so what’s the deal with biologique recherche?

Sometimes there’s just a little buzz at the edge of your perception, a little noise alerting you to the prospect of something important slightly beyond. That’s how it was for me and Biologique Recherché. A casual mention of “BR P50” on a website, piquing interest in the form of an informal acronym that basically implies if you’re anyone, you’ll know what this is, DUH. Thank you, Google, for saving me from my own ineptitude.

So once I learned it’s only available from, like, two websites, smells atrocious, and makes your face numb after using it, of course I HAD TO HAVE IT. Wait, you’re saying, what is “it”? (Name that tune!) Turns out it’s some “acid toner”, basically a chemical exfoliant, which comes in multiple formulas since the original was banned in the UK or some nonsense. One website actually referred to it as “Jesus in a bottle”. Okay, then. SOLD. I ordered a big bottle of it, making sure it was the original, most carcinogenic formula (the P50 1970) and waited with baited breath for its arrival.

I knew this version was (in)famous for having phenol in it. I couldn’t remember what phenol smelled like, until I cracked open the bottle and took a whiff. Have you ever taken high school biology?


Holy. crap. This magic fluid smells like goddamn HIGH SCHOOL BIOLOGY. I can’t imagine being immediately transported back in time by a smell more profoundly than this besides, like, the cologne your first boyfriend wore. I was instantly surrounded by pickled small animals of lesser taxonomic class than ours pinned into wax-lined trays, crudely dissected by a bunch of disinterested teenagers. (I am totally pouring some out now for the various creatures that had to suffer in the name of my education. Sorry, little dudes.) So here I am, awash in pickled frog memories, about to wipe pat this noxious shit on my face. I brace myself for the burn. Oh yes, it burns. Yes, your face goes numb. It smells to high holy hell, and the fumes waft upwards to irritate your eyes. At this point, you can’t help but wonder what the fuck is wrong with you to make you think this was a wise decision.

Because I am a trooper, I stick with it. Twice a day, after cleansing, with the recommended 10-minute window of nothing to allow the acids to neutralize or some shit. My bathroom garbage can, with its P50-soaked cotton pads, becomes the biggest fire hazard in the house. After a few weeks, my skin looks… nice. Not like the second coming of Jesus, they-just-trimmed-my-umbilical-cord-before-I-climbed-this-yacht-in-Cannes amazing, but good. I feel like my skin is a little brighter, more smooth, more luminous. I never suffer from retaliatory pimples, rashes, redness, or dryness. It’s sort of like post-Good Genes, slightly less amazing, but for a lot less moolah.

So is this mysterious BR P50 1970 worth the hype? I’m not sure I buy the hooey about “pH balancing”, but no doubt it is an excellent exfoliant; it contains lactic acid, just like Good Genes does. The addition of sulphur makes it excellent for acne-prone skin. Comparatively, it’s not going to break the bank; you can get a little travel size to try out for less than thirty bucks. There’s nothing else just like it on the market that I’m aware of. What do you have to lose. Come on. All the cool kids are doing it.

I washed my face about eight hours ago. No makeup. No filters. Just a quick selfie while writing this so you can see I am not totally full of shit.

15 thoughts on “so what’s the deal with biologique recherche?

  1. I dissected fetal pigs in high school. Ah, memories. I got genetically lucky and have pretty good skin, so I’m always afraid to try new things on my face, but I may have to give this a shot. I can tell your blog is going to be a problem for the product junkie in me that I try to keep hidden.


  2. Is it better than Good Genes? I currently use Good Genes and Pixi’s Glow Tonic, which is supposed to be a BR P50 knockoff.


    1. Well, I think it’s a slightly different product, and they have very different marketing angles. P50’s sulphur is going to make it especially useful for acne-prone skin. It’s also significantly less expensive than Good Genes. However, Good Genes can multitask as a treatment or a mask, and it doesn’t smell like a research laboratory. I will say that one GG mask makes my skin look better than three weeks of P50. But who knows, since I was already regularly chemically exfoliating with GG and other products, how much benefit could I really expect from P50? If you’re already using GG and the Glow Tonic (which I’ve never tried), I can’t see P50 having some dramatic effect, but maybe it’s worth trying a small bottle next time you run out of the Pixi product.


