to do with your skin condition. And also what your eat and your lifestyle. Anyway all we can do is avoid putting toxins on our faces, as if our surrounding environment isn't polluted enough already!

  • November 18, 2012

    by Dennis

    I totally used to be into Kiehls before I started to research ingredients and what they do. I feel like it's my fault that one of my best friends will not use anything besides this "moisturizer". Despite everything I tell him! What have I done!? I can't believe how hideously formulated this is!

  • November 18, 2012

    by Asya

    Thanks, Marta,

    For always repeating the abc's of toxins in products. In France they just start questioning the use of wet wipes for babies, packed with phenoxyethanol, disodium EDTA and the likes - I've never imagined putting these even close to my two childrens' skin thanks to your awareness raising! Thank you :-)

  • November 16, 2012

    by Rorie

    Thanks so much for taking the time to review this! I ALMOST bought this but decided to read up on it first. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!

  • October 30, 2010

    by Jaysie

    About 10 years ago I started road testing some Kiehl's products, both for skin and hair. I was kind of shocked at how ineffective they were because, as you note, the brand has this wholesome, back-of-the pharmacy secret formulas aura. Road testing? Yep, their Silk Groom for hair could be used as a car lubricant. Coupled with the chemical smorgasbord Kiehl's often employs, I never got through even half of the containers. I think their Musk Oil is really the star of their brand, but after reading the recent Fragrance article by SarahK I wonder what OMG-chemicals are in that!

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