Far too often, we spend a hefty sum on skincare products only to find that they do not fully satisfy. Then for whatever reason, we hang on to them and continue to seek out a substitute as they collect dust on our medicine cabinet shelf or get caked in residue inside our cosmetics bag. This was the sorry fate of my Lancome Bienfait Multi-Vital SPF 30 Daily Moisturizing Cream- purchased circa 2007 and all but forgotten until now. In doing a deep-clean of my cosmetics stash, I came across Lancome's lonely, practically-full pot of Bienfait and tried to recall why things hadn't worked out between us.

Call me shallow, but I found Bienfait unattractive from the get-go. Its tub design required me to dip my (always clean but potentially contaminated) finger into the thick mixture and scoop out a dollop that never managed to be the right amount. After going in for a second scoop because I had underestimated my skin's thirst or rubbing excess cream into my neck, I inevitably had to dab my face with a tissue after application. Why? Because my skin shined like a butter-basted chicken and felt just as greasy. Possibly the worst part was the smell, reminiscent of a childhood spent outdoors marinating in layer upon layer of sunscreen. In other words, chemical spill alert.

Now, keep in mind that I abandoned this product long before I took up Truth in Aging and understood the fine print of an ingredients label. Upon a more informed assessment, I realized that Lancome Bienfait's formula was not well done after all. Once you wade through the fillers, silicones, and chemicals, it offers little in the way of skin benefits. The Environmental Working Group assigns the product a moderate safety rating of 5, which is weighted down by the level 9 aluminum starch octenylsuccinate and the level 8 artificial fragrance, due to contamination and neurotoxicity concerns. Another synthetic ingredient, PEG-12 dimethicone can contain harmful impurities such as ethylene oxide (known to increase the incidence of many cancers) and 1,4-dioxane (a known carcinogen).

Bienfait does not waste any time loading up preservatives. I have never seen phenoxyethanol appear so high on an ingredients list. Coming in at number five, this dubious bactericide is trailed by two even more controversial parabens. Also appearing too close to the top for comfort is triethanolamine, dangerous in the presence of N-nitrosating agents due to the possible formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines. It can cause allergic reactions and might be toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time. Disodium EDTA does not do you any favors with its ability to enhance the penetration of all these chemicals and trigger organ system toxicity in high doses.

The formula's active sunscreen agents- 7% Octocrylene, 5% Octisalate, and 3% Avobenzone- are all chemical blockers that, even when combined, provide weak UVA protection. The majority of the moisturizer's UVA-blocking strength comes from Avobenzone, which has a tendency to degrade in light over time. All three can penetrate into the skin and raise red flags for irritation. Most concerning is the incredibly high 7% concentration of octocrylene (maximum recommended by FDA is 3%) because it acts as a photosensitizer, resulting in an increased production of free radicals, not to mention its potential for reproductive toxicity in humans and bioaccumulation in fish.

Considering that its formula has survived several decades, Bienfait has been around the block. But it is none the wiser for its age. Beyond vitamin E and moringa seed extract for environmental protection and glycerin, sunflower seed oil, and chestnut extract for emollients, the formula is lacking in innovative anti-aging ingredients. Lancome can't seem to kick its penchant for noxious preservatives and chemicals. As they say, old habits die hard. I have finally dusted off my pot of Bienfait and relegated it to the trash bin.

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Ingredients:

Water, sucrose tristearate, polysorbate 61, sodium stearoyl glutamate, phenoxyethanol, tocopheryl acetate, peg-12 dimethicone, panthenol, d-, caprylyl glycol, triethanolamine, carbomer, octocrylene, methylparaben, fragrance, dimethiconol, xanthan gum, disodium edta, butylparaben, ascorbyl glucoside, oxothiazolidinecarboxylic acid, castanea sativa (chestnut) leaf extract, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, isononyl isononanoate, polycaprolactone, moringa pterygosperma seed extract, thermus thermophillus ferment, rosa canina fruit oil, black currant (ribes nigrum) seed oil, ethylhexyl salicylate, glycerin, dimethicone, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, diisopropyl sebacate, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate.