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The wonder that is Noz

Is it really worth paying thirteen times more for a near-identical product? Two facial scrubs I found at a discount store seem near-enough the same.

I took a trip to Noz yesterday - a local discount store. It is enough to make you despair of consumer culture, and the stench of cheap plastic is overwhelming, but if you have the patience to pick through the dross, there is usually a pearl or two worth having.

I usually head straight for makeup and skincare these days. I've given up on clothes (too cheap), food (too risky) and perfume - the only perfumes in stock are cheap rubbish that was made for supermarkets, not even suitable for spraying inside your suitcase. But you can find some bargains in the skincare.

Yesterday, among my finds were:
* Elevation 3196 Crème Exfoliante Pour le Visage à l'Infusion d'Alchémille (3.90 euros for 50ml).
* Elevation 3196 Refuge Baume Réconfortant à l'Infusion de Mauve (2.90 euros for 30ml).
* Fagron Crème Tegen Striemen (99 cents for 100ml).
* Callibelle Gommage Aux Noyaux Abricots (1.20 euros for 100ml), and
* Callibelle Mains Ongles Crème à la Kératine (70 cents for 75ml).

Let's start with the most expensive first. Elevation 3196 is a specialist French firm that sells skincare based on high-altitude plants. The original prices for my goods were 39 euros for the exfoliating cream and 29 euros for the balm, so as you'd expect at this level, both came in glass pots, with shiny silver lids. The cardboard packaging is recycled and contains all the product info, and the company claims to do a full carbon offset. the products are not tested on animals and are NaTrue certified organic.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 4.22.47 PMThe Alchemilla face scrub contains helichrysum hydrolat, which has a reputation for anti-ageing, seaweed, and meadowsweet extract (towards the end of the ingredient list), and artemisia extract (almost at the very end). However, the main body of the product, other than water, is the usual round of glycerin, alcohol, benzoate, etc.

There was, to my surprise, no inner lid - and it IS surprising, not only because the firm is profligate with card packaging (it's double-skinned) but because the product is very liquid and slippery. It consists of tiny grains of something or other (clearly plant-based but from what, I can't personally fathom from the ingredient list). It rubs on nicely and could be used by someone, like me, with sensitive skin and the smell is very faint and slightly, I would say, unpleasant.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 4.24.13 PMThe soothing balm looks and feels like nothing so much as a lip balm, and the ingredient list includes a raft of oils from sunflower, castor, hazelnut, and coconut, along with honey, mallow extract (way down the list) and preservatives. It's pale blue in colour and again, comes in a little glass pot. Given its mainly natural ingredients, it might well make someone a good lip balm, especially if they have kids and are worried about them imbibing nasty ingredients. On skin, it just feels immensely greasy, like Vaseline. I tend to prefer my facial oils in liquid form, but I guess this might be handy to carry in my backpack for trekking in foul weather, but if I'm only to use it for this purpose I'm glad I didn't pay the full 29 euros. Burt's Bees or plain coconut oil would work just as well.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 4.22.01 PMThe Fagron Crème Tegen Striemen (which costs 13.50 euros at full price) was a bit of a punt, as the packaging was in Flemish and French, and used a word - vertegures - with which I was unfamiliar. However, it also promised to be a non-greasy cream that penetrated the skin immediately and I could see the ingredients were headed by almond oil, glycerin, cetearyl alcohol (ie: emulsifying wax) and dimethicone, so I figured that sounded pretty good.

My mystery word turned out to mean stretch marks, LOL, and the ship has long since sailed on that one, but what I've ended up with is an inert white unscented cream, very like E45 cream or aqueous cream BP, which was sealed in the tube by an aluminium sealer, which is something I always like to see. It does make the skin extremely soft but it takes forever to sink in, so I can't see myself using this as a body product except at night when I'm about to climb into PJs - you really couldn't get your tights on after applying this stuff. However, for 99 cents for 100ml, it's a pretty handy product - I will probably use most of it as a night cream.

And so to the two cheapies. Callibelle is a French budget brand and having checked online, I feel my two products were in the discount store because they've changed their packaging. I've shown the new packaging, but mine are in white tubes with single-colour writing, which looks pretty cheap and nasty.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 4.23.09 PMFor the hand cream, the main ingredients are water, glycerin, good old cetearyl alcohol again, stearic acid (from what, we wonder?), palmitic acid, liquid paraffin and dimethicone. Those are pretty good, serious ingredients for a hand-cream, and though I'm less thrilled by the methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) and methylisothiazolinone (MI),  I have no personal qualms about these preservatives, as I'm not allergic to them.

The cream went on softly and was absorbed very quickly, leaving my skin silky soft and - most importantly for a hand cream - matte. The perfume is strong and kind of cheap, and it took ages to fade, so I would probably only use this at night, after putting down my Kindle. Once faded, the smell is clean and pleasant. All in all, a very impressive cream for my 70 cents, though even its full price of 1.50 euros doesn't exactly break the bank (it now comes, however, in a 150ml version for 3 euros, and I'm wondering if the firm has taken the opportunity to reformulate, given the tightening EU regs on MCI and MI).

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 4.23.27 PMMy last product is the Callibelle face scrub with apricot kernels. I used to be a fan of St Ives when I lived in England, and was hoping for something similar. The main ingredients are water and clays such as bentonite and kaolin, pumice, and pineapple, known for its skin-sloughing capabilities, so all of these are good mask/scrub ingredients. Apart from the raft of parabens, all soon to be outlawed, bringing up the rear, it's made from things I might well use myself to make a facial scrub.

A light pink cream with a very pleasant soapy smell (disingenuously labelled 'parfum'), it melted down thinly on my skin, with very fine granules and in fact, felt almost identical to the 3196 product, other than smelling much  nicer. At 1.20 euros for 100ml, it cost less than one sixth of the cost of the 3196 in my discount store, but at full price - 3.00 euros - it's only one thirteenth of the cost. That's a hell of a price differential. I assume, of course, that the firm will phase out the parabens in this product in favour of something else by the end of 2014, but I might actually consider stocking up on this while it's available at discount, given that it is a rinse-off product, where parabens are less of a concern.

Overall, I must say, I'm impressed with the Callibelle and astounded by the expense of the Elevation 3196 for what seem like nice, but not out-of-the-ordinary products. I know their products are organic and therefore more expensive, and the firm has the kind of eco-credentials that I like, but at heart, I think you're really paying for a lot of packaging and a fancy website. And incidentally, Callibelle's owner, LCF, also make the Leclerc own brands, which are probably bought by thousands of French people every day. 

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Quick skincare tip

Here's a quick and gentle way to apply moisturiser

Are you applying your face cream properly?

Forgive me for asking, but I found out recently that I wasn't - after humph-knows-how-many years of slapping the stuff on. 

I have been one of those women who dots it on their forehead, cheeks, nose and throat and then blends it in - well apparently, if you do it this way, you can chronically underhydrate your skin. If you have dry skin, as I increasingly do, what you should do is apply a biggish blob to the palm of one hand, rub it between your palms and then rub your palms over your face, in an upward massaging motion. 

I've been doing this for about a week now and I must say I can see a difference. I am definitely using more product, even allowing for some excess soaking into the skin on my hands, and my skin is also definitely plumper and less dry, particularly in the morning. The cream also seems to settle in a thinner, more even layer, allowing you to apply more later if need be. 

Worth a try, anyhow, especially for those of us who are finding our skins changing and becoming dryer with age. 

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