You’ll see it described as a “facial in a bottle.” Biologique Recherche P50 seems to have a cult following and has been a long-term favorite for 20 years, though its original iteration has been existence since 1970. Only in the past several years has it turned into such a huge fad.
It claims to “purify, hydrate, tone, control sebum, and balance the skin.” Why is it such a favorite among skincare gurus and beauty editors? Just what is it about P50 that has people falling over themselves to spend $90 to $115 on an exfoliation product?
More Than One
The original P50 1970 version is still around, though was slightly reformulated and re-released in 2000. It’s not typically recommended by dermatologists because it contains phenol, which is an exfoliant with antimicrobial qualities. Some phenols have been shown to be lung irritants that can burn your skin at high concentrations and cause irritation at lower ones. It’s actually been banned in personal care products throughout Europe.
Head of creation and co-owner of Biologique Recherche in the United States, Dr. Philippe Allouche, doesn’t usually recommend P50 1970 for most patients. Surprising, since it was his father that actually started producing the original formula. “I think the phenol is too harsh,” explains Dr Allouche. “Why we keep the 1970 is it’s for people who are totally crazy about exfoliation. I keep saying to them, ‘You need to be a carpenter, not a bulldozer.’”
There are four different formulations of the current P50 that are popular with users, none of which contain controversial phenol:
- P50 is designed for thicker skin
- P50V is designed for thinner and/or more sensitive skin
- P50W was created for mature and very sensitive skin
- P50 PIGM 400 is for sensitive skin, but it has extra ingredients to help fight hyperpigmentation
Oh, But That Smell!
No, we’re not talking about a heavenly, perfumy scent. I had heard talk about the pungent quality of P50, but was in no way prepared for it in reality. After all, everyone likes to exaggerate from time to time. Rachel Krause mentioned it smelled “like vinegar and the quart of milk you pushed to the back of the fridge and forgot about for the past three months,” on Refinery29.
While the newer formulations are slightly less stinky than 1970, they do still have their own odor. That’s thanks to ingredients like acids, vinegar, onions, and horseradish. Are we making a salad or an exfoliator?
The process through which this formulation goes is reminiscent of a fine wine or an exotic French perfume. The formula sits for an entire six months inside the manufacturing facility where the pH is monitored daily until it’s stabilized. It’s the use of the vinegar that helps to buffer the other acids in the formula. Once stable, it’s stirred continuously very slowly for five days. No wonder it carries such a hefty price tag!
Do these exotic ingredients really hold up to the task? According to Dr. Allouche, onion works as an anti-inflammatory and helps to promote skin renewal, though research is still limited on the use of extracts on skin. The wasabi and horseradish tout isothiocyanate, which also has antimicrobial effects. Benzyl isothiocyanate has been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects in mouse skin and has shown that it can help to protect skin from oxidative stress caused by UV exposure, but at what cost? Those with sensitive skin should be cautious when using P50, as it has also been shown to induce skin sensitivity.
Witch hazel and sage extract are also included. While not quite as effective as medications such as 1% hydrocortisone, witch hazel is still a great alternative when it comes to inflammation and protecting the skin from transepidermal water loss (TEWL), thanks to the proanthocyanidins in it.
Sage extract does have some antioxidant activity, though it’s questionable as to whether or not it’s enough to be of benefit in this product.
That all may just be garnish. Looking at the meat and potatoes, the main ingredient included is usnic acid. It’s usually used as an antibiotic, but it can have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects on the skin. It’s been used for years in cosmetics, perfumery, and traditional medicines. Again, though, here is an ingredient that could have the potential to cause an allergic reaction with continued exposure.
Lactic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) has been used to treat dry skin. While glycolic acid is generally chosen because it penetrates easier into the skin, and increases the thickness and firmness of the skin, it can be more irritating. Studies have shown that lactic acid is generally less irritating and results in less transepidermal water loss than other AHAs.
Where Can You Find Biologique Recherche P50?
The short answer? Good luck! If you’re interested in trying this product and have an easy time finding it, chances are, it could be a counterfeit, an issue that has commonly plagued luxury products. Dr. Allouche feels strongly that his products should remain a professional brand, only to be distributed by spas and aestheticians. While you can find Biologique around the world in 72 countries, it’s only available in 150 spas in America, and only a few of these offer them online.
Is Biologique Recherche P50 Worth the Price Tag?
When it comes down to it, this product is probably more about the exoticness and mystique than actual results. It feels great when you apply it, with a cooling, soothing sensation. Some people have claimed that they wake up with a more luxurious, silky feel to their skin the morning after using it, but I’m not convinced it isn’t anecdotal.
Breaking the ingredients down, themselves, it seems like this would be a great combination, but the chemistry just isn’t backing that. The proven effective ingredients just aren’t included in combinations that are high enough to really get the results you’re looking for.
For me, this one gets a pass. There are much better products out there that are showing visible results, with the science to back them.
Ingredients: WATER,GLUCONOLACTONE, LACTIC ACID, GLYCERIN, PROPYLENE GLYCOL, NIACINAMIDE, CITRIC ACID, ETHOXYDIGLYCOL, MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE, MALIC ACID, VINEGAR, PHYTIC ACID, SALICYLIC ACID, HORSERADISH ROOT EXTRACT, COMMIPHORA MYRRHA RESIN EXTRACT, ARCTIUM LAPPA ROOT EXTRACT, RUMEX ACETOSA LEAF EXTRACT, MYRTUS COMMUNIS EXTRACT, ONION BULB EXTRACT, THYME FLOWER LEAF OIL, SULFUR, SORBITOL, PHENOXYETHANOL, SODIUM BENZOATE, POTASSIUM SORBATE.