Help! I’ve Fallen In Love with a Stupid-Expensive Cult-Favorite Exfoliator and I Can’t Give It Up

The cost of using Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 adds up to more than my daily coffee — and it's worth it.
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Morgan
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The cost of using Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 adds up to more than my daily coffee — and it's worth it.

I hate that I love Biologique Recherche Lotion P50. You might have read about it in Vogue, Allure, or Into The Gloss, or heard about it from skincare experts like Caroline Hirons. I feel like "cult following" isn't even a strong enough term to communicate how popular it is. It took me a while to try it out, but now that I'm sold, I kinda wish I wasn't.

First of all, this liquid exfoliant, acid toner — whatever you want to call it — is incredibly hard to get hold of. The official Biologique Recherche website tells you little more than nothing, but the UK site explains that the brand "does not publish product prices or allow for products to be ordered online" because they want their products to be "prescribed" to you by a trained professional. Yeah, that sounds reasonable... and like something I want to circumvent immediately.

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P50 is a very strong product (I'll get to this shortly) so I understand why you wouldn't want just any person to buy it if it wouldn't be suitable for their skin type. I like to think I know my skin pretty well, though, and I know it can handle daily application of AHAs. There had to be a way.

Eventually I discovered Rescue Spa, a day spa in Philadelphia with an online store. They didn't ship to New Zealand, but I had my gal Tamara help me out. I'd get the bottle shipped to her, and she'd send it at the same time we did our international makeup swap.

I just had to create a login for Rescue Spa to see the prices.

Lotion P50 was $62 for 5.1 ounces. Some calculations later, I discovered that twice-daily use of the product as recommended would cost slightly more than I spend on my daily coffee. If I used it twice a day, every day, I'd be spending more than $1200 on P50 each year, and that's not including the extra I'd be spending on getting it to me. I had to do this calculation a bunch of times because it seemed so ridiculous — it's based on using ~0.5 milliliters for each application, which doesn't seem unreasonable.

This isn't the most expensive beauty product I've bought, but something about this product has made me really ruminate on the value of the products that I use and spend money on. If I had to choose between a daily coffee and better skin, which would I choose? I think it's the coffee. And if I had to choose between good skin and an extra $1200 a year, what would I choose? Again, I'd say the money — but then I would probably go spend it on more skincare.

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So what's the deal with P50 anyway? It's a powerhouse of an acid toner, available in six different iterations. I went straight for the strongest, which is the Lotion P50 1970, the original formula as it was sold in 1970. If I was doing it again I'd pick the newer version. I mean, they reformulated it for a reason — the older formula is more than a little dated. It smells like something straight out of an old hospital, or calamine lotion. This is due to the phenol included, which is also why this formula isn't available in the EU.

If you're delicate with your skin, look away now. Phenol is an antiseptic, but it's also a minor anesthetic, and it burns when you put it on your skin. The first time I put this toner on, I felt like I'd spread deep-heat cream all over my face. My eyes were watering and I was fanning the air in front of my face trying to relieve the discomfort. Now that I've been using it for a while, though, I get none of this — just a slight tingle. I know, I know, that's still not great, so once I do finish this bottle up, I'll be switching to the phenol-less version.

Burn aside, the big thing is the difference P50 makes in the texture of my skin. I've been slack with regular application lately due to my mental health (what up, depression, thanks for making everything hard) so I don't have magical before-and-after photos to show you. It kicks small bumps and spots to the curb literally overnight, though, and minimises the damage they leave behind. This is due to the lactic acid, salicylic acid, sulphur, and niacinamide in P50, and at the right pH to be effective, too (~3.5).

I know, I could buy a cheaper lactic acid toner (and maybe I will). I really like P50, though, and it's given me results. I've just got some thinking to do before I repurchase it.

  • Have you tried any Biologique Recherche products? 
  • What's your favourite stupidly expensive product?