Your Face Cream Might Make Your Skin Worse


I over-think almost everything, and that includes my skincare routine. I have tried several different combinations of products to design the ultimate anti-aging, moisturizing rotation. I’ve even timed my nighttime ritual to try and identify areas where I could be more efficient. (For example, I only use a Clairsonic brush once per week instead of five — not only does it save time; it saves your skin from irritation from over-exfoliation.)

In some instances, I’ve scrimped and saved in order to splurge on expensive products. I’ve always felt really self-satisfied about those purchases. Expensive products with a cult status seemed like safe bets — I figured, if everyone loves them, they must work!

So imagine my heartbreak to discover that many of these expensive cult products were actually nothing but additives and pretty packaging.  That I had been washing my face with snake oil.

Let me explain.


A few weeks ago, I was using a sample of Rodin lip balm. A favorite of celebrities and stylists, the Rodin balm is normally $34 for a full-size version of the product, so I wanted to give it a test drive before I committed. Then something strange happened. The more I used the product, the more my lips started to peel, followed by cracking and more dryness. I was so depressed — did this product work on every pair of lips but mine?

Then I did some Googling and found a scathing review of the lip balm on Paula’s Choice/ “Jasmine and orange flower oil cause irritation that hurts skin’s healing process and can make chapping worse,” the review seethed. My mind was blown.

Not only was my averse reaction to this supposed super-balm totally normal, but ALL of Rodin’s insanely expensive products are basically useless. (Every single product has received one-star ratings.)

That’s when I started searching for every single product I owned in the Paula’s Choice database. This huge compilation of beauty reviews covers hundreds of brands, from prestige to drugstore. They focus on the scientific validity of beauty products’ claims, and often debunk the marketing copy that accompanies each product.

Here’s what I discovered about items I already owned.

Crème de la Mer


What I Thought: This stuff is made from artisanal seaweed. It is so expensive, it is literally like liquid gold. Jennifer Lopez bathes in it, and she hasn’t aged since the Bennifer days. This will be the ultimate product. It will shrink my pores, erase my forehead wrinkles and do my taxes.

Reality: According to Paula’s Choice: “The price really is shocking considering that Crème de la Mer contains mostly seaweed extract, mineral oil, Vaseline, glycerin, wax-like thickening agents, lime extract, plant oils, plant seeds, minerals, vitamins, more thickeners, and preservatives. This rather standard moisturizer also contains some good antioxidants, but the jar packaging won’t keep them stable during use.”

Verdict: So basically, if any product is in a jar, its ingredients will die as soon as they are exposed to light and oxygen when you unscrew the top. OMG OMG OMG, did I really waste all that money on this?

Fresh Rose Face Mask


What I Thought: I need a low-key mask that doesn’t sting, tingle or rip all my peach fuzz off my face when I peel it off. I asked for a recommendation from someone at Sephora, and this was the winner. I trust recommendations from strangers. Plus, this stuff smells like a magical rose garden and is made from real rose petals. If a unicorn needed a beauty mask, it would use this one.

Reality: According to Paula’s Choice: “This moisturizing mask has an utterly boring formula. The main ingredient is rose flower water, which is mostly alcohol and fragrance, and that is just plain bad for skin. The skin-beneficial ingredients are listed after the preservative, which means you’re getting a scant amount of them, at best.”

Verdict: So I’m rubbing useless alcohol all over my face. And once again, the jar packaging destroys any benefits in the formula. I need to throw this jar away immediately.

Purity Cleanser (Philosophy)


What I Thought: This stuff is legendary. It can remove any make-up in a few sudsy seconds. It won’t make my face feel tight or squeaky afterward. My skin will be calm. Rejuvenated. This cleanser is like yoga for my face. I need to simplify. This cleanser is the answer.

Reality: According to Paula’s Choice: “This cleanser is overloaded with irritating ingredients. The fact that it is listed as “Best of Sephora” merely means that lots of Sephora customers are using a cleanser that is hurting their skin… Those of you who use this cleanser may not see the irritation it causes because most of the irritation is taking place under the skin, where collagen is being damaged and free-radical damage is being generated, but it is happening nonetheless. For the health of your skin and your beauty budget, please consider switching to a truly gentle water-soluble cleanser.”

Verdict: So basically, I am killing my collagen production and will actually look OLDER after using this stuff.

In summary: Most of the prestige beauty items I own are actually garbage. (I’ll do a separate post to talk about some new recommendations that have been cross-checked against this database.) But for now, I highly recommend you start searching every product you own. I know it can be depressing to realize you spent money on a useless product. But look on the bright side: If it’s a bad review, it’s a great way to cut down on cupboard clutter and trim your holiday wishlist.

  • ScarlettFeverr

    Yup. I learned all of this working for a dermatologist. I stick with Burt’s Bees and prescription creams for everything else. That’s it. Store stuff is just pure marketing garbage.

    • Diana @ The Style Pragmatist

      I just made a monster return to Sephora and replaced a lot of products with Paula’s Choice brand. (A little hilarious — and slightly suspicious — that Paula makes her name by criticizing other brands and then releases her own… marketing genius!)