Creme De La Mer: A legendary product, with legendary hype (Source)
You guys know that I get pretty skeptical of such claims. It has been said that the humble ol' Nivea Creme is a dupe for Creme De La Mer - but of course, if you search the Internets, you'll find people saying that they don't see a difference between the two, and you'll also find tons of people who say that the La Mer version is still much better, and the plain ol' Nivea can't compare.
So with that said and done, let’s examine the Creme de La Mer more closely, and find out what exactly is in this "miracle broth". From there, we can figure out how the product works, and then, see if there are any dupes for it, or if not dupes, perhaps similar products. And the only way to begin this process is to get down and dirty with the Creme De La Mer ingredients list!
The Original Creme De La Mer: What exactly is inside?
So, we start off by looking at the Creme De La Mer ingredients, naturally. So much has been said about how amazing the product is, so I'm just going to cut to the chase. What is in this product to so many people fawn and obsess over?
Creme De La Mer: Basically formulated like an occlusive moisturizer (Source)
Algae Extract, Mineral Oil (Paraffinum Liquidum), Petroleum Jelly, Glycerin, Isohexadecane, Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) Extract, Microcrystalline Wax, Lanolin Alcohol, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus) Leaf Oil, Magnesium Sulfate, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed, Medicago Sativa (Alfalfa) Seed Powder, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seedcake, Sweet Almond Protein, Sodium Gluconate, Potassium Gluconate, Copper Gluconate, Calcium Gluconate, Magnesium Gluconate, Zinc Gluconate, Paraffin, Tocopheryl Succinate, Niacin, Beta-Carotene, Decyl Oleate, Aluminum Distearate, Octyldodecanol, Citric Acid, Cyanocobalamin, Magnesium Stearate, Panthenol, Limonene, Geraniol, Linalool, Hydroxycitronellal, Citronellol, Benzyl Salicylate, Citral, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Alcohol Denat, Fragrance
The ingredients list for this product can throw some people off at first because of the variety of plant extracts in the product, and not all of them add to its functionality. I know that some people love them, especially with the increasing preference for “natural” products, but for the most part, the effect of plant extracts on skin is often dubious, especially when presented in jar packaging, where any potential anti-oxidant effects may be lost with exposure to light and air. So when we are looking at possible dupes for a product like La Mer, it’s worth considering whether the plant extracts are actually functional ingredients, or just there for the marketing.
In the case of La Mer, the main plant extract is Seaweed (Algae) Extract, with a bunch of other plant extracts, being present only in what is probably very small amounts. But the science behind the benefits of seaweed extract are more tenuous than the company’s own marketing suggests. There is some evidence that an extract of Fucus vesiculosus, is a type of seaweed, might cause a decrease in skin thickness (which the authors then suggest might be useful for anti-aging purposes because “the thickness normally increases and the elasticity usually decreases with age”). There is also some evidence that Algae Extract could have anti-inflammatory properties, and that the extract of the brown seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum, may have anti-oxidant benefits. Both of these are useful for skin, but such benefits, particularly the anti-oxidant properties, could quickly be lost if the product is packaged in a jar. So in short — seaweed extract may have some benefits by its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, and ability to decrease skin thickness, but much of this benefit is lost in a jar packaging, which leads us to conclude that the workhorse ingredients behind the product’s ability to function have to be something else other than seaweed extract.
So if that exotic Seaweed Extract isn't the one giving all those miraculous anti-aging benefits, then what in the product makes it work? The ingredients which do have stronger science behind them, and are probably the workhorse ingredients, are unfortunately, the more unsexy ones: Mineral Oil(Paraffinum Liquidum), Petrolatum, Glycerin, Isohexadecane, Microcrystalline Wax, and Lanolin Alcohol, which are either occlusives and emollients (like Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Lanolin Alcohol), or humectants (like Glycerin) or other functional ingredients like emulsifiers (Isohexadecane, Microcrystalline Wax).
All of these ingredients are great to have in skincare - occlusives help to form a barrier on the skin to prevent water loss from the skin, emollients help the skin feel smooth, and humectants draw water into the skin. Emulsifiers help by preventing the product from separating - after all, this is a mix of water-based ingredients and oil-based ingredients. But, none of these ingredients really warrant a lot of hype about the product being a "miracle broth", and certainly none of them are particularly special or rare, either — in fact, quite a number of them are found commonly in drugstore products, as we shall soon see.
So how do we evaluate our dupes, then?
From looking at the ingredients list, we can quite confidently conclude that:
1. The whole marketing spiel about Creme De La Mer being a "miracle broth" that has major anti-aging benefits due to the magical Algae Extract is just that - marketing-speak, because although it could help in decreasing skin thickness and have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, it's likely that when packaged in a jar, the benefits from the Seaweed Extract will be rendered useless.
2. The ingredients that instead do the job and form the bulk of the product are instead a bunch of occlusives (Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Lanolin Alcohol), or humectants (like Glycerin).
3. The formula of Creme De La Mer is quite occlusive-heavy. This can be seen by how far up the ingredients lists the occlusives are, as well as the fact that most of the key ingredients are occlusives. So the Creme De La mer is pretty heavy on the occlusives, and not so much on the humectants.
So when looking at possible dupes or similar products, what should we look at? Ideally, to get the closest possible dupes, in terms of product function, we would want:
1. Very similar functional ingredients, like the Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Lanolin Alcohol, and Glycerin.
2. Products with stronger occlusive and emollient properties, just like Creme De La Mer.
And with that, let's start our survey of potential dupes!
Creme De La Mer Dupe #1: Nivea Creme
Of course I had to take a look at this first, given Nivea Creme's fame for being an alternative to the Creme De La Mer. Of course, on its own, it's also much-loved as a cheap but very efficient moisturizer. There are two versions of the product, a US Version and a European Version.
