The ESK blog
We dissect the ingredients of a $1,500 face cream…
08 September 2021
Given the cost of some of the evidence-based ingredients in skincare, we’re pretty confident that you won’t find many at your local discount pharmacy or department store. But at the other end of the spectrum, we’re pretty sceptical of products with high prices, so we put one to the test!
A quick word on our tagline “evidence-based”: Evidence describes something which has been sufficiently and appropriately analysed so that we can say with confidence that it works. To be sure there are limitations – it doesn’t tell us what is actually the best, and as most practitioners of traditional medicine will tell you, while properly conducted trials haven’t been conducted on most traditional remedies, that doesn’t mean that they don’t work. In fact evidence seldom tells us what doesn’t work (few people like spending money on proving that something doesn’t work, it’s not financially rewarding). But it is the best that we have, so let’s get started!
At $1,500 for 40ml, this is a product that should perhaps come with a branded key-chain, belt, watch or something that would let people know how much you’ve spent on your skincare! It claims to be a “high-performance rejuvenating cream containing an innovative” ingredient to “boost skin energy production” and “repair genetic damage caused by UV rays & free radicals”. It also has Silk for “powerful anti-aging benefits” and to give a “firmer sleeker brighter more elastic & younger looking complexion”.
Ok, it’s (awfully) expensive, so how does it perform? First impressions – if you like a rich, creamy, smooth product- it’s very good. It spreads and absorbs well and has a lovely soft finish – not tacky, not dry – just right! The smell is a little floral, maybe just a touch potpourri, pleasant enough though…
Now to the ingredient list. The product has 44 ingredients. 7 of them are either described as or could be active ingredients, 20 are ingredients which influence touch and feel, or moisturise, 5 are used to hold the emulsion together, 10 are fragrance ingredients and 2 are preservatives.
The brand’s hero “active” ingredient is Cherry Blossom leaf extract (Prunus Yedoensis Leaf Extract). It is used in traditional Korean medicine (primarily for gut health) and as with many plant extracts, there are some interesting theoretical possibilities for use in skin care. But for this ingredient there are no peer reviewed published studies on its human anti-aging benefits.
The ingredient with the highest concentration (after water) is Rice extract (Oryza Sativa Bran Extract). It also has some potential gut health benefits but no evidence for use in skincare.
The product also contains hydrolyzed silk, a fruit used in traditional Chinese medicine (for gut problems), Artichoke leaf extract (possible benefits for liver conditions), and protein from the shell of Pearl Oysters. Again, there are no peer review published trials for use in skincare for any of these ingredients.
There are two other ingredients that have some evidence in anti-aging skincare. The first is Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) which has really good evidence for fine lines, pigmentation, improving skin barrier function and hydration when used at concentrations between 2% and 5%. In this product though there is less than 1% and there is no evidence for concentrations that low. And finally the product includes Acetyl Glucosamine, which has been trialled for many potential medical and health benefits. In skincare, it has been trialled particularly for depigmentation. In fact when we were originally formulating E.S.K products we looked at it as a potential active ingredient, but decided not to incorporate it in the range because while it is interesting the evidence for it in skincare is weak.
Summary of the active ingredients; There are a few that may have anti-aging effects, but there is NO evidence for any of the ingredients as used!
That said, when it comes to including ingredients which are potentially harmful, the product has 6 ingredients, which have an EWG rating of 5 or 6, and 3 that have an EWG rating of 7 or higher*. There is no definitive conclusion that one can draw from that, but we wouldn’t want to use those ingredients on our own skin and would certainly not include them in our products.
If you love the feel of this product and believe that it works for you… great! (although we suspect that touch and feel may be available at a lower price). As for the claims that the product makes, there is no evidence to back them up. So if you want to have confidence that what you are paying for will actually work, regardless of the price, this one is not for you.
*ratings of 5 and 6 are the top end of EWG’s “moderate risk” ratings of 7 and above are deemed “high risk”