I fall in and out of love with Kiehl’s on a regular basis. It’s probably determined by some algorithm I can’t discern, some complicated mathematical relationship involving the phase of the moon, the average relative humidity, the price of tea in China, and Schrödinger’s cat. I’m aware that a significant portion of the appeal comes from the subtext in both the packaging and the stores: “We’re an old-fashioned pharmacy brand with Dependable Compounds and Remedies for Skin Care Ailments.” The spectrally avuncular figure of store founder John Kiehl looms large in the background of the brand, implying trustworthiness and a vague sense that everything that comes from this line must be clinically approved. Right? When you go to a Kiehl’s store, all of the sales associates are wearing white lab coats, so it must be Scientifical. Plus, it’s a long-standing family business! Oh, uh, except that in 1921 the business passed out of the Kiehl family and into the Morse family, who sold it to L’Oreal in 2000.
Yes. Kiehl’s, the Little Family Business That Could, is owned by L’Oreal now. (You would be amazed at the things L’Oreal owns.)
It turns out that John Kiehl himself was not a pharmacist (the business did not become a full-scale pharmacy until it passed into the hands of the Morse family), but an apothecary who sold not only headache powders and ipecac but also “virility creams, baldness cures, and Money Drawing Oil.” Clearly, a man ahead of his time. The business passed to Irving Morse, who had been an apprentice at the shop during the Kiehl family’s ownership, and then was taken over by Irving’s son Aaron, who seems to have been the guiding force behind the change in focus from traditional pharmaceutical products to the development of a skincare line featuring minimal packaging and lots of natural ingredients. Aaron Morse was also the one who started the Kiehl’s tradition of generous product sampling, for which we are all still very grateful.
The main reason I’m bringing up Aaron Morse is this: in the original company store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he kept a very interesting assortment of things, including a xylophone and a set of timpani, which either he or his customers might play. Now I have been in many, many Kiehl’s stores, and none of them has had so much as a triangle or a pair of finger cymbals. Bring back the percussion! I want to have an in-depth discussion about dry-lip treatments with a white-clad clinician, then break out the timpani part to Also Sprach Zarathustra, right there in the store, and then go home with my samples of cucumber toner and avocado eye cream (and some of that Money Drawing Oil if it’s still around).
This particular product from Kiehl’s, the Cryste Marine cream, is a lovely non-SPF facial moisturizer in a beautiful, beautiful blue jar. (I am such a sucker for pretty packaging.) The “Cryste Marine” part refers to a sea algae extract that is high in antioxidants. The product also contains “Hyaluronic Filling Spheres” — what is it with the spheres these days? Didn’t I just talk about “microspheres” in another product? Why isn’t anyone making “Filling Cubes” or “micrododecahedrons”? Anyway, the “hyaluronic” in the Hyaluronic Filling Spheres is hyaluronic acid, a substance that occurs naturally in the body but that decreases in production as you age. Its role in the skin is to fill in the spaces between the strands of the collagen and elastin proteins you hear so much about. This helps the skin hold water and maintain a healthy barrier against free radicals and environmental toxins, heal more quickly, etc. Sounds fab, right? Unfortunately, like so many other in-vogue ingredients in skincare, slathering it on the outside of your body does not produce the same effects as producing it inside the body. Hyaluronic acid applied topically does not actually penetrate through the outer layers of the skin to get to the layers at which your body’s native product snuggles up against your own collagen and elastin. What topical HLA can do is draw some moisture from the air and help hold it in the skin to keep a good moisture level on the skin’s surface. However, like other products (glycerin, I’m looking at you), it may also, under certain circumstances, draw water from within your skin rather than from the air, which is kind of a Pyrrhic victory as far as skin moisture levels are concerned. Anyway, this is not to rag on hyaluronic acid, which is a perfectly reasonable ingredient to include in a skincare cream. But as a topical agent, it’s no miracle worker. Do the hyaluronic filling spheres in this product actually “fill in” your lines and wrinkles? I’ll let you decide. Kiehl’s own description of the HLA in the product says that “the retained water promotes an increased level of hydration in skin tissue and helps to visibly fill out wrinkles and promote skin firmness.” This is not the post in which I rant about the language of skincare and cosmetic product claims, but you will note the vague language used in the quoted excerpt. (Also, if you look closely at the blue jar in the photo, you can see that the HLA filling spheres are described as “unusual.” Unusual? What are the “usual” kinds?)
All this being said, I still like this product, because it does hydrate well, it has a very luxe skin-feel, and makeup goes on over it very well. Does it “lift” or “firm” anything? My experience says no. But it does moisturize my skin well, and although it is a bit too heavy for me in the summer months, I keep coming back to it in the winter. Another plus for me is that it mixes very well with my Dr. Hauschka Translucent Bronze Concentrate, so it’s easy to turn into a tinted moisturizer if I want. Not all moisturizers have worked well with this liquid bronzer, so that by itself is a good reason to keep this in my rotation. As noted above, it does lack a sunscreen, so you’ll have to get that elsewhere.
Price/Value Ratio (high-end: poor/fair/good/excellent): Fair
Purchase again? Possibly, but I may be out of love with Kiehl’s at that time. Check the phase of the moon.
(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Let us know in the comments!)