Kiehl’s is one of the oldest American skincare brands still in operation today. It started as an apothecary in 1851, and some of its first products include Original Musk Oil and Calendula Herbal-Extract Toner. But more than 100 years since the company launched, its best-selling product is its Ultra Facial Cream, a lightweight but rich moisturizer. Here’s a look at the story behind the cream, why it is a cult favorite product, and is it worth a try?
What is Kiehl’s?
Kiehl’s started as a New York based apothecary in 1851, and that East Village location is still the company’s flagship store. Irving Morse, who was an apprentice to owner John Kiehl, is the one who expanded the pharmacy’s offerings to include Kiehl’s branded products, such as Original Musk Oil. As Kiehl’s began to offer more products, it became known for its generous sample policy and straight forward packing which listed the ingredients. Irving’s son, Aaron Morse, helped created iconic Kiehl’s products such as Calendula Herbal-Extract Toner, Blue Astringent Lotion, Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1, and Ultra Facial Moisturizers. In 2000, Kiehl’s was sold to L’Oréal, which also owns Lancôme, Maybelline and Urban Decay.
Kiehl’s continues to be an iconic American brand. In recognition of its history and contributions, more than 103 Kiehl’s products are in the permanent collection of the Division of Medicine and Science at the Smithsonian National Museum in Washington, D.C- including the Ultra Facial Cream.
What is Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream?
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream is a lightweight but rich moisturizer that is formulated to provide 24 hour hydration, even in extreme temperatures, such as cold and dry climates. In 2005, Kiehl’s “adventure tested” its formula on an expedition to Greenland. The Kiehl’s Greenland First Ascents, a group of six climbers, completed the first-ever ascent of Greenland’s ice covered peaks in 2005. The team used Ultra Facial Cream to protect their faces from the harsh elements. In video interviews, the explorers say they used the cream three times a day to combat the dry, cold air and harsh wind. The climbers described the cream as “simple, authentic, and it works.”
Kiehl’s says the Ultra Facial Cream leaves skin 2.3 times more hydrated. Two versions are available- the regular cream as well as one containing broad spectrum SPF 30. Both versions come in a tub container, and the formula is unscented. Texture wise, it is creamy and not sticky or tacky on the skin.
What Ingredients Are in the Ultra Facial Cream?
Some of the key ingredients in the Ultra Facial Cream include olive-derived squalene and avocado oil – both are signature Kiehl’s ingredients that are also found in the Avocado Nourishing Hydration Mask and Lip Balm #1. Rounding out the ingredients list are glacial glycoprotein, which is extracted from sea glaciers, to protect skin from wind and cold, and imperata cylindrical, a plant that is native to the Australian desert, and is meant to help prevent water loss. Other ingredients include glycerin, apricot kernel oil, rice bran oil and soybean oil. The cream also contains salicylic acid, which keeps skin smooth and clear, as well as citric acid.
Has The Formula Changed?
In 2018 Kiehl’s announced it would revamp the Ultra Facial Cream formula to be created entirely without parabens. This is part of a broader effort to make the entire Kiehl’s skincare line paraben free by the end of 2019. According to Allure magazine, it took Kiehl’s scientists five years and more than 100 versions to get the paraben free formula just right.
How Should Ultra Facial Cream Be Used?
Ultra Facial Cream can be used morning and night to hydrate and nourish skin, but the version containing sunscreen should be used during the day.
What is the Difference Between Ultra Facial Cream and Ultra Facial Moisturizer?
The two moisturizers contain the same key ingredients, including squalene, glycerin and glacial glycoprotein but the formulas are slightly different. Although the Ultra Facial Moisturizer also contains sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil and avocado oil, they are listed much further down the ingredients list than they are in the Ultra Facial Cream. Based on customer feedback, the Ultra Facial Moisturizer feels lighter on the face than the Ultra Facial Cream. The Moisturizer does not have salicylic acid and citric acid, which are found in the Ultra Facial Cream.
How Much is Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream?
The Ultra Facial Cream is moderately priced. A one ounce jar of Ultra Facial Cream is $18; 1.7 ounces sells for $30 and a 4.2 ounce jar is $50.
Where is Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream Sold?
Kiehl’s products are sold at its standalone stores around the world, as well as department stores including Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, Barneys, Macy’s and Nordstrom. It is also sold at Sephora and Ulta.
Is Kiehl’s Cruelty Free?
Kiehl’s is owned by L’Oréal, and according to the company, L’Oréal “does not test any of its products or any of its ingredients on animals and has been at the forefront of alternative methods for over 30 years.”
