I Swapped My $380 Crème de La Mer for This $22 (on Sale!) Drugstore Moisturizer, and My Skin Can’t Tell the Difference
Unpopular opinion: I’m not a La Mer hater. Lots of people have lots of things to say about how it’s overhyped and overpriced, and while I won’t argue with the latter, my skin loves the stuff and I just can’t shake it. RIP my bank account.
More popular opinion: there are alternatives. And I’m open to them! In a recent TikTok stitch, board-certified dermatologist Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, suggested Avène (among some other French favs like La Roche Posay and Biafine) in lieu of La Mer. She didn’t have to twist my arm… I love Avène. Alongside my La Mer moisturizer, Avène comprises my very favorite, desert island skin-care products.
However, I hadn’t tried using the brand's Cicalfate+ Restorative Protective Cream (the suggested swap) on my face—I’ve actually reserved it for injuries and skin irritation. Just as La Mer was designed for burn treatments initially, Cicalfate+ was also designed as a reparative cream; I’ve kept it alongside my Biafine and Homeoplasmine for cuts, scrapes, burns, sunburns, and scar TLC.
So with this new information in mind, the showdown began. Avène Cicalfate+ Restorative Protective Cream ($22 for 40mL) vs. Crème de La Mer ($380 for 59mL). Milliliter to milliliter, the sale price makes this moisturizer 70 cents/mL vs $6.44/mL, making La Mer over nine hundred percent more expensive. This is not earth-shattering news, given that La Mer’s inaccessible price tag has been rather common knowledge for decades, but it’s still worth pointing out.
Both creams are wildly popular; Crème de La Mer has had a following of skin-care devotees since its debut in 1965. And Avène’s Cicalfate+ is the number one derm-prescribed cream in Europe, with a bottle sold every five seconds around the world.
La Mer: Miracle Broth (algae extract)
Avène: Eau Thermale Avène (prebiotic water)
One key differentiator that seperates La Mer from any of its competitors is brand's signature ‘Miracle Broth,’ which is an algae extract (it’s the first listed ingredient, meaning it’s the most highly concentrated active in the formula). The broth is purported to firm and smooth fine lines and wrinkles, minimize the appearance of pores, and heal scarring and discoloration.
Though Cicalfate+ does not use an algae ingredient, it does include the brand's signature prebiotic ‘fountain of youth’ water, the Eau Avène Thermale spring water from its namesake Avène, France. The water contains a slew of minerals including calcium bicarbonate, magnesium, and silicates, and is celebrated for its ability to calm irritation, reduce inflammation, and promote healing for conditions including eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
Both the La Mer and Avène formulas include glycerin, mineral oil, and waxes, which all aid in hydration. “Humectants, like glycerin and mineral oil, ‘moisturize’ the skin by decreasing epidermal water loss,” says board-certified dermatologist Alina Goldenberg, MD, MAS, FAAD, Director of Contact Dermatitis Clinic in San Diego, CA. “This protects the skin barrier, reduces dryness and flakiness, gives skin a shine,” she explains, which is why you feel ‘glowy’ after you apply one of these creams.
As an objective third party—and a derm who specializes in contact dermatitis—Dr. Goldenberg is partial to the Avène formulation. “La Mer contains [many] more known skin sensitizers and allergens,” she says, pointing to fragrance and essential oils, specifically. “All of these are known allergens—they are part of the fragrance family. Just because they are naturally derived from plants does not automatically mean they are good for our skin.”
“Avène [Cicalfate+ Restorative Protective Cream] is a much cleaner formulation, and contains zinc oxide which helps restore the skin barrier,” she says. “It has one potential allergen (propylene glycol), but it is a rare allergen.”
While ingredient lists are comparable on paper, the actual application and experience is another thing entirely. So I decided to test Cicalfate+ to see if it held up IRL.
For context, my skin is normal-to-dry, but in the wintertime, I experience a Sahara-like dehydration on my face and body. As noted, I’ve used Crème de La Mer for years, and experience zero breakouts, intense barrier nourishment, and a glowier-than-usual complexion. These were the ‘metrics’ that I was comparing in my test.
I had never used Cicalfate+ on my face until these past few weeks, and to be totally honest, I was worried about breakouts with a new product, especially such a thick-with-three-Cs product. Even the driest of skin can get clogged pores!
During my trial period with the Avène cream, I used the La Mer method of warming it up by rubbing it together between my fingers. While it didn’t become as translucent as La Mer’s cream typically does, it makes it much easier to apply (the product comes out almost as a paste from the tube, and the warming helps to thin it out a bit).
I’m happy to report back that not only did I not break out, but this cream helped rebalance my angry, parched peau. I used it AM and PM for restoration and protection, and it lived up to its claims without aggravating any unwanted side effects that many fear with waxes and oils.
Avène, as per usual, lived up to its claims, did an exceptional job, and didn’t break the bank in the process. While I still have a soft spot for my La Mer, Avène Cicalfate+ is a new winter staple for me.
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