Ever since makeup and medicine were invented, the more exotic and hard to get an ingredient was, no matter how strange, the better it was said to be for your skin. Some prized historical beauty practices may seem strange or silly to us now -- rubbing lead oxide into your face to look pale as women in the 16th century did, or making expensive crocodile dung facials like the ancient Romans (which actually isn't that strange when you consider one of the items on our list) [source: Hendry].
But while crocodile poop and lead poisoning are finally out of fashion, the demand for extravagant face creams is forever, even to the point that many people are willing to pay more for a miracle cream than they would for permanent cosmetic surgery. Most luxury creams these days contain a "star ingredient," one hyper-rare mineral, strange plant extract or painstakingly bioengineered serum guaranteed to magically restore health and vibrancy to your face. But do they work? Can you afford to find out? In this article, we'll take a look at the top 10 most extravagant face creams.
Uguisu no fun is a face cream that was once used by geisha and Kabuki actors in Japan, but has recently become more famous as a spa treatment and exfoliant. The secret ingredient? Nightingale poop.
Smearing bird droppings on your face to look good may seem counterintuitive, but according to the Shizuka New York Day Spa Web site, geisha realized that nightingale droppings could be used not only to remove makeup, but to "brighten, heal and retexturize" due to the presence of guanine, which gives skin a "pearly luster" [source: Shizuka]. Though guanine occurs in guano from other birds and bats, as well as plant extracts, the nightingale's song gives it a romantic air that adds a touch of class you wouldn't get with, say, pigeons.
Although it's one of the less expensive skin care products on our list, it's not cheap. Uguisu no fun facials at the Shizuka New York Day Spa are $180 for a 60-minute session. If you're in the mood for independently mixing your own bird-dropping facials, you can pick up an ounce of uguisu no fun powder for a cool $36 [source: Ten Thousand Waves].
When you're talking about expensive cosmetics, it's hard not to mention the $250 Tissue Nutrient Skin (TNS) Recovery Complex. In the past, it's been championed both by Oprah and Allure magazine, and it seems to be pretty effective.
But it's also well-known because of the rumors surrounding its active ingredient: Some have claimed that TNS Recovery Complex contains human foreskin.
Macabre? The truth is a little more complicated. In reality, one of TNS's ingredients is NouriCel-MD, which is SkinMedica's name for a blend of growth factor proteins and collagen that is designed to trigger certain activities in cells. These growth factors, most notably one called human fibroblast conditioned media, are believed to have anti-aging properties, and can be grown and cultured from a variety of sources, including human skin, placentas and foreskin [source: Euringer].
So what does all this mean? Cosmetics companies are notoriously secretive about their methods of production, but we can definitely say that TNS doesn't contain human foreskin as its main ingredient. What it does contain is an ingredient that may at one point have been grown in a lab using fibroblast cells from human foreskin as a starter.
With some skin products, you pay for exotic ingredients; with others, you pay for mystery. Mystery is one of the best ways to attract attention, and if you're in the mood for a luxurious mystery, look no further than Kanebo Sensai Premier La Creme. Unlike other face creams that are excited to blast news about new chemicals and rare plant extracts, Kanebo stays silent. Even its Web site refuses to list any of the ingredients -- the FAQ instead says to check the product's package. To do that, you'll have to be willing to pay $650 for the privilege [source: Wohrle].
Whatever its ingredients are, the Sensai line claims it offers "breakthroughs in anti-ageing, aromatherapy and other fields," all of which contribute to improved microcirculation, DNA repair and energy metabolism optimization [source: Kanebo]. To add a further sense of mystique, the Sensai line also advocates a kind of skincare saho (etiquette), a technique drawn from the ancient Japanese art of the tea ceremony. Just as the decorum of the tea ceremony contributes its beauty, so does the thoughtful and careful ritual of cleansing twice, moisturizing twice and applying Sensai products twice to "calm the spirit at the same time it sharpens the senses."
When it comes to luxury, gold is good. But sure as rock beats scissors, when it comes to extravagance, platinum beats gold. Since platinum is one of the rarest and most valuable metals on the planet, it only makes sense to find a way to put it into a face cream, which is exactly what the chemists at La Prairie have done with Cellular Cream Platinum Rare.
