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It’s fascinating how a marketing budget can keep the mediocre forever in the spotlight – providing that the budget is big enough, of course. The next time you’re in a department or drugstore, recite this little factoid to yourself. The margins for big beauty brands after paying for products and packaging can be as much as 80%, but the net margins can be as low as 11%, with much of that spending going toward advertising. It is this advertising that ensures the undeserving are overrated. Here’s my attempt to turn the tables with some (unfairly) underrated alternatives.
Overrated: Philosophy Hope In A Jar ($38). The only good thing about Hope In A Jar is its iconic name. It’s not much more than an exfoliator with the dominant ingredient being AHA, lauryl lactate. As this ingredient increases the skin’s phytosensitivity, it is essential to wear a sunscreen over Philosophy’s moisturizer. Especially since there is also retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that researchers have shown to be carcinogenic when exposed to sunlight. There’s not much else to write home about, except with a red flag for all the parabens.
Underrated: Mad Hippie Exfoliating Serum ($30 in the shop). It’s roughly the same price as Hope In A Jar and also contains lactic acid (and glycolic acid, for that matter). On the brightening/lightening front, Mad Hippie included Gigawhite, which is a complex of six botanicals that are supposed to help fade age spots. Then there’s the power peptide Matrixyl 3000. Exfoliating Serum also has apple stem cells, vitamin C, white tea, ceramide-3 and melatonin. There are a few things one would prefer not to have here including: potassium hydroxide, phenoxyethanol, and behentrimonium chloride. But there are more than enough good actives here to restore hope.
Underrated: Sheer Miracle AHA Exfoliating Moisturizer ($15 in the shop). You can’t quibble at a product less than half the price of Philosophy’s Hope In A Jar and you can rejoice at its all-natural ingredients. The AHAs here – sugarcane extract, glycolic acid, tartaric acid and malic acid – are rounded out with tons of antioxidants, such as apricot kernel extract, green tea, bilberry and cranberry. Rather than the synthetic emollient favored by Philosophy (pentaerythrityl tetracaprylate/tetracaprate), there’s delicious mango butter.
Overrated: Yves Saint Laurent Touche Éclat ($40). There was a time when I had as many as three tubes of this in my purse, bathroom and so on. I would use it to cover up zits. It took a very long time for me to realize that its cocktail of harsh synthetics might be the cause of my breakouts. That was back in the day when it was in a humble tube; it has since been given a makeover with a fancy glass bottle and is positioned more as a foundation.
Underrated: RMS Un Cover Up ($36 in the shop). Celebrity makeup artist Rose-Marie Swift came up with her own range of makeup when she discovered that her constant contact with the chemicals in most commercial brands was making her sick. RMS Un Cover Up is my go-to concealer these days. It even has some anti-aging cocoa butter and, of course, no nasties.
Overrated: SK-II Facial Treatment Cream Foundation (0.7oz/$95). This foundation had me at “facial treatment.” I want more from my foundation than camouflaging synthetics; I want it to be good for my skin as well. And I’m not going to say no to anything approaching Cate Blanchett’s alabaster complexion. Topping this foundation’s ingredients list is SK-II’s anti-aging secret sauce, Pietra. This is galactomyces ferment – yeast, to you and me. The only specific clinical trial I can find was paid for by Procter and Gamble (owner of SK-II). There is also niacinamide (vitamin B) and rice bran oil. Disappointingly, the rest of the formula is mostly off-putting with controversial ingredients such as talc (which senators including the late Teddy Kennedy have been trying to get banned) and the pro-oxidant aluminum hydroxide (which is probably here to coat another controversial ingredient, titanium dioxide), plus there’s a ton of silicones and plasticizers, such as dipropylene glycol.
Underrarated: La Vie Celeste Creme Foundation ($39). I much prefer that La Vie Celeste’s ingredients are all natural. Meadowfoam seed oil helps give it some slip without being oily. It feels comfortable and moisturizing all day long. There’s pomegranate for antioxidant effect, along with green tea and olive. Pearl powder improves radiance of the skin tone. There’s titanium dioxide here as well, although featured further down the ingredients list, suggesting a lower concentration than in SK-II. In any case, the good far outweighs the bad, it is silicone free and I like the light, but even coverage this brings.
