A beauty goldmine

Some years ago, the unveiling of one particular face cream was deemed so momentous that the beauty press was flown all the wy to Tokyo to witness it. The real significance of the even wasn’t so much down to the cream’s formula (although much was made of that) as its price: it was the first face cream to cost more than $150. The year was 1989 and the creation was Kanebo Sensai EX La Crème. Kanebo, a textile company, was most famous for it silk – which it had been spinning in Kyoto since 1908 – and had a added oil extracted from a silkworm’s chrysalis to a sap in 1936. For La Crème, it upped its game, adding apricot oil and kanzou, a rare oriental herb, to a cream which took 14 years to perfect. For this, it was asking $375 for a 40g jar.

While you might raise an eyebrow at that price, you won’t necessarily feel the need for a sharp intake of breath. Which goes to show how we’ve become used to high price tags on face creams in the past two decades. When La Crème debuted, the cost seemed outrageous. Now, creams and serums in excess of £1,500 ($2,654) – with at least one, Crème De La Mer The Essence, scaling the dizzy heights of $2,300 – are expensive, but not rare.

And it seems sales of these products are rising. While sales of luxury skincare products are up 30 percent this year, sales of super-premium creams (which are classified as those pitched over $750) have risen by an astonishing 58 percent. Even more surprisingly, at the top end of super-premium, sales of Crème De La Mer Moisturizing Cream in its priciest jumbo-sized jar have risen by 125 percent in a year.

The Lipstick factor

The notion that we still want our little luxuries during times of economic belt-tightening is nothing new. It was Leonard Lauder of Estee Lauder who coined the phrase “the lipstick factor”, to pinpoint the fact that those luxuries are often beauty ones. When the economy is poor, beauty purchases are often the last thing women will let go of. But we have also become a nation of bargain hunters: we have noticed many women are trading up to bigger versions of their usual skin fix – as in the case of Crème De La Mer Moisturizing Cream – looking for value for money. This is only part of the reason behind the enduring appeal of luxury creams.

The lure of the label cream has a lot to do with certain products being reassuringly expensive. People associate premium with performance. And people feel, particularly in a recession, that if they’re going to splash out, it has to be on something that makes them feel good, even if there’s no science to it at all.

New cosmetic science

The latest recession happens to have coincided with a particularly progressive time in beauty. The technology behind the most cutting-edge premium brands has leapt forward, and this – and the way that this science is pitched so it becomes part of our beauty vocabulary- has really rubbed off on us, making expensive creams even more enticing. We hear phrases like stem cell technology and cell DNA manipulation – which a number of high-end brands are exploring now – and we associate them with serious medical science. So we believe that what we are faced with is really going to work.

Beauty developing in a similar way to the pharmaceutical industry. As with new medicine, the big beauty houses rely on having new treatments in the pipeline in order to survive now. But they need to be radical to compete, which has encouraged some revelatory science. We have suddenly seen an explosion of new technologies that allow discovery at molecular level in beauty, just as we have seen in cancer research. As with cancer, this is the fruit of 15 to 20 years of molecular research, and while critics think it can’t be good science because beauty is a frivolity, it’s actually really strong science. We have moved into an era where you can show that creams work at molecular level, they don’t just feel nice on your skin and look pretty.

And, while it wouldn’t be fair to say that creams are able to give the results that needles or knives can, most dermatologists and surgeons insist their patients use good skincare to improve the results. For those who don’t’ want to go that route, cutting-edge creams make a viable alternative. Hard proof of results is enough for many women to consider making the investment over surgery. More so if multi-benefits are promised – to add radiance, and firm and tackle lines –because that’s value for money.

Dream creams

In the end, though, when you buy an expensive cream, you are buying into a dream. The scientific claims – together with a romantic back story that talks of precious oils sourced by Indiana Jones-style scientists from exotic islands like Madagascar, or cultivated in special orchidariums, with patented complexes so its claims are exclusive – make that product out of the ordinary. Add in lovely-to-use textures, and beautiful packaging with a luxe label, and it becomes irresistible. Kanebo understood this mindset 20 years ago, and it comes as no surprise to learn that it has since explored genetics with a Japanese medical school, adding a marine complex that supports cells’ DNA to produce an up-to-the-minute La Crème. It might be eye-wateringly expensive at $750, but for some, having tried many a cream, there’s no finer example of the quest to make the most desirable, cutting-edge skin treatment than this, and its dedication is worth every last penny.

Before you buy

If something’s expensive, it generally means you’re getting cutting-edge anti-ageing technology. Creams at the leading edge of scientific research tend to come from the premium sector; you get the benefits of the early wins and successes in science because that science tends to cascade down over the years to brands sold on the high street. But you still have to get the right one for you.

Think about the following:

Texture & Performance

Premium formulas often feel like no other, and their undeniable luxuriousness means your skin should not only look great, but you’ll feel better when you use it. Read past the anti-wrinkle claims, because creams often deliver more than just one solution. For example, if you want quick results, such as brighter skin overnight, look for formulas that deliver this, such as Chanel’s polyfractioning process, which gives lit-from-with luminosity.

Try before you buy

Most beauty companies have a sampling policy: it should come with the territory for a premium brand and you shouldn’t even have to ask for it. Crème De La Mer manages this best of all: its samples are gift wrapped into a pochette at the counter and followed up with a handwritten note a few days later to thank you for your custom.

The service

It goes without saying that a luxury brand should offer you the attention and fuss you would expect when making an important investment. The savviest beauty companies aim to remove the fear factor at a counter – they don’t want you to be bewildered, and you should leave with a better understanding of your skin. Where the service is honest, you can expect a consultant to guide you to products (albeit their own) that are appropriate for your skin, so don’t’ accept anything less.

Back home

If your cream comes with a spatula, use it, rather than dipping your fingers in the pot. Also, keep it in the box or case if it’s a fancy one – this helps prolong the life of your creams as you’re bound to want to use it sparingly.

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