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These are the musings of a skincare junkie + writer + brand guru with 25+ years of product wisdom put into action to demystify skin care. 

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The Kiehl’s “Garhol” rendering of cult product Blue Astringent

The Kiehl’s “Garhol” rendering of cult product Blue Astringent

When I worked at Kiehl’s, we knew the brand was cult. From its single, 150-year old flagship store in New York’s East Village, Kiehl’s had reached all corners of the world with several iconic formulations. Products like Lip Balm #1 and Andy Warhol’s favorite Blue Astringent Herbal Toner — both formulated in the 1960s. Blue Astringent is the epitome of a cult skincare product. We even had a Warholish rendering of the product we called “The Garhol,” named after the Kiehl’s graphic designer, Gar, who created it!

The word “cult” is such a loaded term. The term is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious” or a “great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work.” Of course religious cults are the most common connotation. I’ve always been fascinated by cults — religious or otherwise. When I was living in LA it was always so intriguing to drive by the massive Church of Scientology on Hollywood Boulevard. I used to imagine what would happen if I actually hung a right and pulled up at the Scientology valet. I’d get sucked into some crazy shit and that would be the end of that. And, remember that whacky Heaven’s Gate cult? The one whose followers committed mass suicide believing that by doing so they would somehow be transported to the passing Hale-Bopp comet, which they thought to be an alien spaceship. Comet, what comet? I remember being as disturbed by the bad Heaven’s Gate logo as by their misguided venture. I mean, where did they actually think the comet ship was gonna take them with that logo?!

The Heaven’s Gate cult’s disturbingly ugly logo.

The Heaven’s Gate cult’s disturbingly ugly logo.

What’s cult and what’s not cult is always up for debate. That’s part of the intrigue, right? Which brings me to these two, let me say, cultish products. Correction, one is a cultish product and one a cultish brand. I don’t know if either is cult, per se. But I do know both have a cult following.


Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream

The Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream certainly has a cult following. But that doesn’t make it a great product — or even a good product. Look at La Mer’s cult Creme de La Mer. Definitely cult, definitely not a great skincare product. It’s a good moisturizer with known irritants in the form of essential oils. And at $175, a complete joke IMO. However, in the case of Egyptian Magic, I have to admit its cult persona is warranted. First, at $21.49 on Amazon, you could buy 8 jars for the price of the La Mer. And get a far better moisturizer.


So what makes it such a good moisturizer? Well, as I always say (I really do always say this!), as important as what’s in it is what’s not in it. There are no harmful ingredients in the Egyptian Magic formula. In fact, there are only 5 ingredients in all — Olive Oil, Beeswax, Honey, Bee Pollen, Propolis and Royal Jelly. THAT’S IT. 100% natural. No preservatives. No fragrances. No fragrant plant oils. No b.s.! Just really great-for-skin ingredients.

And what makes it cultish? I think two things — the lore behind the product’s inception and the fact that such a simple, apparently ancient formula actually works! Here’s the thing about Egyptian Magic: there’s no magic in it! Honey is a great ingredient for skin, delivering moisturizing, antimicrobial and occlusive benefits to the skin. Propolis and Royal Jelly are also natural, nourishing pro-skin health ingredients with some antioxidant benefits. If the Queen Bee can eat it, you bet your skin will love it too! Even the beeswax acts as a gentle occlusive substance to prevent moisture loss.

And then there’s the brand’s story about how some water filter salesman named Mr. ImHotepAmonRa was hanging out in a Chicago diner and was approached out of the blue by an old Egyptian man named Dr. Imas. The Egyptian claimed to have inside knowledge of an historic skin cream formula found in the tombs of ancient Egyptians. That’s some crazy stuff, right? Hey, I wanna believe it. It’s really cool. But guess what — hype or no hype, story or no story, this is a really good product. Cleopatra was onto something — and uber fan Kate Hudson, too, apparently.

Cleopatra loved her skin care. Did it include the original Egyptian Magic?

Cleopatra loved her skin care. Did it include the original Egyptian Magic?

Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream

And that brings me to Drunk Elephant. Certainly, its cult status is debatable. But, it went from no where to everywhere in a matter of two or so years. And, IMO the formulas are for the most part outstanding. I align closely with the founder’s formulation philosophy. Tiffany Masterson believes, as I do, that fragrant plant oils (aka essential oils) have no business on skin. They smell good, but their effects on skin are anything but.

Funny, it’s just now occurring to me that both of these brands have their origins in Africa — Egyptian Magic in Egypt at the top of the continent and Drunk Elephant at the bottom, in South Africa.


