From Seaweed To Swanky: A Riveting Look At The Making Of Crème De La Mer

Call us beauty geeks, but we're endlessly fascinated by the origin stories of some of our favorite products. Take Crème de La Mer, for instance: Long considered the epitome of extravagance in skin care, thanks to its cha-ching price tag of $150 per ounce, the luxe potion actually owes all its miracle-working powers to a humble piece of kelp.
We took a trip to the remote (we're talking a plane ride, two helicopter trips, and a boat ride here, people) Canadian location where this magical sea plant is harvested. The land, owned and farmed by the area's indigenous First Nations People is home to a particularly nutritious breed of kelp that is the basis of the brand's legendary Miracle Broth. Click through for some snaps from our trip, more surprising facts on how this decadent moisturizer gets made, and a peek at the latest incarnation of the creme that's coming to a counter near you, very soon.
Photos: By Jer Crowle, Courtesy of La Mer
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A passel of beauty editors, bloggers, and influencers, including our very own senior beauty editor, Megan McIntyre, embarked from Vancouver via helicopter to get a firsthand look at how Creme de La Mer is really made.

Photographed by Jer Crowle/Courtesy of La Mer
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The area in British Columbia where this kelp comes from — off the coast of Vancouver Island — is very remote, accessible only by air or sea.

Photographed by Jer Crowle/Courtesy of La Mer
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Andy Bevacqua, chief scientist for La Mer's Max Huber Research labs, is the man responsible for unlocking the great scientists' notes for recreating the top-secret formula. Huber, who created the Creme almost a half a century ago as a remedy for his severely burned skin, left the formula to his children when he died, but none of them were able to precisely replicate the process.

Bevacqua, a scientist for Estée Lauder, which purchased the brand back in 1995, set to work deciphering the code. It took him years, but he finally mastered the tricky process, which involves combining sea kelp, vitamins and minerals, citrus oil, eucalyptus, wheat germ, alfalfa, and sunflower in a biofermentation process.

Simple enough, right? Not so much: Huber also would blast his so-called Miracle Broth with sound waves, a branch of science called sonochemistry, in which certain wavelengths of sound can actually affect or even cause chemical reactions. This integral step was the magic key that made everything click together to create the Miracle Broth.

Photographed by Jer Crowle/Courtesy of La Mer
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This is what $8,000 of Miracle Broth looks like. Yeah, we thought it'd look a little more extravagant, too. Where's the diamond cap and gold-leaf label?

Photographed by Jer Crowle/Courtesy of La Mer
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Here you see the harvest in action. The land is owned by Canada's First Nations People, who harvest and then sell the kelp to the company. The kelp grows on long stems that reach to the ocean floor. The two-man team takes their boat out and hand cuts the kelp off, leaving the stalks intact so that they stay alive and can continue to produce more kelp leaves.

While it would be easier and more cost-efficient to just drag up the kelp stalks and remove the leaves that way, this would cause the kelp not to grow back and basically destroy an entire eco-system — myriad sea creature depend on this plant for survival.

This eco-friendly method of hand-harvesting, along with the complex biofermentation process, and the hand-packaging of the product, are just a few of the reasons Creme de La Mer carries that hefty price tag.

Photographed by Jer Crowle/Courtesy of La Mer
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So what's so special about this seaweed? According to Bevacqua, you need to think of your skin like a battery: It has positively- and negatively-charged ions, which get depleted over time. The negative ions gravitate toward the surface, while the positive ones remain deeper in the skin. The movement of these ions creates a type of electrical energy, which the skin needs to perform its daily reparative and protective functions.

As we age, get stressed out, or damage our skin, the ions lose their charge and the energy becomes stagnant, meaning our skin can't optimally function. The kelp-based Miracle Broth acts as a charging station, re-establishing the correct circuits so that these positive and negative ions continue to flow where they are meant to, helping the skin to better perform its duties of hydrating and healing.

The kelp we got the chance to handle had been harvested a few days earlier and as such, the nutrients had started to leach out, creating a slimy residue that Bevacqua lovingly referred to as kelp snot. Our senior beauty editor daringly rubbed a bit of this slick stuff on the back of her hands and immediately noticed a difference in her skin. The residue sunk into the skin on the back of her hand instantly and made it look brighter and feel baby-soft to the touch. She tried to convince Bevacqua to let her have a few stalks to wrap herself up in, mummy-style, but he sadly quashed her DIY spa dreams, on the spot.

Photographed by Jer Crowle/Courtesy of La Mer
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The result of all the sonic waves, skin batteries, hand-harvesting, and kelp snot is that high-priced cult cream coveted by red carpet fixtures and average Janes alike. Currently Crème is available in four different varieties — same core ingredients, different application texture — but this fall that number will hit five with the introduction of The Moisturizing Soft Cream.

The newest addition to the La Mer family features the richness of the original Crème de La Mer, but in a weightless, quickly absorbed formula. It uses moisturizing spheres, which are made up of layers of the Miracle Broth and the brand's exclusive Lime Tea extract, that are sandwiched between multi-layered emollient spheres held together by delicate cohesive bonds. When the cream is rubbed on the skin, the bonds break, releasing the spheres and allowing them to penetrate into the skin, delivering the Miracle Broth and Lime Tea extract deep into the skin, layer by layer, for optimum moisture. Science!

The Soft Cream is a great option for those who find the original Creme to be too heavy, but need more moisture than the Gel Cream can offer. Bevacqua cautioned us that no matter the formula you prefer, you have to be sure you are applying it correctly. That means you put it in the palm of your hands first, rub them together to warm up the cream, then pat onto the face. If you apply the product to your skin without warming it up first, you'll get too much on your skin, and it won't penetrate as well. And always pat, don't rub face creams in, Bevacqua says. "Rubbing or tugging your skin creates micro-tears that will cause damage over time," he warns.

We like the tip that a member of the brand's media relations team swears by: She would use the product as a treatment mask at night, patting it onto the skin in a thick layer, but without actually rubbing it in. The thick layer absorbs overnight and visibly plumps up skin upon waking in the morning. She also recommends doing this to parched lips for an instantly plush pout.

La Mer The Moisturizing Soft Cream, $150, available for pre-order at Nordstrom.

Photo: Courtesy of La Mer