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FOR the likes of Sharon Stone and Stella McCartney, it's the latest must-have wonder cream to hit the shops - at pounds 115 a pot.

Creme De La Mer was designed by rocket scientist Max Huber in 1965 to heal his disfiguring burns.

Renamed, re-targeted and sold by Estee Lauder in a classy yet titchy 60ml pot, it's selling like hotcakes among wealthy clients who claim it makes them look years younger.

The packaging reads: "An intensive moisturising cream which delivers vital sustaining hydration. Beneficial ingredients from the sea, plus vitamins and nutrients in a unique bio-fermentation process."

But none of that rubs with skin expert Nick Lowe, who says one ingredient has no beneficial effect at all and another can even be harmful.

Professor Lowe says: "To be blunt, I'd put Creme De La Mer back in its fancy packaging and return it to Harrods. There's nothing in the ingredients to suggest it is any better than a cheaper moisturiser bought on the High Street." Creme De La Mer is made from a mixture of sea kelp, eucalyptus and sesame seeds. The kelp is harvested off the west coast of America and made into a soup which ferments for several months.

Surprisingly, the manufacturers do not claim that the cream softens facial lines, reverses ageing or even that it makes skin look healthier.

Which is just as well - Prof Lowe, a consultant dermatologist London's Cranley Clinic, is not convinced it can work any miracles.

"It contains beta carotene which has been shown to do nothing when applied to the skin, as well as Niasin which can actually cause skin flushing.

"Worryingly, it contains lime extract which can cause a sunlight-induced allergic reaction such as skin blistering and discolouration in some people. I'd want to know if it had been tested under ultra-violet light."

As for kelp, Professor Lowe - author of Skin Secrets: The Medical Facts Versus The Beauty Fiction - says: "There have been no studies to prove whether there are any benefits to putting seaweed on the skin."

An Estee Lauder spokeswoman said that the cream was costly because the kelp can be harvested only at certain times and is in limited supply. Makers say you only need a blob the size of a 5p piece - which given its price is just as well.

The cream is warmed in the hands and then patted, not rubbed, onto the face. Dr Stephen White, consultant dermatologist at the Wirral Hospital, Merseyside, said: "As skin ages, it loses its ability to retain water and appears drier.

"What some manufacturers would have you believe is that they put the moisture back. This is impossible - you can't feed the skin.

'What you're doing is putting on a layer of grease to waterproof it." Dr White said the bulk of Creme De La Mer's ingredients were agents "to bind oil and water" and preservatives.

He added: "I don't know any preparation that would cost pounds 115 and be good for your skin."

Dr White says there are only four ways to ensure good skin:

"Don't smoke, keep out of the sun, use a basic moisturiser and make sure you are born to parents with a rosy complexion. A lot of it is in the genes."CHEAP AND CHEERFUL? WHAT THE SCIENTISTS SAYBoots Fragrance Free

Price: pounds 1.50 for 125mlDR WHITE: The usual mixture of water (aqua), oil (paraffinum liquidum), binding agents (cetearyl alcohol and cetyl alcohol) and preservatives (propylparaben). Most are there to maintain the structure, not to improve your skin.

PROFESSOR LOWE: A good safe moisturiser from a top laboratory, thoroughly tested with a nice texture and good for use at night.Boots Botanics Face Lift Firming Cream

Price: pounds 6 for 50ml

DR WHITE: The usual binding agents, cetearyl alcohol and cetyl alcohol, and preservatives methylparaben and propylparaben. It also contains isopropyl myristate which makes the skin tingle slightly, but that's all.

PROFESSOR LOWE: There's not enough information on the packaging for me to make a judgment about how the plant extracts work but at least it's cheaper than pounds 115.Garnier Synergie

Price: pounds 6.25 for 50ml

DR WHITE: Prunus armeniaca and citrus dulcis are fruit extracts which have no beneficial effects. Methoxycinnamate simply gives the cream a pleasant smell.

PROFESSOR LOWE: My favourite. It contains vitamin C which is very good for soaking up free radicals in the skin caused by pollution. It also enhances sunscreens when used together.Nivea Creme

Price: pounds 1.60 for 50mlDR WHITE: Cera microcristallina is an oil for waterproofing, decyl oleate is the binding agent and octylaodecanol is the preservative. Glycerine creates a waterproof layer which keeps moisture in and stops it evaporating. The cream also contains citric acid which won't do anything for the skin.

PROFESSOR LOWE: A very safe moisturiser, as good as the one from Boots. Like Boots', it contains glycerine, an excellent moisturiser.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Rockett, Karen; Cooke, Angela
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 26, 2000
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