THE SKINCARMA CHALLENGE : Vaseline vs. Creme de La Mer
It was the longest week of my life. I’m barely exaggerating to make this point. Disrupting my skincare regimen like I did was more onerous than I expected. Knowing that I wasn’t taking expert care of my skin each night was tough — especially for some nutty skincare experiment. Even when I’m deathly ill with the flu, I at least do the bare minimum of a cleanse, tone, two or three serums and a moisturizing plant oil. I already look sickly, the last thing I want is to look dead.
But I had to know once and for all if the $175 Creme de la Mer was worth all that hype. And it was worth the sacrifice. Yes, La Mer has a great story about how their founder made it to heal his own burns and suddenly somehow discovered it had a miraculous effect on wrinkles, too. We all love a good story, right? That’s what makes us human. In fact, we’ve been telling stories since we were hanging out in caves with nothing else to kill time. Except maybe drawing on the walls.
But is La Mer’s iconic product really all that miraculous? I had to know.
THE SKINCARMA CHALLENGE: VASELINE VS. LA MER
It began ten days ago. This seemingly crazy experiment comparing Creme de la Mer with Vaseline 100% Petroleum Jelly — one that I dreamt up long ago. They’re both powered by one effective, tried-and-true ingredient: Petrolatum. Like all skincare junkies, I was skeptical of the hype around La Mer’s cream. After 25+ years in the skincare business as a cosmetics manager, copywriter and blogger, I know skin care and skincare ingredients well. I know the La Mer lore is likely way overblown, but I still wanted to test it and see for myself.
First, let me state for the record: I’m not a scientist. I’m not a clinician. I’m a skincare copywriter and blogger. This wasn’t a scientific study and I haven’t claimed it to be.
Now that that’s out of the way...
Listen, most of what you see in those “clinical result” numbers in skincare ads throughout the pages of Allure and Vogue is based on “consumer perception,” not medically graded evaluation. Consumers answer questions about what they think they experienced. Questions like, “Did you notice a significant reduction in the appearance of lines and wrinkles around your eyes?” Ask 100 women the same question, if 92 of them answer yes, then you can quote them in the ad: “92% of women noticed a significant reduction in the appearance of lines and wrinkles around their eyes.”
I know because I’ve written those very questions. In my work as a copywriter, I’ve crafted questions for consumer perception studies of new products on a number of occasions. That’s all it takes. Perception is everything — in life and in skin care.
So, if you followed my 5 a.m. ritual on my IGTV, you know that I used the Wayskin Skin Analyzer to measure the moisture levels on both sides of my face — Creme de la Mer on the left, Vaseline Petroleum Jelly on the right. To me, a measurement of moisture was the most important determination I had to make. Everything else was just my perception. At the end of the day, Creme de la Mer is a moisturizer, right? Under the “What it is” heading on the Sephora product page, the brand defines it as “A rich cream that creates a dewy finish on your skin for ultimate hydration.”
Let’s take a closer look at what’s in it.
A close look at the ingredient list and you’ll find that there’s not much going on that seems all that miraculous. The #3 ingredient is literally Petrolatum — the same ingredient behind tried-and-true Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. Let me try that again, INGREDIENT NUMBER THREE IS PETROLATUM AKA VASELINE. Hence, the idea for my experiment!
The truth about Petrolatum — the #1 and only ingredient in Vaseline — is that it’s an outstanding, occlusive skin protectant and emollient for dry to very dry skin. It gets a bad rap. It’s actually really effective and quite safe. But don’t take my word for it. I refer you to the skincare OG, Paula Begoun, founder of Paula’s Choice:
“For some unknown and unsubstantiated reason and despite solid research to the contrary, petrolatum has attained a negative image in regard to skin. Topical application of petrolatum can help replenish, soothe and beautifully moisturize skin’s outer layer. It’s widely considered safe and highly effective. Extensive clinical data has shown petrolatum to be a gentle ingredient.”
I conducted my early morning moisture measurement on days three through seven for five days in a row. On three days, the moisture levels on the La Mer side were indeed higher, though with the exception of day five, only moderately so. On one day, Vaseline measured at a significantly higher rate.
None of that was a surprise to me as both products are “occlusive,” meaning they form a protective seal over your skin barrier that prevents moisture loss, thus keeping your skin moisturized longer. I’m a huge proponent of occlusive skincare and, in fact, wrote about it in last week’s Skincarma blog review of Laneige’s terrific sleeping mask collection. You can read more about the benefits of occlusion here.
So, while both Creme de la Mer and Vaseline are occlusive, only the La Mer adds significant moisture replenishment to your skin through the use of, well, unremarkable plant oils and extracts. The first ingredient in the La Mer formula is Seaweed Extract, a very effective and very common skin-replenishing substance. The brand refers to it as “hand-harvested sea kelp.” (How else would seaweed be harvested, if not by hand?) They then ferment it, which I love — and recently talked about in a blog review about fermented skin care. That’s their storied “miracle broth” — hand-harvested, fermented seaweed. No joke, that’s really great for skin health though.
But while Creme de la Mer contains several pro-skin health ingredients, it also contains known skin irritants like Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) Extract, at a very high level. And, not to stray too far from the cave-bound storytelling, La Mer describes this antioxidant citrus extract as lime tea, claiming that “Lime Tea helps protect against environmental stress and pollution for a pure glow.” Here’s the thing about antioxidants in skincare. They’re very sensitive to light and exposure to air. The second you remove the lid on that $175 jar, chemical oxidation begins to break down the formula, particularly those sensitive antioxidants. So while it’s a potential skin irritant with solid antioxidant benefits to start, after enough exposure to the air, all that’s left is irritation. To top off their mysterious brew, La Mer also includes additional irritants Limonene, Geraniol, Linalool, Citronellol, denatured alcohol and (ugh) fragrance.
La Mer claims its “Little Miss Miracle jar is also hand-filled within eight hours of the créme’s creation.” Alrighty then.
In summary, there’s no miracle here. It was a cool experiment but I’m glad it’s over. Is the iconic $175 Creme de la Mer more effective than a $2.59 jar of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly?
The answer is: YES.
Yes, La Mer is more effective than Vaseline. But only moderately more effective. And as I suspected all along, not at all worth the cost. Pass on a single jar of La Mer and get yourself six bottles of RESIST Intensive Repair Cream with Retinol from Paula’s Choice. It’ll be far more effective, its sealed antioxidants will remain potent — and it’ll last you deep into 2020.
For me, it’s back to my 10-step pro-skin health regimen. I look forward to never putting La Mer or Vaseline on my face again.
The Ingredient List of the Creme de la Mer:
Algae (Seaweed) Extract, Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Glycerin, Isohexadecane, Microcrystalline Wax, Lanolin Alcohol, Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) Extract, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus) Leaf Oil, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Powder, Medicago Sativa (Alfalfa) Seed Powder, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seedcake, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Seed Meal, Sodium Gluconate, Copper Gluconate, Calcium Gluconate, Magnesium Gluconate, Zinc Gluconate, Magnesium Sulfate, Paraffin, Tocopheryl Succinate, Niacin, Water, Beta-Carotene, Decyl Oleate, Aluminum Distearate, Octyldodecanol, Citric Acid, Cyanocobalamin, Magnesium Stearate, Panthenol, Limonene, Geraniol, Linalool, Hydroxycitronellal, Citronellol, Benzyl Salicylate, Citral, Sodium Benzoate, Alcohol Denat., Fragrance.
The Ingredient List of the Vaseline 100% Pure Petroleum Jelly:
White Petrolatum, Usp (100%)