I confess that Clinique's 3-step program of cleansing bar, toner and moisturizer was a staple of my twenties. At some point, I realized that a harsh astringent followed by mineral oil (which is basically what Dramatically Different moisturizer actually is) was an unintelligent waste of money on my part. I have to admit that I got to be so switched off by Clinique that I have barely glanced at this brand during the last 20 years. Until the other day, when I spotted a $250 Clinique potion at Saks. What was going on? Either the average Fifth Avenue consumer is even more stupid than I was aged 26, or Clinique had gone 'exclusive'.

If CX C15 De-Aging Clarity Formula is anything to go by, Clinique is moving about as far away from Dramatically Different as it can get. To say that I was surprised when I read the ingredients is an understatement. Within thin bookends of silicones, the odd chemical and a couple of preservatives, C15 is bulging with antioxidants, botanicals and peptides. The second ingredient is vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and you don't have to go very far to get to moisturizing squalane and antioxidant yeast extract. This is a far cry from the typical department store brand that has more unwanted chemicals than a vial of Chinese river water.

Clinique's C15 is a veritable tropical garden. Whoever formulated this must have had a lot of fun (budgeting for a $250 cream probably gave him/her plenty of scope). There are several things I have never heard of. For example, zizyphus jujuba turns out to be Chinese date. It has been used in Chinese medicine for years, but scientists are only just starting to recognize its antioxidant properties and one study concluded that it can protect against toxins such as hydroquinone. Another new one for me is rosa roxburghii, or chestnut rose, and this is also an antioxidant that seems worth getting to know better (source). I don't think I have come across black strap molasses in a cosmetic before. I now know that it is rich in copper, an essential component of many enzymes that eliminates free radicals and helps in the production of melanin.

Apart from vitamin C, Clinique touts one of the most important ingredients as poria cocos sclerotium. This fungus that grows on the roots of pine trees is another stalwart of Chinese medicine and was supposedly used by women in the Imperial Court to improve their skin. Modern science has shown it to be an anti-inflammatory and particularly helpful for dealing with acne, oily skin and psoriasis. Recent research has demonstrated that it has anti-tumor activity, which subsequent studies suggest is due to specific tripertenes.

I suspect that Clinique's consumers have (like me) been getting older, a little wealthier and a lot more demanding. This is a market worth moving with: anti-aging cosmestic market, unlike most everything else, is set to show double didgit growth. I can understand that Clinique should want a piece of that by coming out with a high-end wrinkle cream and it has got a lot of things right with CX C15 De-Aging Clarity Formula. Except the price. There are a lot of highly differentiated creams out there with high tech growth factors, new peptides and equally obscure extracts of petals and leaves. And many of them cost $100 (or more) less than C15. So, while I probably won't be buying it, I applaud Clinique for doing something dramatically different from the old 3-step and I'll be keeping an eye on what they do next.

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Ingredients in Dramatically Different

Water Purified, Mineral Oil, Sesame Oil, Propylene Glycol, Tea Stearate, Gylceryl Stearate, Lanolin Alcohol, Petrolatum, Methylparaben, Propylparaben.

Ingredients in Clinique CX

Water/Aqua, Ascorbic Acid, Alcohol Denat, Dimethicone, Silica, Squalane, Yeast Extract/Extrait de Levure, Zizyphus Jujuba Fruit Extract, Rosa Roxburgii Fruit Extract, Citrus Unshui Peel Extract, Porphyra Yezoensis (Algae) Extract, Centella Asiatica (Hydrocotyl) Extract, Angelica Acutiloba (Japanese Angelica) Root Extract, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Flower Extract, Paeonia Suffruticosa (Peony) Root Extract, Hydrolyzed Yeast Protein, Paeonia Albiflora (Peony) Root Extract, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Seed Extract, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Extract, Dipropylene Glycol, Sigesbeckia Orientalis (St Paul’s Wort) Extract, Saccharomyces Lysate Extract, Acetyl Glucosamine, Poria Cocos Sclerotium) Extract, Trametes Versicolor Extract, Gardenia Florida Extract, Black Strap Molasses, Creatine, Bifida Ferment Lysate, Adenosine Phosphate, Glyose, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Acetyl Hexapeptide 8, Acetyl Carnitine HCL, Glycosaminoglycans, Glycerin, Betaine, Sucrose, Bis PEG 18 Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane, PEG 8 Dimethicone, Caffeine, Glyceryl Polymethacrylate, Tromethamine, Alcaligenes Polysaccharides, Sodium RNA, Butylene Glycol, PEG 8, Tocopheryl Acetate, Xanthan Gum, Carbomer, Disodium EDTA, Potassium Sorbate, Phenoxyethanol.