Mantastic! Comparo: Extreme Measures


The Curious Case of Aging Skin

Products Reviewed:

Arovita-C Cream by Darphin | Decleor Re-Sourcing Emulsion | Diamond by Natura Bissé | Visage Ravissant by Beaute Pacifique | La Mer Lotion | The Cream by Clé de Peau


Sigh. Youth fades like a French movie: leaving only confusion and discontent in its wake. By your mid-thirties that fresh Peter Pan skin you could always rely on for at least a gin and tonic at someone else's expense is suddenly a sagging, discolored, sallow horror. The sun you once worshipped is exacting its pound of mottled, leathery flesh. And the gravity you once ignored is having the first of many laughs at your exhausted expense. You are now starting to look like the guys who bought you drinks only a decade ago - Daddy Dearest with wire hangers in all his closets. Welcome to middle age! Like all crises, it is also an opportunity. Please use it wisely. Don't commit the error common to many panicked queens and make a beeline for the plastic surgeon. Given the state of modern skin care technology, that's really not necessary - yet. There's still plenty of time to look like Cher. But before that, you should get a skin care program together designed to deal with these issues. Indeed, the skin care industry is optimized around solving these problems, because that's where they can charge the highest prices. Which means in turn that you need to be very careful in your choice of products, otherwise you will wind up spending a lot of dollars (or euros) on products that won't work at all. This feature is designed to present some products that we at Mantastic! have tested and feel have value (for the most part...). We have included products that are very high-priced, top-of-the-line in their field, but also some less expensive products that will work just as well for many of you.

But before we get to the reviews, let's get one thing clear. We will
not be evaluating these products on the basis of their ability to prevent or remove wrinkles. Sorry, but nothing in these products - or in any product marketed as "anti-aging" - can accomplish that. So set your expectations accordingly. There is one product that science has proven can prevent wrinkles - a good sunscreen. Dermatologists estimate that 90% of all wrinkles are the result of sun damage. And you can get sunscreens for $5 at Sav-On. Moreover, we have already been kind enough to provide an extensive review of products in this field. Please check it out if you haven't read it already. If you're not using a sunscreen daily, then you have to resign yourself to wrinkles. Don't look to retinol or alpha-hydroxy acids to save you. There is also one lifestyle choice that can delay the onset of wrinkles: Don't smoke! Scientists have recently discovered that nicotine activates, prematurely, the enzyme that eats away your facial collagen. So all you guys and gals out there puffing away because you don't want to get fat - be ready to look like a gaunt, hollowed-out scarecrow way before your time. If you want to avoid wrinkles, use sunscreen and don't smoke. Period.

At this point you may be asking yourself: What's the point of these products if they won't cure my wrinkles? An intelligent question. Wrinkles are hardly the worst ravage of time. If you think closely about why people with wrinkles look old, it's not even primarily because of the wrinkles themselves. It's because their skin is sagging, has completely lost its tone and radiance, is mottled or discolored, etc. Indeed, people with these problems look old even if they don't have a single wrinkle. The products in this review can take care of all that, and leave your skin looking healthy, toned and radiant. Healthy, vibrant skin IS young-looking skin, even if you have a few wrinkles. Trust us on this one.

Lastly, if you'd like to review the types of ingredients in these products and their actions, read this.


Arovita-C Cream by Darphin. 1.6 oz. $135. Line sold exclusively by Neiman-Marcus in the US. Available on-line at

Ingredients: Water, propylene glycol, C12-15 alkyl benzoate, caprylic/capric triglyceride, C12-16 alcohols, decyl olivate, cetyl alcohol, hydrolized soy flour, olive oil decyl esters, octylmethoxycinnamate, palmitic acid, hydrogenated lecithin, phenoxyethanol, panthenol, tetrasodium EDAT, triethanolamine, gingko biloba extract, ginsent extract, jujube extract, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, tocopheryl acetate, palmitic acid, potassium sorbate, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate, crosspolymer, butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, squalene, propylparaben, polysorbate 60, polyethylene glycol, sucrose sistearate, cyclopentasiloxane, PEG-150, PEG-75, cetyl dimethicone, copolyol, fragrance, DC orange no. 4.

