The French have a reputation for hauteur, particularly (and perhaps rightfully so) when it comes to their substantial contributions to what one might consider the finer things in life: decadent food, sophisticated style, wines aged to perfection. Like Camembert and Champagne, kouign-amann and croquembouche, luxury skin care has historically fallen under the umbrella of "things the French do best." Heritage brands like Lancôme, Guerlain, Clarins, and Sisley have long cornered that market — but in 2018, an unexpected, decidedly non-Gallic name joined the who's-who of the high-end fray.
Augustinus Bader came by way of Germany and, with its tall, bold blue packaging and firm focus on science vs. sex appeal, quickly became one of those fabled things like Biologique Recherche's P50 or SkinCeuticals' C E Ferulic: a product with a price that might seem astronomical to the average individual but earns rave reviews from celebrities (Melanie Griffith, Victoria Beckham, Diane Kruger, Naomi Campbell, and more) and industry heavyweights for whom money is no object (or, in the case of beauty editors who receive free press samples, simply doesn't factor into the equation). Before long, the blue bottle emblazoned with the name of its founder and formulator was everywhere.
That name, Augustinus Bader, had never previously been associated with beauty. Rather, Professor Bader is the head of stem cell research at the University of Leipzig, where he's spent decades working toward his mission of perfecting the healing process to help burn victims, particularly children with traumatic injuries. To Professor Bader, his eponymous brand is a means to an end: to generate revenue to finance his scientific research, so that he can develop new stem-cell technologies and treatments for those in need.
In 2008, Bader formulated a groundbreaking topical gel that was shown to heal third-degree burns in children without surgery or skin grafts, but he struggled to fund the clinical trials necessary to bring it to market. "It took me three years to convince Augustinus to follow me into this adventure of launching a skin-care product," says Charles Rosier, a financier-turned-beauty entrepreneur and the brand's co-founder and CEO. "These trials cost tens of millions of dollars, and Augustinus is a university professor." Launching a line of consumer products, with Rosier's assistance, would bring Professor Bader one step closer to financing it.
Of course, this couldn't be just any cream. This was Augustinus Bader's The Cream, and its slightly heavier-weight companion The Rich Cream, two advanced moisturisers that seem to have grown their following and reputation as "the cream that works" strictly through word of mouth. (The Body Cream, which launched last July, enjoys the same status for everything below the neck.) In skin care, what it means for a product to "work" is almost entirely subjective; what works for one person may not for another. But anecdotally from those who swear by it, The Cream acts as a kind of panacea, albeit a pricy one. If you have fine lines, it smooths them; if you have dryness, it treats it; if you have acne, it clears it up.
That's because, rather than crafting a list of ingredients engineered to treat individual skin types, the function goes back to Bader's roots: stem cells. Trigger Factor Complex, or TFC8, found in all of the brand's products — alongside replenishing oils and plant-based antioxidants — is a patented technology comprised of amino acids, vitamins, and peptides. The proprietary blend of ingredients forms an "activation signal" that tells your own dormant cells what to do. "It helps your skin to be the best skin you can have, based on your own genetic code," Bader says. He likens the function of the products to a "tool box" of sorts: TFC8 gives your body what it needs to self-regulate and heal, resulting in healthier, renewed-looking skin regardless of what you started with.
We, the vain, benefit from Professor Bader's 30+ years of research with every £205 50 ml bottle — but so do the communities he's committed to helping. In addition to continuing to fund extensive research into burn and wound repair, the Augustinus Bader brand oversees a number of philanthropic initiatives. Its response to COVID-19 has been particularly robust: In April, the brand announced a charitable rollout of 12,000 full-sized creams to health-care workers suffering from red, chapped skin as a result of wearing masks for hours on end. This month, the focus pivoted to hand care, first by donating 60,000 tubes of hand sanitiser to consumers and frontline workers alike, and now with its latest permanent launch, The Hand Treatment.
At $50 (£40), The Hand Treatment isn't the cheapest choice for dry hands, but Bader is adamant that it be seen as more than a luxury beauty product: This particular shea butter-based formula was launched with health-care workers — who are experiencing dry, cracked, and even bloodied hands as a result of constant washing — in mind. Of course, it wouldn't be an Augustinus Bader cream without TFC8 to provide the healing and reparative benefits that have made the brand so influential.
There's no accent aigu, no gilded spoon or heavy, expensive-feeling jar, and The Cream certainly doesn't smell like a spa day. But it's safe to say that, with products that simply work and a charitable backbone that makes you feel like you're spending your money in the right place, the Augustinus Bader brand has secured its seat in the luxury skin-care hall of greats. Your move, France.
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