The name Drunk Elephant was inspired by the story of South African elephants who love to eat the fruit of native marula trees. The fermented fruit, like many fermented ingredients, has an alcoholic content that literally makes them drunk. I know it’s true because I discovered it myself on a trip to South Africa a few years ago. There’s a popular marula infused liqueur called Amarula that’s actually quite tasty! I brought back a bottle with me and even gifted it to friends that Christmas.

A toast to the elephants! 🐘🐘🐘


So, what about the Protini? At $68, it’s a pretty solid moisturizer, plain and simple. Drunk Elephant’s Protini Polypeptide Cream is packed with skin-compatible, fortifying proteins in the form of peptides and amino acids. Skin loves both. And while peptide molecules are too large to penetrate the skin layers very deeply (if at all!), amino acids can and do. I counted 10 amino acids in this lightweight cream. In addition, Protini contains several nourishing, non-fragrant plant oils including the brand’s beloved Marula Oil, fermented Soybean, and two Olive Oil derivatives — which I assume dials down the greasiness of pure olive oil on its own and keeps the formula from being too heavy. Plus, one of the most important things of all is the wisdom of Ms. Masterson to always deliver her skin care in a sealed, airless package. As with fermentation, skincare formulas break down when exposed to air and light. As a rule, you should use up any product that’s housed in an open jar within 30 days. After a month or so, any antioxidants or other sensitive active ingredients will have degraded and their efficacy diminished, if not wiped out completely.


Speaking of antioxidants. The one drawback with Protini is there aren’t the plethora of antioxidants required to make this a perfect moisturizer. (Egyptian Magic is deficient here, too.) I assume that Marula Oil contains some antioxidants, as does the Pygmy Waterlily Stem Cell Extract. Neither possess a potent antioxidant benefit, however. No matter, I use several antioxidant serums and don’t rely on my moisturizer to perform that vital task. If you’re not using a dedicated antioxidant serum, you should consider one or two. The Ordinary makes several outstanding ones at very reasonable cost — including Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3% and Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F. The Paula’s Choice DEFENSE Antioxidant Pore Purifier is also a super antioxidant serum that I consider one of the finest available.

The Skincarma Challenge

So how did these two moisturizers perform and, more importantly, was one more effective than the other?

The answers: Great and Not really.

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The Wayskin moisture readings on the morning of day 3.

The Wayskin moisture readings on the morning of day 3.

Both moisturizers, Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream and Drunk Elephant’s Protini Polypeptide Cream, performed as expected. That is, they kept my skin healthy and moisturized throughout the night. I used them in my PM regimen over three nights, with Egyptian Magic on the left side of my face and Protini on the right side. The following morning, over three days, I measured the moisture levels in each cheek and on each side of my forehead using the Wayskin Skin Analyzer that I purchased from Glow Recipe — the same one I used for the La Mer Vaseline Skincarma Challenge. For the most part, the readings were nearly the same. In fact, on day three, the readings in my two cheeks were identical, with the Wayskin measuring moisture levels at 52%. Not a terrific reading, but expected after 7 hours of sleep with the heat running. The results in my forehead were much higher and nearly identical.

In summary, both are outstanding moisturizers, but Protini is more well-rounded. In fact, it feels like a modern version of Egyptian Magic.

Cleopatra would love it!


📺 Watch my daily journal as I analyzed the moisture levels of my skin in my split face test of Egyptian Magic vs. Drunk Elephant Protini. Now on my YouTube channel here. (Oh, and please subscribe!) 🙋‍♂️🙋‍♀️


The Ingredient List of the Egyptian Magic Skin Cream:

Water, Glycerin, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Glycereth-7 Trimethyl Ether, Isosorbide

The Ingredient List of the Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream:

Water, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate, Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil, Bacillus/Soybean/ Folic Acid Ferment Extract, Nymphaea Alba Root Extract, sh-Oligopeptide-1, sh-Oligopeptide-2, sh-Polypeptide-1, sh-Polypeptide-9, sh-Polypeptide-11, Copper Palmitoyl Heptapeptide-14, Heptapeptide-15 Palmitate, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1, Alanine, Arginine, Glycine, Histidine, Isoleucine, Phenylalanine, Proline, Serine, Threonine, Valine, Acetyl Glutamine, Coconut Alkanes
, Coco-Caprylate/Caprate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Aspartic Acid, Linoleic Acid, Linolenic Acid, Lecithin, Butylene Glycol, Polyvinyl Alcohol, Sodium Lactate, Sodium PCA, PCA, Sorbitan Isostearate, Carbomer, Polysorbate 20, Polysorbate 60, Lactic Acid/Glycolic Acid Copolymer, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Xanthan Gum, Isomalt, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol, Chlorphenesin, Phenoxyethanol, Tocopherol, Sodium Benzoate, Phenylpropanol, Glyceryl Caprylate, Symphytum Officinale Callus Culture Extract.