Jesus in a Bottle: The Cult of Biologique Recherche P50

One of the most popular skin care products also contains one of the most controversial ingredients

Cortney Clift
Elemental
Published in
5 min readOct 24, 2019

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Photo illustration (Source: Hulton Archive/Handout/Getty)

InIn theory, an eight-and-a-half ounce beauty product that retails for over $100 should encapsulate the epitome of luxury skincare. Instead, Biologique Recherche’s Lotion P50 has been said to smell like everything from expired milk to formaldehyde to straight-up trash. Writer Jill Kargman even once described the product’s stench as similar to “something you’d pour in your car engine.”

With a decidedly unpleasant scent and extremely basic packaging, Lotion P50 certainly doesn’t have the normal makings of a cult-favorite beauty product. And yet, it has amassed an intense fan base over recent years. Beauty blogs are saturated with prophetic testimonials about how the product has radically changed their skin for the better. Glossier founder Emily Weiss once told Into the Gloss it gives her face an “overall glow like you can’t imagine.”

The product holds a lofty promise: By fully revamping the pH balance of the skin, Lotion P50 aims to shrink pores, hydrate skin, brighten dark spots, even texture, clear acne, and provide a trademark glow. Diana Yerkes, a lead esthetician at Rescue Spa, a luxury day spa that specializes in Biologique Recherche products, claims she can always spot people on the street who use P50. “The forehead just gets that luminous halo,” she says. “That’s why people call it ‘Jesus in a bottle.’”

It turns out the beauty world’s newest obsession is really not that new at all. Biologique Recherche’s original P50 Lotion was first created 40 years ago in France by Yvan and Josette Allouche, a biologist and physiotherapist respectively. The two set out to create a science-backed beauty product that would completely rebuild the surface of the skin. In 1970, the first P50 Lotion was released to a mixed reception. Some scoffed at the harsh smell while others praised its clarifying, anti-aging benefits.

Today, P50 is a general term used to refer to any one of five Biologique Recherche products: P50W (for sensitive skin), P50 PIGM (for hyperpigmentation), P50V (for dry skin), P50 1970 (the original formula), and P50 (a revised version of the original). While all…

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Cortney Clift
Elemental

Cortney Clift is a Brooklyn-based journalist who writes about food, travel, and wellness.