That is, it sort of makes sense, or at the very least it ought to make sense at $1,000 per canister. According to La Prairie, platinum has the ability to bond with human skin, allowing their chemists and dermatologists to create "a skin-transforming formula that recharges the skin's electrical balance with pure platinum to ensure ageless performance, protect the skin's DNA, and replenish moisture continuously for a look of soft splendor" [source: La Prairie].
The idea of using a rare metal as a moisturizer may be a little confusing, but when you're dropping a grand for 1.7 ounces, you're not just paying for beautiful skin. You're paying for the privilege of saying that what you rub into your skin every night is even better than gold.
The genesis story of SK-II goes that about 30 years ago, there was an observant monk (or scientist, depending on who's telling the story) who visited a sake brewery. As he toured the brewery and talked to the workers, he noticed that all of them -- even the ones with old and wrinkly faces -- had soft and youthfully smooth hands from handling the sake at various stages of the brewing process.
Bringing his observation to the attention of some skin care researchers, a series of ensuing experiments revealed a clear and nutrient-rich substance called pitera that could be extracted from the yeast in the brewing process. Pitera, which is now present in all SK-II products, is used to brighten and smooth skin, manage pH, and increase moisture and the rate of natural exfoliation [source: SK-II].
Like most miracle ingredients, pitera is rare -- it needs to be extracted from a special type of yeast in a controlled environment. A mere 30 grams of it can cost as much as $300 [source: evecare].
The N.V. Perricone Neuropeptide Facial Conformer has not one, but three star ingredients. First, there are synthetic neuropeptides, amino acid compounds that our brain cells release in order to send messages to other cells to rejuvenate surface skin and increase exfoliation. Second is DMAE, a chemical designed to help tone skin and enhance the effects of other antioxidants. Finally, phospholipids repair skin damage with moisture that's very similar to our own natural oils [source: Perricone].
According to Dr. Nicholas Perricone, the face of the brand, the root of the aging process is cell inflammation, which can be combated through diet, nutraceutical supplements (extracts like gingko biloba and St. John's wort) and his line of cosmetics, which claim to slow down the aging process and heal damaged skin [source: Daily Perricone]. The facial conformer is $495 for 2 ounces, technically making it one of the cheapest creams on our top 10 list.
Some of the most extravagant face creams are the ones that come from the humblest ingredients. La Mer: Essence is once such product. The main ingredient in this potion is dubbed Miracle Broth, and it's made from a combination of algae and kelp that grow off the coast of San Diego. Once the cream is formulated, it ferments for four months in New York City before being packaged in specially designed magnetic tubes. A three-week supply of Essence costs $2,100 [source: Geria].
That's a pretty extravagant price to pay for great skin, and even if you're willing to shell out for the product, you might not get your hands on it. Currently, Essence is available for purchase to a small group of customers chosen through invitation only [source: Geria]. However, with the economy what it is, you may be better off with the bargains La Mer's Web site offers: a combination Crème de la Mer, eye concentrate and a lifting face serum for only $630.
If you want to market a luxury skin care product, your best bet is to get one of two things: impressive science or a good story. Orlane's Hypnotherapy face cream has impressive science in spades. Hypnotherapy is the last word in psychodermic skin care, a treatment that combines psychological and dermatological research to heal both the skin and the mind.
The premise behind the psychological aspect of Hypnotherapy is that when the brain experiences stress, the body suffers for it -- especially the skin. The star ingredient, Psychorepair, is derived from Arctic cranberries that infuse the skin with omega-3s that "regenerat[e] skin tissue to prevent aging" [source: Orlane]. No hypnosis is actually involved, but the presence of omega-3 fatty acids, which are famously good for the brain, are supposedly a pick-me-up for your mind and body -- like a hug and a moisturizer rolled into one. However, since 1.7 ounces will run you $490, it might be best to save this cream for a time when there's no one around to hug [source: Neiman Marcus].
Extravagance doesn't necessarily just mean ingredients: Sometimes packaging can be just as important.
