Froma Harrop: A Nobel Prize for cosmetic science
Warning: What follows here is of no national consequence whatsoever.
I don’t know whether I should take this personally or it’s a function of my age, but whenever I walk the aisles of a high-end department store, arms shoot out of the shadows offering samples of beauty serums.
These things cost a fortune to buy, and their claims are equally extravagant. Let me confess that I’ve succumbed after salespeople applied the potions and hypnotized me into seeing vast improvement. Or was it the trick lighting?
Bottom-line question: Do these potions do anything? Bottom-line answer: Probably not much.
Nowadays, many of the elixirs you smear on your mug rely on assurances of cutting-edge science behind the formulations. Some may have been developed in a secret lab at Los Alamos.
Clarins now offers Double Serum, a “hydric + lipidic system.” You, of course, know what “lipidic” means.
I Googled, and the best I could find was a scholarly article explaining, “Lipidic cubic phase (LCP) is a membrane-mimetic matrix suitable for stabilization and crystallization of membrane proteins in lipidic environment.” Sounds promising.
L’Oreal sells a RevitaLift cream with “triple power.” Its space-age components are “pro-xylane + hyaluronic acid.” The company’s Total Repair 5 (for hair) features “protein + ceramide.”
A magazine ad asserts that StriVectin’s Advanced Acid skin treatment takes “skincare superpowers to the next level with patented NIA-114 technology.”
These lotions promise extraordinary transformations: They redefine, sculpt and resurface, all without sharp tools. Another Clarins serum is called Shaping Facial Lift. Wonder what face shape they have in mind.
Perhaps there should be a Nobel Prize in cosmetic science.
I’ve always been skeptical of putting food on my face, however healthy. Blue Serum, from Chanel, “combines three natural ingredients from the diets of the blue zone populations for the first time in a breakthrough serum,” the ad says.
And how about that Arabic coffee fruit in Herbal Essences shampoo?
There’s a whole world of beauty utensils, and they, too, promote their high-tech features. Ulta markets a new “Silicone Sonic Facial Cleansing Brush.” Why not supersonic? Dyson has the “Supersonic” hair dryer.
Needless to say, the Food and Drug Administration does not require proof of claims for most cosmetics.
Dermatologists concede that many of these products’ mysterious elements, glamorous packaging and extraordinary prices do incentivize women to follow the cleaning, moisturizing and sunblocking regimen they recommend. Someone who shells out $150 for a skin cream is probably going to use it.
Mary Ellen Brademas, a dermatologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, admitted in a 2007 interview, “I am seduced by fancy packaging as much as the next person.” She added, however, “I have a theory that all these skin-care things come out of the same vat in New Jersey.”
Many experts hold that the super-expensive products often perform no better than humbler items sold in drugstores. Brademas has also found, and I can confirm, that cheap Vaseline petroleum jelly does a masterful job of moisturizing hands, feet and elbows.
Still, bringing hard science to eyeliner is an idea whose time must come. It’s a dull planet that no longer imagines breakthroughs in blusher.
But you’ve also got to admire those products that dispense with the science and offer only the jackpot of fabulous lashes. I’m thinking of Maybelline’s Colossal Big Shot Volum’ Express mascara. Comes in purple, too.
There’s nothing the serum pushers can now do to get me to buy. I won’t even “just try it.” That said, I occasionally like to break open some fancy packaging in hopes of a beauty moonshot that redefines, sculpts and resurfaces. And if it doesn’t, we’ll imagine that it does.