  3. I have been on the “must have it” bandwagon with P50 for months, but since there appears to be only one place in Australia that sells it and they don’t have online ordering – you have to PHONE THEM UP, (Good God, People) – I have ignored the craving. I recently discovered an obscenely expensive face cream that I can only order from Germany, so that has satisfied the obscure product lust for the time being!


    1. Nothing says “exclusivity” like requiring an actual TELEPHONE CALL for ordering. That is prohibitive and absurd.

      So… About this ridiculous German cream. Tell me more.


  4. Retrouvé, mentioned recently on ITG by Vogue Paris beauty editor, Lili Barbery-Coulon. Immediate attraction…immediate online search. Stocked by Essenza Nobile, who ship to Oz; order placed.


    1. I admire your efficiency! So is the Retrouvé worth it? At that price point it needs to give you the dewy glow of an 18 year old, give you a foot massage, AND do all your dishes. Ouch!


      1. Well, let’s face it, none of these products are worth what we pay for them, and this one is way down at the unicorn tears and fairy wishes end of the skin care continuum, not up at the scientific end, where you hang out; but, yes, I am enjoying it, might even become a repeat purchase, which is unusual for me. We’ll see.


  5. I just adore your lovely blog. After reading your top shelfie I swore I’d spend a wish with a genie on this! Your expertise feels just so trustworthy; reviews of trendy and semi/full luxury skincare on the back of your arsenal of scientific knowledge – it feels like meeting Sacagawea at a bar before I traverse her land for myself. May you never be discouraged to abate!
    Ha that said – Are you familiar with Caroline Hirons? based on the products you frequently adjudicate, I sense it, and if it’s true I’d love to hear how you line up with her own recommendations. (ergo future blog posts when you need inspiration) i.e. your am/pm typical routine, do you mix it up as frequently as she (aka how do you feel about the theory of skin getting “used” to ingredients?), I’m sure theres more – her methods certainly seem to work, but I’ve always speculated the scientificity.
    One more personal question, since I read you use hydroquinone – how do you tend to apply it? I have a prescription and I couple it with an rx retinol in addition to my regular routine but I have not noticed a difference in just over a month (maybe I’m canceling it out with other products?)


    1. Oh, many, many thanks for the kind words! I’m no skincare expert by any stretch of the imagination, nor have I devoted serious time to researching it. As a permanent skeptic I question any and all lofty marketing hype, and by nature I want to learn how things work. Put the two together, and you’ve got one nosy Nellie.

      I have heard of Caroline Hirons, but I can’t recall where or in what context. I just went and checked out her blog, but in the interest of full disclosure I couldn’t get past the first couple of pages on my first go — it’s a little too commercial for my taste, her writing style makes me tired, and there is enough pseudoscience to annoy me. However, I appreciate her directness and her debunking of certain skin myths (even though she perpetuates others). I can do a full spiel about my routines later, but for now I can tell you skin is unlikely to universally “get used” to active ingredients. It would depend on the individual ingredients’ precise mechanism of action, which is often *very* difficult to identify in non-prescription items. I mix it up when I get a new product. :) There is no strategy.

      I use hydroquinone every other night. On the nights I use it: I cleanse (once), tone with P50, and wait a few minutes. Next, I use rx retinol (Atrelin) all over my face, neck, chest, and the backs of my hands. Next, the hydroquinone, but only on trouble spots (pretty much entire forehead, few spots on the cheeks, and my sad haggard décolletage, which hasn’t been looking so hot recently). Next, I seal it all in with a nice juicy layer of La Mer on my cheeks, neck, and chest. If I’m feeling extra indulgent, I’ll add some Rodin oil on top. The T-zone just gets the retinol and hydroquinone on these nights. When I first started using hydroquinone, though, I did use it every night without incident. It takes a long time to see an effect, unfortunately — I wouldn’t expect miracles in a month, or even three — and you need to *religiously* use hardcore sunscreen or you won’t see any benefit. I doubt you’re canceling out its effects with another product.


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