In keeping with the long tradition of stuffing as many exotic ingredients as possible into face creams, the La Prairie Caviar Luxe Cream contains a powerful mix of mysterious sea proteins, a Caviar Firming Complex, alpha hydroxy acids, specially bioengineered chemicals and phytotherapy extracts to firm up tired skin. Not surprisingly, the Caviar Firming Complex is made from fish eggs, and all these ingredients run up a high price -- $695 for 3.4 ounces.
Ho-hum, you say? Not extravagant enough? If the ingredients aren't luxurious enough for you, the container this formula comes in will be. The La Prairie Jeweled Skin Caviar Luxe Cream is nestled in a Swarovski crystal-encrusted jar that takes 48 hours of labor to produce. Of course, this is just the icing on the cake -- don't expect any skin care benefits from the posh package. (That is, unless the bling it gives off helps you tan.) With only 610 jars made at $2,000 apiece, the La Prairie Jeweled Skin Caviar Luxe Cream is truly a queen among extravagant skin moisturizers [source: Neiman Marcus].
Weighing in at $600 an ounce, RéVive Intensité is one of the most expensive and prestigious in a market full of expensive and prestigious skin moisturizers [source: RéVive]. Designed to erase wrinkles by enhancing facial volume and plumping skin cells, the key ingredient is the keratinocyte growth factor (KGF), a chemical that increases cell growth in the skin, mouth and intestines. KGP is reputed to help cells multiply up to eight times faster than normal. The human body produces growth factors naturally to heal wounds, but clinical studies have shown that even artificial KGF, when applied topically, can make second-degree burns heal faster [source: Gisquet].
Manufacturing a substance that can accelerate the healing process is an exciting idea, especially for cosmetics companies that are always looking for ways to revitalize old or damaged skin. But there's a catch. One of the reasons that the Intensité Voluminizing Serum is so expensive is that KGF is extremely difficult to produce -- a single pure gram of it is worth about $4 million, making it one of the most expensive substances on the planet [source: Singer].
You slather it on every day, but what's really in your face moisturizer? We teach you the ingredients in face moisturizers that can give you youthful skin
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Abel and Gelula, Anne and Melisse. "Paris Match." SpaFinder. May/June 2006. (Sept. 3, 2009).http://www.spafinder.com/Article/217-Paris_Match
- Creme de la Mer. "The Luxury Essentials." 2009. (Sept. 2, 2009).http://www.cremedelamer.com/templates/products/spp.tmpl?CATEGORY_ID=CATEGORY5778&PRODUCT_ID=PROD13686
- Daily Perricone. "Dr. Perricone." 2009. (Sept. 3, 2009).http://www.dailyperricone.com/about/
- Evecare. "SK II Facial Treatment Concentrate." 2009. (Aug. 29, 2009).http://www.evecare.com/store/skii/facialtreatmentconcentrate_1265.php
- Euringer, Amanda. "Foreskin Facecream." The Tyee. Jan. 30, 2007. (Sept. 9, 2009).http://thetyee.ca/Views/2007/01/30/Foreskin/
- Gisquet, Vanessa. "Most Expensive Cosmetics." Forbes. 2006. (Sept. 3, 2009).http://www.forbes.com/2005/04/20/cx_vg_0420feat.html
- Geria, Navin M.. "Are high-priced cosmetics really worth the price? (Anti-Aging & Cosmeceutical Corner)." Household & Personal Products Industry. Oct. 1, 2006. (Sept. 2, 2009).http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-32132955_ITM
