Monday, July 9, 2012

Lessons from my skin care quest

Even though my primary interest in fashion and style is clothing, accessories, jewelry and shoes, I have always had a strong interest in the skin care and cosmetics industry. From a business perspective, cosmetics and toiletries are huge - 2010 sales in the U.S. alone were $36.5 billion - and many fortunes have been made (think Mary Kay, Avon, Revlon, Estee Lauder...) selling potions and lotions to make us look younger and prettier. The profit margins and the market are so big that it seems like anyone can sell you something out of their kitchen with fancy marketing and bold claims. And it always seems there are people willing to buy.

I want to share with you the story of my own skin care quest. Like many people, I have had a long term problem with acne. Now that I’m in my thirties, my acne problem has been joined by a wrinkle problem. Call it the onset of a midlife crisis or just part of getting older, but a few years back I went on a frantic search for the ideal products that could cure my acne and prevent me from getting wrinkles.

My quest led me to try many, many brands, from the least expensive things I could find at the drugstore to the extreme high end. While I poured a lot of cosmetics onto my face, I also poured a lot of money into the hands of those cosmetics companies! One thing that should have helped was the fact that my job at a major luxury retailer gave me access to many samples. This led not only to temptation but also potentially to conflict, as I was not only expected to try products but to recommend them to my customers.

In 2010, we started introducing the La Mer skin care brand to our customers. If you’re not familiar, this so-called “Miracle Skincare” product is very expensive - a 3.4-ounce jar of moisturizing cream sells for $395.00. Our La Mer salespeople were very friendly, and provided me with a lot of samples to use as well as brochures to pass on to my clients. Because they were so nice, they ended up selling me La Mer as well.
Unfortunately, the La Mer products I bought did not work for me - in fact, my acne got worse. This led me to wonder what was actually in La Mer. When I asked my colleagues why La Mer was so expensive, I was told it was because one of the ingredients was seaweed extract, and was so rare that humans could only harvest it twice a year. This claim made me very suspicious. If seaweed was so rare, how could Japanese and Korean people eat it as a main part of their diet? Why aren’t sushi rolls ten times more expensive?

I had to do some more research. As part of the research process, a client and a friend of mine recommended the book “Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me” by Paula Begoun, who calls herself “The Cosmetics Cop” and has done in-depth research on cosmetics ingredients for decades. I downloaded this book on my iPad and started reading it. I was surprised to learn many interesting facts about La Mer, and I learned why it would never work for me. With more reading, I learned what kind of ingredients would help clear acne, prevent aging, and what kind of packaging will best preserve the ingredients etc. I became a self-appointed deputy cosmetics cop in our store. I used my iPad book often to guide my clients what kind of products should they buy throughout our store. And I recommended Paula’s book to my family, friends and clients.

What I like most about the book is the fact that there are references for virtually every claim made. You can go to the exact page of the academic dermatology journals to learn more details of what the author says. And Paula also has a website,, that provides very detailed reviews of over 45,000 cosmetics products on the market. Her reviews are unbiased and science-based. (She has a university degree in science, which may be more than many cosmetics moguls can say.)

After many years of research, Paula started producing her own line of skin care products, branded as Paula’s Choice. I decided to give some of her products a try. They tend to be reasonably priced, and of course they follow scientific sense to attain the desired result. Her products don’t contain alcohol (which dries the skin) or fragrance (which can overstimulate the skin and cause breakouts). There was definitely a trial-and-error period for me to get my own product combination right, but I got a lot of help from the company’s customer service team. They are very knowledgeable, and they make doing returns and exchanges easy.

It has been two years since I started using Paula’s Choice, and my breakouts are few, far between, and quick to clear up. My wrinkle situation is also under control. I feel very good about how my skin looks these days, and I think between using Paula’s Choice products and following Beautypedia’s recommendations for other products, I should be able to maintain it.

Whomever you are reading this, your situation will be different than mine. Even if your complaints are similar, your age, skin type, and the products you currently will use will be different, as will your goals. I cannot urge you enough to educate yourself objectively before spending more money on skin care that doesn’t work or makes your problems worse. A paper or e-book copy of Paula Begoun’s book, or a quick trip over to, is a small investment for a bit of knowledge that could save you thousands of dollars over a lifetime, and bring you better results.

If you’d like to ask me questions here, please do! I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments section.


  1. Its very generous of you that you will reply with your answer. I have one question to ask you that is it completely organic, or there has some ratio is included for the harmful chemicals.

    1. I contacted Paula's Choice with your question. Here is their reply:

      " All of Paula's skin-care products in her collection are formulated with a combination of natural and synthetic ingredients. However, if you prefer products made from natural ingredients that are proven safe and effective Paula recently released a new skincare collected called Earth Sourced for all skin types that you may be interested in. Provided below is an article from the Skin Care Facts section of our website regarding natural/organic skin care products that I believe you may find useful:

      Organic & Natural Skin Care
      Just the Facts, None of the Hype

      Please know that Paula would never offer of a and skincare or cosmetic product formulated with anything harmful or unsafe. Paula has spent the last 25 years studying, scrutinizing, testing, and critiquing thousands upon thousands of skin-care formulations and makeup products. From the beginning, her goal has been to help consumers around the world understand whether a product is worth its price and if it can truly deliver the results it promises. Years of extensive research and the constant quest for high quality, reasonably priced products led Paula to develop her own premier line of skin-care and select makeup products. Paula carefully formulates her products using ingredients with published, scientific research that are proven safe and effective."

      I hope that this information proves helpful to you.