Moneyed society is typically distinguished by fancy cars, sprawling homes and designer goods. But in some cases, the big bucks are most lavishly bestowed upon the bathroom, where luxury beauty products that cost in the hundreds of dollars are commonplace. Just consider Angelina Jolie’s $700 moisturizer, Kim Kardashian’s $70 hair oil and Chrissy Teigen’s $300 body lotion.
They’re astronomical prices for products that most would purchase for far less at the local drug store, but what separates luxury beauty products from the others are their exclusive ingredients. From diamonds and gold to caviar and saffron, upscale beauty brands mine the wilds of the earth to find the most lavish ingredients that provide purported efficacious results as well as outrageous price points.
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But how much validity is there to their claims? The experts weigh in.
In the realm of luxury, it doesn’t get more expensive than diamonds, and some beauty brands have capitalized on the precious stone’s reputation to include them in their products. But despite some applications — like Kelly Osbourne’s $250,000 black diamond-encrusted manicure — diamonds can offer skin-care benefits.
“There’s a microdermabrasion treatment we perform that uses fine diamonds to exfoliate the stratum corneum to slough off dead skin,” says Dr. Lisa Kellett, founder and medical director of DLK on Avenue. “If you look at the thickness of the skin before and after, the Diamond Peel is very effective.”
In this case, the diamonds are used in the wand that polishes the skin. The innovative device is effective for sloughing skin, and is far more gentle than past versions that used harsher particles and sand that were more aggressive on skin.
When used in skin care, diamond powder is credited with creating a brightening effect. And while this undoubtedly adds to the product’s cost, some experts warn that its inclusion doesn’t always deliver results. For one thing, Randy Schueller, author of It’s Ok to Have Lead in Your Lipstick said to The Cut, for a diamond powder to produce luminosity, it needs to comprise about five per cent of the formula, and for another, it’s not an active ingredient, so its benefits won’t last after you’ve washed off the product.
We often wear gold around our faces, but some brands encourage you to use it on your face, too. Luxury beauty brand Rodial has a Rose Gold and Bee Venom range that both use the precious metal for its anti-aging benefits.
“Gold helps to rejuvenate the skin cells and has an anti-wrinkle effect,” said Maria Hatzistefanis, company founder. “In the Bee Venom collection, we use nanotechnology to conjugate peptides to gold particles that act on the collagen synthesis, providing a powerful anti-wrinkle effect.”
It turns out, there’s some truth to these claims.
“Gold is used as an anti-aging ingredient, as it can help reduce inflammation, which is a cause of acne and hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, a New York-based dermatologist, said to InStyle. “When applied topically, it also helps brighten the skin.”
However, much like the purported brightening benefits of diamonds, gold in skin care is an inactive ingredient, which means it won’t do much in terms of effecting long-term change to the skin.
“It’s safe as an ingredient, but it’s inert, which questions its biological mechanism of action,” says Dr. Jaggi Rao, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Alberta and medical director of Rao Dermatology. “Clinical studies demonstrating its utility are limited.”
Apparently, the salty delicacy that evokes images of Russian oligarchs is a very effective beauty ingredient. In fact, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ shiny, lush locks are reportedly thanks to regular caviar hair treatments that run almost $350 a pop.
The fish eggs are touted for their nutrient-rich composition that includes omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and antioxidants. Switzerland-based luxury skin care brand La Prairie has been using the wild ingredient for 30 years in its Skin Caviar range, and hair care brands like Kerastase use it for its hydrating, restorative and shine-boosting properties.
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However, the skin care website FutureDerm says that the benefits of caviar might best be mined by taking the inside-out approach.
“Certain constituents, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, have been shown to reduce inflammation from UVB-irradiation when topically applied. But the data suggests that the best benefits come from eating them, rather than applying them topically. For maximum benefits, it might be better to have caviar as a luxurious snack than to spread it all over your face.”
This may come as a surprise, but saffron is the most expensive spice in the world that rings in at approximately $2,800 per kilogram. But its delicate flavour and the vibrant hue it bestows on traditional dishes like Spanish paella and risotto alla Milanese aren’t its only strong points.
Although luxury beauty brands credit saffron with skin brightening and moisturizing properties, a study published in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research found that its real strength is in combatting UV rays.
“Saffron can be used as a natural UV absorbing agent,” the study claimed. “The four per cent saffron lotion showed an SPF value equivalent to the eight per cent homosalate lotion.”
However, researchers found, “there were no significant differences of skin moisture contents after application of the saffron lotions and the control base lotion without saffron.”
So, are these products and their luxurious ingredients really worth it?
The answer to that question depends on how much science trumps the lush sensorial experience, and perceived benefits of a high price tag, that these luxury beauty products deliver.
“As these ingredients are known to be expensive and novel, they will increase the perceived value of anything containing them,” Rao says. “They may indeed provide improvement, either by their own properties or the vehicle which carries them, but one wonders why, if the ingredients are so amazing, they aren’t available in more diluted forms in more accessible skin-care products.”