This cream is a lovely, balanced cocktail of major treatment types. It contains vitamin C to boost collagen and restore even tone to the skin. It contains a high concentration of B vitamins to reinforce the skin's strength and health. It also contains retinol, a derivative of vitamin A that has marvellous skin clearing and re-surfacing properties. It also contains olive and soy extracts to counteract sun damage and calm the skin. To top it off, it contains extracts that visibly firm sagging skin. The cream has a lovely fragrance and texture and provides a high pleasure of use (a Darphin specialty). When you apply it, it seems very moisturizing, but after it is absorbed it leaves your skin greaseless but without feeling dried out. Thus it avoids one of the primary drawbacks of vitamin C treatments: they tend to be very drying. The balanced formulation of the cream also avoids the other drawback to vitamin C and retinol treatments: irritation and redness. I have sensitive, combination skin, and normally I can't use the same product both on my cheeks and on my T-zone, but I can use Arovita-C all over without drying out my cheeks or oiling up my T-zone. A big plus in my book. Also, this cream has never caused redness or irritation. I use Arovita-C as a day cream, since it's not quite emollient enough for night use. So what about effectiveness? After a few days, I noticed my skin was noticeably more supple, toned, smooth and had acquired a wonderful evenness of tone and depth of radiance. All that without dryiness or irritation. This is one of those products that makes you realize how incomplete and ineffective other, sometimes higher priced, products are. To sum up, this is one of the most effective treatments on the market, and, for the product class, is very reasonably priced. You can't go wrong with this product.

Note: Always use at least an SPF-15 sunscreen during the day when you are using any vitamin-C or retinol treatment, as the new skin uncovered by these ingredients is very sensititive to sunlight.

Rating: 4 - Mantastic!'s highest rating. Buy and use with confidence!


Decleor Vitaroma Resourcing Emulsion. 1.7 oz. $55. Available primarily at beauty supply stores. Also available on-line at

Ingredients: Water, caprylic/capric triglyceride, glycerin, glyceryl polymethacrylate, polysorbate 60, saccharide isomerate, clover extract, musk rose extract, plum extract, demithicone, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, retinol (vitamin A), beeswax, acrylates/ C/10/30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, sorbitan stearate, triethanolamine, leptospermum scoparium oil, soybean oil, patchouli oil, carnauba wax, lemongrass oil, acacia senegal, hydrolyzed wheat protein, lecithin, synthetic beeswax, propylene glycol, PVP/eicosene copolymer, butylene glycol, dimethicone copolyol, , PEG-100 stearate, PEG-20, sorbitan, tristearate, steareth 100, tocopherol, tetrasodium EDTA, apricot kernel oil, PEG-6 esters, carbomer, ethoxydiglycol, fragrance, retinyl palmitate, polyglyceryl-6 dioleate, propylene glycol, alginate, propylene glycol laurate, silica dimethyl silylate, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben, phenoxyethanol.

This is Decleor's entry into the Retinol sweepstakes. They have chosen to combine retinol with a rather odd assortment of botanicals such as clover and plum extracts. Decleor believes these botanicals have a strong anti-oxidant effect. The product also will firm the skin through the use of wheat proteins. The emulsion is a nice lotion that is very emollient when you first apply it. Maybe too emollient for those of you with oilier skin - so try a sample first. I used the emulsion for five days and it did firm my skin, but I didn't really see any drastic changes to my skin tone, color or clarity. On the plus side, it caused no skin irritation of any kind. But perhaps they have buffered the retinol a little too much and have compromised its effectiveness in the bargain. Truth to tell, I was glad to stop using this product. Not merely because it didn't seem to make much of a difference, but also because of its horrible, cloying scent! Let's put it this way: you really smell the clover and the plum. And the scent doesn't diminish as the day goes on! I felt as though I were wearing Eau de Manischewitz all day long. In spite of the attractive price, I just can't recommend this product. The effectiveness and pleasure of use are much lower than the price, unfortunately. You can do (and smell!) better.