Does Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream Work?
The Ultra Facial Cream is a firm customer favorite and according to Kiehl’s, their number one best-selling product. It is also beloved by beauty editors and a top selling item in Birchbox’s packages, according to Refinery29, which calls the cream “seriously thick, but it still manages to sink in quickly without leaving any greasy residue behind. The best part? It never makes us break out, and it soothes our irritated skin, especially in the winter.”
The editors at Beautypedia have a more neutral take on the cult favorite cream, calling it more “ordinary” than “ultra.” “Ultra Facial Cream provides another story about two special ingredients extracted from remote locations, also claimed to be valuable for skin because they can survive in harsh climates (lots of plants can survive harsh climates, but rubbing them on your skin is not going to help you with sun damage or with frigid conditions). It also doesn’t help that these miracle plants are present in such tiny amounts, and the jar packaging won’t keep any of the token amount of antioxidants stable during use. This is definitely more ordinary than ultra for normal to dry skin.”
In a 2013 review in TruthInAging.com, the writer Marta didn’t have much love for the Ultra Facial Cream, citing ingredients such as the preservatives phenoxyethanol and chlorphenesin; two parabens; and sodium hydroxide, which is highly caustic, according to EWG SkinDeep Cosmetics Database. It’s important to note that Kiehl’s is in the process of removing parabens from all its products. The writer called it “a chemical waste…If Kiehl’s was a place it would be – thanks to its brilliant marketing – a pristine fishing town in Maine. In my view, however, Kiehl’s is more akin to Staten Island, the site of New York City’s landfill.”
The Canadian based writer behind the blog PolishedandInspired reviewed the Ultra Facial Cream in 2017. She noted that she normally wears a heavier cream in the winter and was worried it wouldn’t be hydrating enough. “However, I found it to be very moisturizing, even on my very dry skin, in the dead of winter. There were many brutall[y] cold (aka -30+ degree Celsius) days this year, and my skin came out it all in one piece. I never wear the same day and night cream, so I was surprised when I was able to use this as a universal cream for day or night…”
Her conclusion? “Although I find this cream moisturizing, I would say that I don’t think it keeps your face moisturized for a full 24 hours. I definitely have to apply it once in the morning and once in the evening; when I wake up in the morning, my face doesn’t feel like it can go a full day without me putting any cream on.”
Customer feedback on Sephora.com is largely positive. The Ultra Facial Cream gets a 4.3 out of 5 star rating, based on more than 800 reviews and 70,000 “loves.” Customers who love it, like Bripriya, wrote, “Best bang for your buck! This cream has saved my skin. I used to have cystic acne and my skin is very oily. This cream is the only cream that does not break me out and is hydrating in a non-greasy way. The big jar lasts me an entire year and I only use it in the morning. Best Buy!” The LittleHill called it a “winter must have for combination skin. I have used several moisturizers over the years to find one that would hydrated my skin, not clogged my pores, but most importantly not cause further acne. I mainly suffer from hormonal breakouts around my chin and forehead. This does not cause anymore breakouts than I already get which says a lot for my skin. This is amazing even for my combination/acne prone skin.”
Sephora customers who didn’t like it as much as said it was “just ok”, like Mmartin920, or “wanted to love it,” like Lashcurls, who wrote “It felt like a dream to put on, the consistency and the way it effortlessly absorbed into my skin felt incredibly luxurious. I’ve tried it multiple times now and have confirmed that it makes me break out in tiny bumps after a few days every time I use it.”
What Are Some Alternatives to Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream?
Ultra Facial Cream may not work for you, or perhaps it does nothing for your skin. Consider Formulyst, whose philosophy is long-term and effective skincare. The brand wants to help its customers achieve their best looking skin, rather than covering it up with makeup.
To keep skin plumped, hydrated and dewy looking, one of the most effective ingredients is hyaluronic acid. It occurs naturally in the body (including eyeballs and skin), and it can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. Formulyst Super Hyaluronic Water Moisturize is an oil free formula packed with multiple types of hyaluronic acid and it works as a moisture magnet by drawing water to the skin.
The Ultra Light Gel Moisturizer is formulated to provide deep hydration with a feather light texture, while also protecting it from environmental damage. The lightweight gel is designed for dull aging skin, and leaves it looking nourished and glowing. The Ultra Light Gel Moisturizer helps smooth and brighten the skin, thanks to cloudberry and vitamins A, C and E. Snow algae extract works to support skin cell’s natural resilience against damaging free radicals.