Years ago, when I was in my twenties, I tried Creme de la Mer, and quite honestly, I didn’t like it. I thought it was heavy and thick, that it didn’t do anything for my skin except lay there like a lousy lover, and that it was overrated.
But then 2021 hit. On top of the obvious pandemic, I also was six months pregnant when my father was diagnosed with stage IV cancer, my mother needed an emergency surgery, there were shootings near our home, and, one month post-C section, we moved thirty minutes away, with my mother moving in with us. (!)
It was quite a year, and even though I stayed true to my AM vitamin CE serum and sunscreen/PM AHA serum/niacinamide-peptide moisturizer regime, through all of the stress, I thought my skin looked old.
So I decided to give Creme de la Mer another chance. This time, when I used it, I thought that it brought back (even cosmetically so) some of the smoothness and luster we tend to take for granted when we’re in our teens and twenties. And, after using it regularly for a few months, I’ve found my pores also appear smaller and my skin seems (wait for it) calmer, if that’s even a thing.
But what is it about Creme de la Mer, besides the $180 per ounce price tag, and the fact that celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Chrissy Tiegen reportedly use it? Below, an analysis.
AHA-Producing Seaweed and the BHA Citric Acid are the Real Anti-Agers
First of all, it is true that seaweed does have some healing properties for the skin. Studies have shown that seaweed extract (of various kinds) can help to promote healing after UV exposure (Marine Drugs, International Journal of Biological Macromolecules). However, after the first few weeks, any effects of seaweed are likely due to the AHA and BHA content of Creme de la Mer, not the seaweed extract itself.
Alpha hydroxy acids have been found in scientific studies to exfoliate the skin, increase the thickness of skin, and reduce the appearance of age spots (Journal of the German Society of Dermatology), even when used in the concentrations in which they’re typically found in over-the-counter skincare products (2-10%).
Creme de la Mer directly has a small amount of citric acid added, in a concentration I imagine is well under 2%. Like salicylic or malic acid, citric acid is a beta hydroxy acid, which exfoliates the skin and has anti-aging properties (source).
However, the real anti-ager in Creme de la Mer is the AHAs that are produced by the seaweed, and contained within the seaweed extract. Ultrasound waves are directed into the cream to ferment the algae, accelerating the rate by which algae produces lactic acid (Japanese Journal of Applied Physics). I estimate that the amount of AHA in the product could be as high as 5-15%, depending on when the ultrasound waves are no longer applied.
Is this different than a serum that contains 5-15% AHA? Honestly, not really. This isn’t like food chemistry, where you can get better effects from, say, delicately heating an ingredient with a lighter versus cooking it. The tongue can taste subtleties. The skin is designed to keep out as much as possible, and hence the quality of AHA (or the method by which it is made) typically doesn’t matter much. Truth be told, 5-15% AHA is the same to your skin whether it comes from a $10 bottle of The Ordinary serum or a $180 jar of Creme de la Mer.
The #1 Reason People Rave? It’s the Cosmetic Effects
Truthfully, the real reason people rave about Creme de la Mer is due to the cosmetic effects. As you age, your skin produces structural proteins in smaller quantities, with more DNA damage (and hence less integrity). Combined with a loss of fat, your skin starts to look more sallow and uneven in tone, and, as weird as it sounds, shadows are cast on your face more easily, rather than light reflecting off of it.
When you apply Creme de la Mer, the specific combination of mineral oil, petrolatum, glycerin, isohexadecane, oils, and powders make your skin look like a realistic, not-too-shiny version of what your skin looked like 5 or 10 years ago. It reflects the light instantly and takes off the years.
In terms of skincare products that contain ingredients that are going to keep you looking young forever, Creme de la Mer is not a superior product, especially when you consider you’re paying $180 for a high concentration of unspecified AHAs (produced from the fermentation of algae) and a low concentration of a BHA, citric acid.
But, look, if you’re noticing signs of aging that include fine lines, wrinkles, sallowness, uneven skin tone, and a loss of skin firmness, I hate to say it, but I do recommend Creme de la Mer. Literally thousands of tests have been done to create a product that cosmetically takes 5-10 years off when you apply it, as it makes your skin look just dewy and supple enough to think it’s a natural effect of your skin.
Do I think it’s worth it when you’re 29? No way. But when you’re over 35? Or experiencing signs of aging? Yes, absolutely. Its cosmetic effects work right away, so it gives a nice confidence boost, a beautiful believable sheen, softer skin, and smaller pores over time. I like it. And it’s cheaper than Botox or fillers!
Ingredients in 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.