Note: Always use at least an SPF-15 sunscreen during the day when you are using any vitamin-C or retinol treatment, as the new skin uncovered by these ingredients is very sensititive to sunlight.

Rating: 2 - Nice try, but pass the cold cream!


Diamond by Natura Bissé. 1.7 oz. $225. Line sold at high-end department stores (Saks, Neimans, Barneys).. Available on-line at

Cream Formula Ingredients: Water, decyl oleate, caprylic/capric triglyceride, propylene glycol, C12-20 acid PEG-8 ester, cetearyl octanoate, pea extrct, shea butter, rose hips oil, glyceryl stearate, cyclomethicone, hydrolyzed soy protein, beeswax, plankton extract, hydrolyzed collagen, grape seed extract, glyceryl linoleate, glyceryl linolenate, sodium ursolate, sodium carboxymethyl betaglucan, sodium chondroitin sulfate, mucopolysaccharides, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), tocopherol (vitamin E), allantoin, dimethicone, DEA-cetyl phosphate, sodium oleanate, illite, carbomer, triethanolamine, locust bean gum, fragrance, methylparaben, propylparaben, imidazolidinyl urea, glycerin, laurylmethicone copolyol, palmitoyl, hydroxypropyl, trimonium amylopectin, glycerin crosspolymer, phenoxyethanol, hydrogenated lecithin, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, BHT, butylparaben, FD&C red no. 40, FD&C yellow no. 5, caramel.

Gel Formula Ingredients: Water, cyclopentasiloxane, propylene glycol, alcohol denat., pea extract, glycerin, shea butter, hydrolized soy protein, plankton extract, sodium chondroitin sulfate, sodium ursolate, hydrolyzed collagen, grape seed extract, sodium oleanate, yeast, sodium carboxymethyl betaglucan, niacinamide, ascorbic acid, pantothenic acid (B5), hydrogenated lecithin, thiamine HCI (B1), tocopherol, pyroxidine HCI (B6), riboflavin (B2), cyanocobalamin (B12), triethanolamine, dimethiconol, PVM/MA decadiene crosspolymer, fragrance, methylparaben, acrylates, C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, propylparaben, locust bean gum, EDTA, glycerin crosspolymer, PEG-40, hydrogenated castor oil, phenoxyethanol, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, BHT, FD&C red no. 40, FD&C yellow no. 5, caramel.

Natura Bissé is one of the lesser-known of the high-end skin care lines. They are Spanish, based in Barcelona. Diamond is their first offering in the 'ultra product' category normally dominated by La Mer and La Prairie. As you can see above, they thoughtfully offer Diamond in two formulations: a cream for dry skin, and a gel for oily and combination skin.

Diamond, much like Arovita-C, offers a nicely balanced combination of treatment ingredients. There's vitamin-C, to make your skin glow, and a powerful complex of B vitamins. But Diamond offers some ingredients that are not found in Darphin's product. Among them is pea extract. Why on earth would you want to put peas on your face? It turns out that a few years back researchers discovered that sugar intake is a strong contributing factor in skin aging (it seems all those mocha lattes add up to wrinkles). And pea extract happens to be one of the most effective "anti-glycation" (i.e., sugar neutralizing) ingredients for the skin. Bet you didn't know that! Moreover, Diamond contains a high concentration of ursolic acid. What's that you say? It's an acid found in botanicals like rosemary, lavender and billberry. It accounts for the toning actions of these extracts. Of even greater interest, modern research has shown that ursolic acid can be a powerful preventative against skin cancer. Given the amount of sun damage and sun exposure these days, this high concentration of ursolic acid isn't just a boon to beauty, but to your health as well.

After using both formulations (gel during the day, cream during the night), I found myself the complete, utter slave to Diamond. For one thing, the pleasure of use is very high. The cream formulation has a luxurious consistency and a wonderful scent. More surprisingly, so does the gel! Not at all drying, but perfect for oilier skin, the gel was a delightful discovery for me. Like Arovita-C, it left my skin clear, firmed, toned and glowing. Only more so. My skin felt healthier at more than just a cosmetic level. Diamond is my personal favorite of all the products reviewed here. Yes, it's expensive. But it's very easy to get samples of both formulations, so I would encourage you to do that first. Remember, diamonds are a girl's best friend.

