Don't Bother With This Expensive Face Cream

Em Unravelling

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I first read about this serum on 17th November 2019. (I know that because I knew I’d read it in a Sunday Times Magazine column and I’ve just googled the name of the journalist, the name of the serum, and the name of the magazine and ping! so um yes basically I’m a genius). I remember the moment I read it so clearly. 39 years old, stretched out glumly on the sofa at the ragged end of what to be completely honest had been a weekend featuring far more wine and cheese than any self-respecting weekend ought to, wondering why my skin felt like a cracking layer of ancient parchment, and absolutely ripe for the seduction of a sales pitch such as the one glowing at me from the magazine’s pages.

Now, I like to think I’ve been around the block a few times. I know when an article is #spon or when I need to examine the corners of the pages closely for that telltale “advertising content” strapline, hiding meanly in floating text almost the same color as its background. This was not an article like that. This was a journalist I respected and read regularly and who has actually written a whole book about being thrifty and not spending money on unnecessary things. Not only that, but she’s way older than me, so she doesn’t have the peachy skin we all took for granted in our twenties.

She was reviewing a serum that, yes, she’d clearly been sent for free but that nevertheless she felt warranted an opening paragraph of this much hyperbole:

This is one of those ding-ding-ding with a knife on a glass occasions. Obviously I review products I love and recommend from the heart every week, but equally obviously, not every single one is necessarily a life-changer. My personal list of the skincare products I would never again be without is not especially long. However, I currently have the best skin I have ever had in my entire life, including during periods when I paid much more attention to it and had regular facials, microdermabrasions, peels and so on. Hence the glass dinging. — India Knight

My tired eyes, nestled as they were in the crepey and exhausted folds of my origami eyelids, sharpened and focused more keenly on the page. By the time I’d read the bit where people asked her if she’d had work done but no, it was just the serum, I’d crawled excitedly into a half-seated position, the better to retrieve my phone and begin immediately the process of tracking down a bottle of this wonderful liquid. I was a woman on a mission.

Sadly, I was trailing far behind the bright-eyed bushy-tailed women who had not overdone wine or cheese and who’d had the good fortune to read the magazine earlier in the day and who I now hated indiscriminately and without measure. For stocks of the hallowed serum were nowhere to be found.

I did discover, however, that it would set me back an eye-watering £130 ($150) when stocks were replenished. I’m not a budget skincare shopper particularly, but we’re talking about one 30ml bottle here. 30ml is basically a mouthful. A gulp. A swig. One decent thirsty slurp of liquid, for the price of two return flights from London to Lisbon on Ryanair and a transfer taxi from the airport and maybe even a bag of Lay’s chips with the change.

I was undaunted, though. I felt entirely certain that this hallowed serum was my skin’s long-awaited destiny. Once I had a bottle between my sweaty paws I knew that time would be immediately halted, and I’d be able to sally forth into my imminent forties with a face that would certainly become the envy of my peers for its gently soft, lineless, and yet definitely not surgically enhanced smoothness. Cheap at the $150 price.

For the next few months, I stalked the serum and of course, the serum stalked me. Algorithmic wizardry inevitably resulted in that little blue $150 bottle popping into view whenever I opened Facebook, Instagram or Google, reminding me that I could avail myself of a facelift in a bottle whenever cultbeauty.com renewed its online shelves. Regularly, I checked them, and in due course I was rewarded.

Well. I was “rewarded” in the sense that I was able at last to input my debit card details into a slick monochrome beauty website and exchange good money I’d worked to earn in exchange for a bottle of the beautiful youth juice. (Full disclosure here: I bagged my bottle of the serum when the website was running a 25% off promotion, and not only that, but the serum’s producers were throwing a “free” bottle of “toning spritz” into the deal that weekend too — lucky me! — so I paid only about $100 for my haul and I also got some faintly alcoholic-smelling water to pump wetly all over my face before putting the serum on, so you know, bargain).

I felt like a kid at Christmas when the two sleek, matte-finished, pale blue bottles arrived in their tiny little cardboard box, nestled safely into recyclable corrugated packaging. I unpacked them immediately and lined them up in the bathroom cabinet (keeping them in the dark, just in case any ingredients were affected by light. I’m no fool, I’ve read the websites). That night before bed I washed my face carefully and began the process of stopping time.

First, three sprays of the “spritz” — forehead, cheeks, chin and neck. Then a carefully dosed drop of the serum. It comes with a clever twist dropper designed to measure exactly the right amount, so I knew I was doing it right. I massaged it carefully into every corner of my face, waited ten minutes, and backed it up with my usual night cream. Then I went to bed and waited for my husband to faint with astonishment when he woke up to my fresh-faced beauty.

Spoiler alert: my husband didn’t notice. I didn’t notice. In the morning, I felt absolutely no different than if I’d used a $5 serum from Superdrug. My skin didn’t even feel more moisturised, in the way it sometimes does when I switch things up with a new night cream that hasn’t cost $100. However, I was undaunted. Even India Knight said that she hadn’t started accruing compliments until she’d been using the serum for six weeks, right? I just had to give it time.

Reader, I gave it time. I gave it so much time. I didn’t miss one single night of application of that slippery, viscous yellow mess to my face. I was religious about it — spritz, spritz, dropper, massage. I did this routine every single night for seven weeks, until the serum ran out and the website started emailing me to ask if I needed to “renew my supply”. I examined my face carefully. I took before and after photos in the same light at the same time of day. That serum might as well have been olive oil. Or water. Or the strange white water that accrues in the pockets where I’ve scooped out Greek yoghurt from the tub.

It did nothing, nothing at all.

What I’ve decided to do now is to pretend firstly that I wasn’t an idiot, and that in fact I’ve learned a couple of valuable lessons, ones that were well worth their $100 price tag. The first lesson is to never trust any journalistic review of any skincare product, because not only do skincare products affect everyone differently, but even the most seasoned of journalists is not above whipping up a sponsored frenzy if the price is right. And the second lesson is that miracles in bottles are not a thing.

They’re just not, OK? Lotions and potions and liquids and pastes can only go so far. We’re just rubbing emollients into a surface, people. That’s as far as we can go here. Yes, some of them might be quite helpful (retinol does something, because it makes my face a bit red, and CeraVe moisturizing lotion for example is a beautiful, beautiful thing and genuinely does make my face softer overnight — plus, only $11) but there is no product out there that will allow me to reverse the effects of having been on the planet for forty of its rotations. It was unfair of me ever to rest such a heavy burden on any bottle. Even an expensive one.

TL:DR? Don’t bother with Decree’s Treat Tincture Serum. You’re welcome.

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A lover of horizons, hills, and words. Likes to write about uncomfortable things because too many people steer round those parts of life.

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