I find myself constantly asking friends about their favorite skincare brands or products. Thanks to an inherited Type A personality, I can't separate the day job from kicking back and hanging out with friends. On the upside, it is because of this trait that I have been introduced to some remarkable cosmetics that I would never have encountered otherwise. Remarkable, by definition, means something worthy of attention - not necessarily positive attention.

One friend's adulation of Rachel Perry's Lecithin-Aloe Moisture Retention Cream SPF 15 ($17.95) seemed far more effusive than your everyday product preference. Not only did she profess that she had never felt such strong loyalty to any cosmetic before, but this devotion seems to run in the family - her mother swears by its anti-aging power. She described Rachel Perry's skincare line as "natural and holistic," and sure enough, a quick internet search turned up results on health-oriented sites such as Vitacost, iHerb, MotherNature, NaturalMarket, and VitaminMenu. But a deeper inspection dug up ingredients that would be shunned from a truly healthful haven.

At first glance, there appears nothing to complain about, as the botanical infusions flow from arnica to calendula to marshmallow. Not too far down the line, we find the lecithin and aloe vera gel that appear in this cream's name, which are known to improve the homeostasis of the skin and reduce inflammation; however, unless lecithin is hydroxylated (which it does not appear to be here) it will oxidize and become unstable in the presence of heat. The cream's beneficial components conclude at a compact cluster of botanical oils and vitamins A & D.

In the midst of this natural goodness, we come up against silicones, synthetic fillers, and ugly preservatives. The most obvious are phenoxyethanol and two parabens. Dioctyl adipate (DOA) is classified as possibly toxic to the blood, liver, reproductive system, and upper respiratory tract. The multi-purpose disodium EDTA, which serves to stabilize and preserve the formula, may be weakly mutagenic and harmful to the reproductive system, since it binds with and deactivates metal ions required for healthy cell division. What Rachel Perry uses to balance the formula's pH is the potential irritant and carcinogen triethanolamine (TEA). Encumbered by these unwelcome additions, the formula is a far cry from a natural, holistic recipe.

To add to the incongruity of copious chemicals in a product designed for holistic health, sheer absurdity ensues as I read over the Lecithin-Aloe Moisture Retention Cream's product description. Apparently, each item in Rachel Perry's skincare collection contains a distinctive "essence" and boasts brightly colored packaging to "synergize and heighten" the product's function. My friend's cream draws on the "Color of Key Apple Tree Green and the Scent of a Garden in the Rain," which"harmonize together and communicate a renewing and balancing message to the mind, body, and senses." Seriously?

I must admit that after personally testing my friend's moisturizer, I rather enjoyed the feeling it left on my skin. The texture is fluffy and lightweight while at the same time richly moisturizing. One heaping dollop of this pH-balanced cream lasted me through an entire day without a moment of dryness or tightness. I also noticed a softening effect, though my skin was left with some residual shine that had to be blotted. So, how does Rachel Perry's Lecithin-Aloe cream score on my entirely subjective scale of performance?

Plus three points for managing to thoroughly soothe and hydrate my typically dry, sensitive skin. Minus two points for the tub container that forces me to repeatedly dip my finger and contaminate the formula. Dock another point for a cloyingly sweet apple fragrance that smells as close to natural as sour apple candy rings taste to the actual fruit. One more off for that ridiculous "Color 'N Scents" marketing mumbo jumbo. Affix an additional couple of points for providing SPF protection without feeling too greasy, but cross out one of those points for using the chemical sunscreen agents oxtinoxate and oxybenzone, which may lead to cancer and developmental/reproductive toxicity. After weighing the rest of the ingredients, every nice botanical appears to be offset by an equally nasty chemical. Sorry Rachel Perry- let's just call it a wash.

Ingredients:

Octyl methoxycinnamate (sunscreen), infusion of aloe vera, ginkgo biloba, comfrey root (allantoin), cucumber, balm mint, oak bark, rose hips, arnica, marshmallow, french coneflower, and calendula, stearic acid, safflower oil, dioctyladadipate, octyl stearate, cetyl esters, glyceryl stearate, peg100 stearate, lecithin, aloe vera gel, avocado oil, almond oil, lecithin, retinyl palmitate (vitamin a), ergocalciferol (vitamin d), napca, cetyl esters, cetearyl alcohol, dimethicone, triethanlolamine (tea), carbomer 940, disodium edta, phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, propylparaben, azulene (vegetable color), fragrance