Note: Always use at least an SPF-15 sunscreen during the day when you are using any vitamin-C or retinol treatment, as the new skin uncovered by these ingredients is very sensititive to sunlight.

Rating: 4 - Mantastic! Our highest rating. Buy and use with confidence!


Visage Ravissant Defy Damage Repair Lotion by Beauté Pacifique. 1.5 fl. oz. $80. Available at Sephora stores or on-line at

Ingredients: Water, C12-15 alkyl benzoate, cetearyl alcohol, PEG-20 stearate, squalane, polysorbate 60, glycerin, lemon extract, methyl-glyceth 20, C10-30 cholesterol/lanerterol esters, lady's thistle extract, lady's mantle extract, horsetail extract, soy germ extract, wheat germ extract, alfalfa extract, radish extract, ursolic acid, oleanolic acid, dimethicone copolyol, phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, chamomile extract, peach extract, dimethicone, hydrolyzed collagen, hyaluronic acid, tocopherol acetate (vitamin E), retinyl palmitate (vitamin A), retinyl acetate, alcohol, acrylates C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, perfume, tocopherol, EDTA.

Though their name sounds French, Beauté Pacifique is actually a Danish company. Something tells me their name would be somewhat less euphonious in Danish, so their choice is wise. This product is a greaseless lotion with no strong scent. It glides on and disappears with little drama. I found it a little too drying for my cheeks, but perfect for my T-zone. So if, like me, you have dry skin, you should plan to supplement with a moisturizer over it.

Visage Ravissant contains many fine botanicals designed to clear and brighten the skin, and wheat extracts to firm it up. It contains Retinol, but it's so far down in the list of ingredients there probably isn't a lot. And it contains ursolic acid, like Diamond above, with all its wonderfully toning and healthy properties for your skin. The lotion's effects are very, very nice. My skin was well-firmed, and my skin color and tone were remarkably improved after just a few days of use. So that retinol must be doing something after all. If I were evaluating this product in less exalted company, I would give it a 4, but it suffers by comparison in the categories of pleasure of use and of suitability for dry skin. That said, this is a dynamite product at a very reasonable price point (for the category - it's still expensive in absolute terms). Though its relative cheapness is offset by the need to supplement with a moisturizer if you have dry skin. Highly recommended nevertheless.

Note: Always use at least an SPF-15 sunscreen during the day when you are using any vitamin-C or retinol treatment, as the new skin uncovered by these ingredients is very sensititive to sunlight.

Rating: 3 - Good stuff! Go ahead and spend!


La Mer: The Moisturizing Lotion. 1.7 fl. oz. $150. Available at high-end department stores (Saks, Neimans) and exclusively on-line at Neiman Marcus' shopping website,

Ingredients: Seaweed extract, cyclomethicone, phenyl trimethicone polysilicone 11, glyceryl distearate, butylene glycol, octyl hydroxystearate, petrolatum, glyceryl dilaurate, dimethicone polysilicone 11, shea butter, steareth 10, cholesterol, C13-14 isoparaffin, sodium hyaluronate, lime extract, sesame oil, hibiscus extract, eucalyptus oil, glucose, lactoperoxidase, vitamin E, linoleic acid, glucose oxidase, sesame seeds, alfalfa seeds, polyacrylamide, sunflower seeds, powdered almonds, sodium, potassium, copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc gluconate, niacin, beta-carotene, cyanocobalamin, cetyl alcohol, polyquaternium-24, isocetyl stearoyl stearate, laureth-7, quaternium-18, fragrance, disodium EDTA, trisodium EDTA, doctyl sodium sulfosuccinate, BHT, silver chloride, titanium dioxide..

La Mer is the Greta Garbo of skin care: mysterious, glamorous and aloof. It has an incredible cult following among women, and Estée Lauder, which owns La Mer, has capitlized on that shamelessly. Their PR materials, for instance, refer to themselves as "followers" instead of manufacturers. The original formula was developed in the 60s by a retired NASA engineer whose face was burned in an accident. Apparently, over time it did a lot to reverse that damage. That's the story at any rate. Now La Mer is a phenomenon. Most people use and review The Cream, but, from the sample I got, I didn't like it at all. It was hard to apply (it has the consistency of Play-Doh), and left my skin feeling surprisingly dry. So I tried The Lotion, with much better results. It's easier to use and more moisturzing.