Overrated: Onsen Bio-Cell Lift (1oz/$595). Essential to the mystic of expensive and overrated products is an origination myth that usually involves a happy accident (SK-II claims that its secret sauce was discovered due to the amazingly soft hands of sake factory girls). Onsen uses water from a Japanese hot spring that was found to have anti-aging properties when a “simple woodcutter’s wife” drank from it and there and then (by the light of the moon) saw her reflected face “newly youthful.” The fountain of youth must be worth at least half a G. Onsen’s “water complex” is made up of coral, calcium, charcoal, maifan stone (used in Chinese medicine to treat skin issues) and tourmaline ceramic.
Underrated: BRAD Biophotonic Ultra White Intensive Lightening (1oz/$175). This is a favorite complexion refresher of mine. In this case, the special sauce is an “ocean mineral complex,” which is a concentrate of almost a hundred bio-fermented sea minerals that activate enzymes necessary for proper cell function. According to Brad Hunter (BRAD’s eponymous founder), “it helps to revitalize, restore and replenish the skin.” Continuing with the fruits of the sea theme, Ultra White also has Spirulina (blue green algae), which is rich in proteins, vitamins, essential amino acids, minerals and essential fatty acids like γ-linolenic acid (source). With botanicals such as yarrow and amino acids these ingredients seem to combine to refresh dull, lifeless and sun damaged skin.
Overrated: Boots No 7 Protect & Perfect Intense Serum ($24.99). When this British potion launched, it caused stampedes in the aisles (or so the story goes). Why anyone would go out of their way for No 7 Intense is beyond me. The main actives are retinyl palmitate and vitamin C. Although it has to be admitted that once you get past the parabens, the very last ingredient is the peptide Matrixyl 3000. I tried to use it and gave up when it caused an allergic reaction.
Underrated: Skinfinite Platinum PM Cream 1% Retinol ($79 in the shop). This 1% retinol cream is a 2013 Five Best with retinol. It also has sodium hyaluronate, ceramide, licorice and mushroom extracts. The retinol is micro-encapsulated for time release, helping it to be less irritating than other formulas.
Mascara and lash primer
Overrated: DiorShow Mascara ($25) and DiorShow Maximizer Lash Plumping Serum ($28). DiorShow Maximizer is, in a word, weird. I could add in others such as unpleasant and downright uncomfortable. When I tried it, my eyelashes were so gunked up – and I swear I applied the merest smear – and heavy that was almost hard to keep my lids open. If you thought that mascara was not much more than dye, wax and every preservative known to man, then you’d be right as far as DiorShow Mascara goes. And it is extremely drying – my lashes became brittle whilst trying it.
Underrated: jane iredale Longest Lash Mascara ($33). The key ingredient in this water-based mascara is algae extract, which along with a high dose of vitamin B, may stimulate lash growth. There is also a dash of antioxidant vanilla, as well as almond seed extract and tribehenin, a fatty acid. And, this being Ms. Iredale, there are no nasty preservatives or strange chemical growth factors to be squeamish about. jane iredale Purelash Extender & Conditioner ($17 in the shop) with algae, wheat and glycerin leaves my lashes feeling supple and strong – without gunking them up.
Overrated: Proactive Solution 3-Step System. Many, if not most, of Proactiv’s products contain harsh ingredients, including benzoyl peroxide, which can irritate sensitive skin, cause redness, peeling, and increase the chance of sunburn. Both the Renewing Cleanser and Repairing Treatment contain 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, and the Advanced Blemish Treatment contains 6%. Benzoyl peroxide is linked to reproductive abnormalities and should be avoided by pregnant women.
Underrated: Envy Medical Pads ($25). With a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, Envy Medical Pads are a favorite “face saver.” When all else has failed, Envy has come to the rescue many a time.