A friend, visiting New York from London this weekend, stocked up on Kiehl's potions and lotions before leaving. I've never been a huge fan myself. I find the folksy, East Village, retro thing slightly irritating and, since they sold out to L'Oreal, my cynical gene rather assumed that they had, well, sold out.

I kept my prejudices to myself (highly unusual for me) as my friend loaded up on cleanser, moisturizer and body lotion. Less than 24 hours later, I can contain myself no longer. Take the moisturizer, Kiehl's Sodium PCA Oil Free Moisturizer. On balance, I think the best thing you could do with this is remove the contents, rinse out the pot - of greater value than the cream by far - and reuse it for something (storing paper clips, perhaps).

To be fair, the sodium PCA isn't bad. But neither is it that great. It is a naturally occurring component of human skin (sodium salt of pyroglutamic acid, if you really want to know). It is very hygroscopic, which means it attracts moisture from the air. In topical applications, it can only be absorbed by the skin to a very limited extent, so its effect is mostly superficial.

Even if I do adopt a generous disposition towards sodium PCA, there are some other things about this cream that I really don't like. Of most concern is sodium benzoate. This is a preservative that becomes carcinogenic when it encounters vitamin C and led to sodas being recalled in the UK a few years ago. There is also vitamin C in this cream. The other thing about sodium benzoate is that it breaks down DNA, which is the opposite of what we want for our aging skins.

There are two ingredients that are drying - isopropyl isostearate and myristyl alcohol - are also used. There is also diazolydinol urea, an irritant for a statistically significant one in 1,000 people (it should be noted that my friend has been using this product for years without any ill-effects), and a couple of parabens.