The Lotion has several interesting ingredients. Note the lime extract and the heavy use of seeds instead of extracts. The cream also contains a nice B-vitamin complex and seaweed. Seaweed is in fact the main ingredient, which makes sense, since sea plants are loaded with minerals. La Mer's rep is that it leaves your skin clear, glowing, firmed and plumped with moisture. Which, indeed, it did to my skin. So why am I not a raving convert to La Mer? Two reasons, really. First, as you can see above, I've already tried other products that are just as good or better. It wasn't better than Arovita-C, though the latter product is less expensive. And, good as it is, it was clearly not as good as Diamond. Second, and this is completely peculiar to me, I found that La Mer left my skin kind of ghostly looking. It seemed to drain the color out of it. The effect was quite noticeable, making me look a bit too much like a refugee from a Kabuki troupe. I can't explain it, since my cheeks are naturally rosy, but I didn't like it. La Mer is an excellent product, but I just didn't think it was head and shoulders above the competition. So, for the first time ever, I'm going to award an in-between rating of 3.5. That's the only way I can acknowledge both the product's excellence and its limitations.

Note: Always use at least an SPF-15 sunscreen during the day when you are using any vitamin-C or retinol treatment, as the new skin uncovered by these ingredients is very sensititive to sunlight.

Rating: 3.5 - Better than good, but not quite Mantastic! Buy and use with confidence.


Clé de Peau: The Cream 1.5 oz. $400. Available at Barney's of New York. Not available on-line, to my knowledge.

Ingredients: Water, glycerin, petrolatum, butylene glycol, arbutin, squalene, pentaerythrityl tetraoctanoate, xylitol, jojoba, behenyl alcohol, PET-60 glyceryl isostearate, dimethicone, PEG-6, PEG-32, stearyl alcohol, glyceryl stearate, isostearic acid, microcrystalline wax, ethylparaben, lauryl betaine, parfum, trisodium HEDTA, polyvinyl alcohol, butylparaben, alcohol, fig extract, licorice extract, carbomer, trisodium EDTA, serine, citric acid, soy sterol, potassium ascorbyl tocopheryl phosphate (vitamin E), disodium adenosine triphosphate, sodium metabisulfate, sodium acetylhyaluronate, St. John's wort extract, rubus suavissimus, tocopherol, rosa roxburghii, uncaria gambir.

Clé de Peau ("Key to Skin" in French) is another line that isn't French, though it sounds like one. It's actually Japanese. Shiseido, to be specific. It's their highest-end line. And, yes, you saw that price correctly. By the way, I tested using a sample, since there's no way I'm going to pay that much for a face cream unless sex is included. The theory behind The Cream (note the strategic aping of La Mer's product names) is that it contains a complex of enzymes that will gently re-surface your face, with plenty of soothing elements (licorice, fig). But take a look at the ingredient list. More than half of them are nothing more than industrial-standard fillers, binding agents and totally basic moisturizers. There's nothing in the ingredient list that you wouldn't see on a Neutrogena product label, for crying out loud. This was my first suspicion that something was up. When I tried it (as a night treatment), I found it left my skin feeling very dry indeed. When I woke up, my skin was in fact softer and a little clearer. But that's really it. The results didn't get more impressive with continued use, either. Nothing at all spectacular, nothing that couldn't be achieved for 1/5th the price (e.g., with Visage Ravissant above). This product is one big scam. To pay $400 for something so mediocre is a crime. Please don't commit it. Any of the other products in this review will do more for your face and much more for you pocketbook. Don't believe the hype!

Note: Always use at least an SPF-15 sunscreen during the day when you are using any vitamin-C or retinol treatment, as the new skin uncovered by these ingredients is very sensititive to sunlight.

Rating: 1 - Worst rating. Not on my face!


take me home, bud!