In a former life, when I was on a completely different career path and living in a distant locality of the city, my job gave me exclusive access to a glorified shopping experience that only came once a month: The L'Oreal Store. This special place, located on the bottom floor of L'Oreal's headquarters in Manhattan, resembles an ordinary airport duty-free shop. But inside, everything becomes magical, as all items are marked down at least 50% off retail prices. Although the store is intended for L'Oreal employees only, I managed to secure a special pass (much like Willy Wonka's golden ticket), but was limited to a generous spending cap each month...a limit that I somehow reached on every single monthly excursion.

Before being introduced to L'Oreal's exclusive boutique, I never knew just how many brands are incorporated under the L'Oreal company name. From Biotherm and Kiehl's to Redken and Vichy, there were endless products to try, most of which I ended up eventually tossing. But a select few favorites made it onto my stockpile list (meaning I'd hoard a lifetime supply of them to give as gifts or attempt to use up before their expiration dates). One such product was La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser.

The first time I tried Toleriane, I thought that I had discovered the holy grail of mild, moisturizing cleansers. In the dead of winter, it mended my dessicated skin and created a calming barrier of moisture that actually eliminated the usual need for a follow-up with lotion. I subsequently cleaned out The L'Oreal Store's entire supply of Toleriane on one visit and tucked a boxful of bottles under my bed. Ever since, I have packed one of these bottles on every trip out of town because the cleanser conveniently doubles as a moisturizer and a light makeup remover.

Its non-comedogenic creamy texture is great for sensitive, intolerant, and inflammed skin. Sealing in a layer of moisture over the skin, Toleriane hydrates without clogging pores or causing breakouts. I've read reviews that skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema have improved while using this cleanser. In fact, Toleriane is so gentle that you don't even need to rinse it off. Although it purports to remove makeup residue, it's not strong enough to tackle water-resistant eye makeup without a bout of harsh rubbing.

Adding up to a grand total of eight, the ingredients list couldn't be any shorter. But as they say, it is not the size of the wave that matters. It's the motion of the ocean. And Toleriane barely makes a ripple within the sea of natural, active ingredients you'll find in more virtuous cleansers. Instead, La Roche-Posay's formula is more akin to a mundane oil spill. More questionable than beneficial, the ingredients don't really do much for the skin beyond the short-term.

After water, ethylhexyl palmitate (derived from palm oil lipid) gives the face a silky "glide-on" feeling similar to the effect of silicone. Next up is glycerin, a water-binding (hygroscopic) liquid that helps the skin attract and retain moisture. Given that its provenance is unlisted, Toleriane's glycerin could come from natural plant oils or from petroleum. Glycerin's humectant powers have shown to improve epidermal barrier function and stratum corneum hydration, but potentially at the loss of "corneodesmosomes" which hold skin together.

After dipropylene glycol (a vicosity-controlling agent) and carbomer (a thickening agent), sodium hydroxide is thrown in for buffering and pH adjusting. Extremely corrosive and capable of causing severe burns at high concentrations, sodium hydroxide can do damage to skin even at low levels and has been implicated in links to cancer. Solutions as weak as .12% have shown to destruct healthy skin cells within one hour. Though it is unclear how much sodium hydroxide is present in Toleriane, the formula would undoubtedly be better off without. Rounding out the cluster of ingredients are capryl/caprylyl glycol and ethylhexylglycerin (both skin-conditioning agents).

I am not sure how Toleriane actually "cleanses" since all of the ingredients are either formula fillers or emollients. Glyerin has some antimicrobial properties and ethylhexylglycerin is often used as part of a preservative system, but no components point toward skin-purifying power. Somehow, though, it does leave skin feeling fresh and not weighted-down. I'd liken its consistency to Cetaphil (the blue, not green, kind) without those pesky parabens. But now that I know better, I probably wouldn't have bought Toleriane in bulk. There are better gentle cleansers with more skin-nourishing benefits.

So what do I plan to do with the remainder of my stash of Toleriane stored under my bed? I will keep using it of course, as a stand-by for those days when my skin is feeling parched and tender.

Ingredients: Water, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Glycerin, Dipropylene Glycol, Carbomer, Sodium Hydroxide, Capryl Glycol/ Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin.