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Is Lotion P50 the Best Beauty Product of All Time?

All about French cult-beauty brand Biologique Recherche's best-kept skincare secret.

Have you heard about the cult of P50?

In an age where almost every beauty item imaginable is available at the corner drugstore or with a click of the mouse, Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 is one of the few TRUE cult-beauty products to get excited about.

It's still hard to find, it's hugely hyped and quite possibly, it could change your life.

That's right. called it "life-changing." Facialists have told Vogue it's "a miracle in a bottle." And a few years back, Allure named Lotion P50 number one on their list of the best beauty products of all time. Celebrity fans include Madonna, Nicole Richie, Sharon Stone and Brad Pitt. (Of course Brad Pitt has a fancy skincare regimen.)

You're interested now, yes? And I have even better news: Lotion P50 is finally sold in Canada! (This is a big deal, because when I first tried the stuff, back in 2007 or 2008 when I was at ELLE Canada, I became so obsessed that I sent a friend on a wild-goose chase through Paris to replenish my supply. Alas, no luck—you need to have a personal consultation even to buy it. But more on that in a sec.)

First, let's talk about why this product makes editors, celebs and skincare junkies go bananas.

What is Lotion P50?

It's not a lotion. And it's not really a toner, although I suppose that's the closest category you could place it in. It's more of a hybrid, a clear liquid that exfoliates and balances all skin types. You're meant to use it twice a day, after cleansing and before moisturizer and makeup.

A couple drops are all that's needed, applied on a cotton pad (like my trusty Shiseido Facial Cotton). They say to start with a damp cotton pad and to rinse it off after application, but as your skin gets used to it, you can apply it with a dry pad and just leave it on your skin. You may get a "tingle" and some redness at first, but that should subside within a few minutes, and provided you're using the right strength, stop happening altogether after a few days.

When you first open a bottle, you WILL notice the smell. It's not unpleasant... but it's definitely "unique." The ingredients include witch hazel, myrrh extract, sage extract... and onion extract. But rather than being stinky, I just find it a bit medicinal. You do get used to it over time.

There are three* versions of P50:

And this is why they make you have a skin consult before you can even buy one.

  • Lotion P50 is the strongest one, good for oilier and what they call "hyper-keratinized" skin conditions.
  • Lotion P50V (for vitamin-enriched) is more for mature skin types, and contains ingredients that help lighten discolourations.
  • Lotion P50W (no idea what the W stands for) is the sensitive one. This is where they'll most likely start you, and then if you skin can handle the product, you may be able to move up to the stronger regular P50 over time.

* Actually, I lied. There is a fourth, Lotion P50 1970. This is the original formula, but to my knowledge it's not sold in certain countries, including Canada, because it contains phenol (a numbing antiseptic that has some safety concerns). I somehow received a bottle of the 1970 P50 in my ELLE days, and I can attest to the fact that yes, it's VERY strong, and your face does go temporarily numb!

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From The Skincare Edit Archives

What's in Lotion P50?

Here's the ingredients list:

Lotion P50: Water (Aqua), Gluconolactone, Lactic Acid, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Niacinamide, Citric Acid, Ethoxydiglycol, Magnesium Chloride, Malic Acid, Vinegar (Acetum), Phytic Acid, Salicylic Acid, Cochlearia Armoracia (Horseradish) Root Extract, Arctium Lappa Root (Burdock Root) Extract, Rumex Acetosa Leaf Extract, Myrtus Communis Extract, Commiphora Myrrha Resin Extract, Allium Cepa (Onion) Bulb Extract, Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Flower/Leaf Oil, Sulfur, Sorbitol, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate.

The difference with P50W is that it has added arnica extract; P50V has added natural sponge, yeast and walnut extracts.

And here's how that compares to the original:

Lotion P50 1970: Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Phenol, Niacinamide, Vinegar (Acetum), Ethoxydiglycol, Magnesium Chloride, Lactic Acid, Arctium Lappa Root (Burdock Root) Extract, Salicylic Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Sulfur.

Note that original doesn't mean "better". I think the newer formulas are an improvement, delivering the same amazing results with less irritation. Speaking of results...

How Does Lotion P50 Change Your Skin?

Let me share with you some Instagram comments about P5oW from FASHION's beauty director, Lesa Hannah:

Take what she's saying very seriously folks, because I've NEVER heard Lesa say such complimentary things about a beauty product. Her bar is high.

And I agree with her! Most skincare products (with the exception of Retin-A, which doesn't count since it's prescription) simply don't do very much. Lotion P50 isn't loved because it's hard to get—although that certainly adds to its mystique. People love it because it produces results. Period.

What results? Well, let me summarize:

  • Acneic and oily skin: Like Lesa mentioned, it kills off zits like nobody's business. I would most definitely recommend it for anyone who suffers from annoying breakouts. It's very possible that P50 could be the thing that keeps them under control. Some people even say it minimizes oil production and pore size.
  • Discoloured and dull skin: I've personally noticed an additional benefit of those reddish/purplish post-acne pigmentation marks fading away much faster. Makes sense, since the product is speeding up the skin's turnover. As a result, it's just giving you that extra boost to make your skin look more bright and even-toned.
  • Dry or aging skin: P50 isn't just an acne product. It's fantastic for dry or mature skin types, too, because it sloughs off dead skin cells and gets a glowier, smoother texture going. That way, your skin absorbs more of what you put on next, therefore improving hydration. (Or the penetration of anti-aging topicals, if you use them.)

Besides its cool cocktail of acids, I think the fact that it contains niacinamide is pretty awesome, too, as that's an amazing ingredient for skin tone, elasticity and barrier repair.

The bottom line: This is the rare, one-in-a-million skincare product where it becomes kind of impossible to live without it. Once you go P50, I don't think you go back!

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