Nivea Creme: An occlusive moisturizer long famous as a Creme De La Mer dupe (Source)
Ingredients (US Version):
Water, Mineral Oil, Petroleum Jelly, Glycerin, Microcrystalline Wax, Lanolin Alcohol, Paraffin, Panthenol, Alcohol, Magnesium Sulfate, Decyl Oleate, Octyldodecanol, Aluminum Stearate, Fragrance, Citric Acid, Magnesium Stearate, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone
Ingredients (European Version):
(from Paula's Choice) Aqua, Paraffinum Liquidum, Cera Microcrystallina (Microcrystalline Wax), Glycerin, Lanolin Alcohol, Paraffin, Panthenol, Decyl Oleate, Octyldodecanol, Alumnium Stearate, Citric Acid, Magnesium Sulfate, Magnesium Stearate, Parfum, Limonene, Geraniol, Hydroxycitronellol, Linalool, Citronellol, Benzyl Benzoate, Cinnamyl Alcohol
I know some people may prefer one specific formulation of Nivea over the other, and certainly if you search the Interwebs there are people who are convinced that one version is somehow absolutely better than the other. But either way, both versions aren't that different from each other in terms of formulation, and both versions are pretty good alternatives for the Creme de La Mer. Both have the main occlusives and emollients (Mineral Oil, Lanolin Alcohol), humectants (Glycerin), and emulsifier (Microcrystalline Wax). So the functional ingredients are pretty similar!
The main difference between the two formulas is that the US version has Petrolatum (another occlusive, and found in the La Mer), and Alcohol (which can dry skin out in large amounts, but doesn’t appear to be in the product in significant amounts, and in any case, is found in the midst of an otherwise very heavy, thick product). Both formulas also appear to be quite heavy on the occlusives, like the La Mer Creme, and there is a minor but beneficial ingredient, Panthenol, that appears in both the La Mer and Nivea Cremes. So yes, the Nivea Creme does live up to its reputation for being a good alternative to the La Mer version.
Creme De La Mer Dupe #2: Aquaphor Healing Ointment
Aquaphor Healing Ointment is another popular drugstore product in its own right. It's cheap, easily available at drugstores, and is often recommended as an ointment for sensitive skin. It also has a surprisingly short ingredients list.
Aquaphor Healing Ointment: An simple, occlusive, non-irritating moisturizer (Source)
Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Ceresin, Lanolin Alcohol, Panthenol, Glycerin, Bisabolol
Again, there are definitely similar occlusives (Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Lanolin Alcohol) and humectants (Glycerin), as well as the minor ingredient Panthenol. And like the original La Mer Creme, this is also a pretty occlusive formulation, which is heavy on the occlusives and less so on the humectants. So yes, this is also a pretty good Creme De La Mer alternative as well.
In fact, the simplicity of this formula, without the plant extracts and other secondary ingredients, means that ironically this might actually be better for sensitive skin than the Creme De La Mer product is, particularly for those people who might have skin that does not react well to plant extracts or fragrance ingredients. The La Mer product does have a bunch of such ingredients, like Limonene, Geraniol, Linalool, Hydroxycitronellal, and Citronellol, which are citrus extracts with a nice fragrance, but can be irritating for some skin types. So ironically, although Creme De La Mer is sold as a product that heals the skin and has anti-aging benefits, it can actually be irritating to skin instead! This perhaps is the most stripped down of all the La Mer alternatives and is a good choice for sensitive skin.
Creme De La Mer Dupe #3: Curel Intensive Healing Cream
Curel Intensive Healing Cream is another cheap drugstore basic that is a dry skin favourite. Let's check out the ingredients for Curel Intensive Healing Cream.
Curel Intensive Healing Cream: An occlusive moisturizer suitable for dry skin (Source)
Water, Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Glycerin, Microcrystalline Wax, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Glyceryl Dilaurate, Paraffin, Dimethicone, Cetyl PG Hydroxyethyl Palmitamide, Magnesium Stearate, Isopropyl Myristate, Magnesium Sulfate, Glyceryl Oleate, Ethoxydiglycol, DMDM Hydantoin, Methylparaben, Butylene Glycol, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Extract, Propylparaben
Again, there are similarities in functional ingredients like the occlusives (Mineral Oil, Petrolatum), humectants (Glycerin), and emulsifiers (Microcrystalline Wax), and the formula is also quite heavy on the emollients too. The skinfeel and texture of the product might differ somewhat from the La Mer, but functionally, when you look at the main ingredients, this is also a pretty reasonable alternative.
The Conclusion: Not just one, but three similar products, all at cheaper price points!
So there you have it - we have not just one, but three products, all with similar key occlusive and humectant ingredients, and all at a cheaper price point! These may not be a 100% exact dupe of the La Mer Creme, and for those who are used to the scent/texture/packaging of Creme De La Mer, they may find that the drugstore versions could have a different texture and scent, and certainly the psychology of using an expensive product can lead consumers into thinking that a more pricey product is better just because it is more expensive, even if the cheaper product is identical. So it doesn't surprise me that for some people, a substitute for Creme De La Mer is unthinkable. But for the rest of us who are looking for a product that functions much like the Creme De La Mer, all of these three products are good choices, with very similar functional ingredients, and at much cheaper price points!
Everyone's preferences may vary, but if I had to recommend one, my favourite out of all four products is probably the Aquaphor, just because it has the simplest formulation sans any irritating ingredients or fragrances, and thus is least likely to cause any skin sensitivities to flare up. But either way, if you choose any of the three La Mer dupes, you're choosing a good occlusive moisturizer with basically the same key ingredients as Creme De La Mer. It just goes to show that as far as skincare goes, you don't need to spend a lot of money to get an effective, well-formulated product!