- Hendry, Michael. "Rouge and Crocodile Dung." Classical Quarterly 45 (1995), 583-88. (Sept. 3, 2009).http://www.curculio.org/pubs/ovid4.pdf
- Kanebo SENSAI. "Skincare Saho." 2009. (Sept. 3, 2009).http://www.sensai-cosmetics.com/detail/index.php?>
- La Prairie Inc. "Cellular Cream Platinum Rare." 2009. (Sept. 2, 2009).http://www.shoplaprairie.com/platinumdetail/platinum.asp
- National Cancer Institute. "Keratinocyte Growth Factor." 2009. (Sept. 1, 2009).http://www.cancernet.gov/templates/db_alpha.aspx?CdrID=45743
- Neiman Marcus. "Jeweled Skin Caviar Luxe Cream." 2009. (Aug. 31, 2009).http://www.neimanmarcus.com/store/catalog/prod.jhtml?itemId=prod52160019&parentId=cat000378&masterId=cat000294&grandMasterId=cat4830738&cmCat=&icid=nmi072311extravagantlaprairie
- Neiman Marcus. "Hypnotherapy, 1.7 oz Jar." 2009. (Sept. 3, 2009).http://www.neimanmarcus.com/store/catalog/prod.jhtml?itemId=prod18420001&rte=%252Fsearch.jhtml%253FNo%253D20%2526N%253D453
- Neiman Marcus. "Skin Caviar Luxe Cream." 2009. (Aug. 31, 2009).http://www.neimanmarcus.com/store/catalog/prod.jhtml?itemId=prod7560077&eItemId=prod7480836&cmCat=search&searchType=MAIN&parentId=&icid=&rte=%252Fsearch.jhtml%253FN%253D0%2526Ntt%253Dcaviar%252Bluxe%252Bcream%2526_requestid%253D2581
- Orlane Paris. "Exceptional Care Hypnotherapy." 2009. (Sept. 3, 2009).http://www.orlane.com/english/index.html
- Perricone, M.D. "Neuropeptide Facial Conformer 2 oz." 2009. (Sept. 3, 2009).http://www.perriconemd.com/product/skin+care/discoloration+&+damage/neuropeptide+facial+conformer+2+oz.do
- Procter and Gamble Global Operations. "SK-II." 2009. (Sept. 2, 2009).http://www.uk.pg.com/products/products/skII.html
- Revitacel Skin Care. "What is Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media?" 2009. (Sept. 3, 2009).http://www.biozhem.com/downloads/Derm123_1.pdf
- RéVive. "Do You Dream of Radical Change?" 2009. (Aug. 30, 2009).http://www.reviveskincare.com/science.html
- Shizuka NY. "The Geisha Facial." 2009. (Aug. 31, 2009).http://www.shizukany.com/geisha-facial.htm
- Singer, Natasha. "Face Potions Break the Four-Figure Barrier." New York Times. Oct. 27, 2005. (Sept. 2, 2009).http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/27/fashion/thursdaystyles/27skin.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1251964817-PYaz5pUt8rpIh3ncrbXzlQ
- Singer, Natasha. "Face value: for a handful of luxe creams launching this fall, an exorbitant price tag is just the beginning. (Beauty Flash)." W. Sept. 1, 2004. (Sept. 2, 2009).http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-13322563_ITM
- SK-II. "About SK-II." 2009. (Aug. 29, 2009).http://www.sk-ii.com/about.php
- SkinMedica. "TNS Essential Serum." 2009. (Sept. 2, 2009).http://www.skinmedica.com/skin-care-products/anti-aging/tns-essential-serum
- SkinMedica. "FAQ." 2009. (Sept. 2, 2009).http://www.skinmedica.com/faqs
- Ten Thousand Waves. "Nightingale Masque." 2005. (Aug. 31, 2009).http://www.tenthousandwaves.com/FloatingWorld/product.php?productid=299&cat=73&page=1
- The Beauty Brains. "Is Foreskin Good For Your Face?" April 20, 2007. (Aug. 30, 2009).http://thebeautybrains.com/2007/04/20/is-foreskin-good-for-your-face/
- Wohrle, Marta. "Dept of Daft: Kanebo Sensai Premiere The Cream." Truth in Aging. Nov. 17, 2008. (Sept. 3, 2009).http://www.truthinaging.com/eyes/dept-of-daft-kanebo-sensai-premiere-the-cream/
- Wohrle, Marta. "Dept of Daft: La Prairie Cellular Cream Platinum Rare." Truth in Aging. Sept. 12, 2008. (Sept. 2, 2009).http://www.truthinaging.com/face/dept-of-daft-la-prairie-cellular-cream-platinum-rare/