During Paris Fashion Week, Derek Blasberg and Shailene Woodley attended a birthday party for a moisturizer. The cream, by Augustinus Bader (pronounced Bah-der), costs $265 for 50 millimeters and has made plenty of other famous friends in the year since its launch. Ashley Graham and celebrity makeup artist Beau Nelson say they’re obsessed. “My skin craves this,” says Kate Bosworth. Victoria Beckham called it “amazing!” on Instagram. And Sting’s facialist, Joanna Czech, got a little sentimental: “In my 30-plus years, it takes a special cream to excite me,” she said, adding, “This cream is unforgettable.”
A husky 59-year-old German, Bader has no Hollywood connections. He’s never attended a fashion show. He’s not Instagram famous. He doesn’t yet advertise. He’s never even worked in beauty before. But despite lacking the many things that can set up a new beauty brand for success, he’s the eponymous creator of a luxury cream that people are proclaiming “revolutionary” and a “miracle” — the kind of product that throws itself birthday parties in Paris.
Although most brands have moved away from anti-aging language in these politically correct times, Bader has no qualms about it. The website explains that the cream can “visibly reduce the signs of aging and damage caused by environmental stressors, and leave skin looking restored, regenerated and glowing with health.” In other words, it promises to restore the appearance of lost youth, which is still something plenty of people will pay almost $300 for.
Non-celebrities are losing their minds over the stuff, too. After its debut last year, the cream quickly became a best seller. Cassandra Grey, who launched it exclusively at beauty retailer Violet Grey, says it caused a “frenzy,” adding “It was a really overwhelming response.”
The last time a luxury skin-care product came surrounded by this much hype and mystery, it was La Mer, which starts at $85 for just half an ounce and which was produced after consulting a medium. Much like La Mer, Bader’s creation tale involves an enigmatic scientist and a formulation inspired by burn-healing capabilities.
Dr. Augustinus Bader attended medical school in Italy (Università Abbruzese Degli Studi Chieti) and did internships in the U.S., including one at Harvard Medical School in heart surgery. He was working at a fancy medical clinic in Leipzig when he met Charles Rosier, who would become his business partner. Rosier was impressed with Bader’s work with a hydrogel that was supposed to accelerate burn healing and saw an applicable opportunity in skin care.
Fans of Bader’s cream all describe how it works a little differently. “I really think it’s renewing my cells,” said Los Angeles comedy writer and influencer Erin Foster in an Instagram Story.
“It activates dormant stem cells. I looked younger. That’s the easiest way to sell it,” said Grey.
“It’s got a data code that communicates internally with your skin,” says celebrity makeup artist Pati Dubroff.
None of this is entirely accurate, but the confusion is understandable. The cream doesn’t claim to moisturize. It doesn’t appear to involve commonly used ingredients like hyaluronic acid or retinoid. Even the process of using it is mysterious: The cream asks that you remain devoted to it for 27 days, using nothing else (apart from a face cleanser). And asking Dr. Bader to explain how it works feels like talking to a professor of linear algebra when you only know how to add, subtract, and divide.
Bader explains that when you’re young, your cells are whizzing around, creating collagen, but as you get older, your cells get a little tired and create less. Your skin becomes more sensitive to free radicals and environmental stressors, and there’s less and less “repair,” resulting in the signs of aging.
His cream allegedly activates stem cells, boosting them into healing mode. It’s different from microneedling, which stimulates collagen repair by activating the skin’s autoimmune-repair function. “This is about stimulating the everyday turnover that should naturally happen in your skin,” Bader says. “The cream introduces molecules that our skin would need to fix the skin properly.”
The “secret” to the cream is a complex called Trigger Factor Complex, a.k.a. TFC-8 . Bader says that it contains over 40 different ingredients, including vitamins, synthesized molecules, and amino acids.
To better understand how the cream works, I talked to an independent chemist and cosmetic formulator, Stephen Alain Ko. (If this story were The Big Short, this is when Selena Gomez would come out to explain things in laymen’s terms). He directed me to a 2015 cosmetic study, co-authored by Bader, in which a synthesized version of the human protein erythropoietin (rHuEPO) was applied topically to a group of mice with second-degree burns, making them heal faster. More specifically, Alain Ko says, they showed “an improvement in fine lines, a reduction in brown spots and pores, and improvements in the skin’s smoothness” — exactly the sort of effect you might want from an expensive face cream.
Alain Ko suggests that Bader’s cream contains a small bit of the same stuff that enabled the burned mice to heal more quickly. The company holds patents covering the usage of erythropoietin. “The Augustinus Bader products don’t seem to contain erythropoietin, but instead (according to their claims) are either a fragment of it (a peptide fraction of the glycoprotein), or a mixture of peptides that mimic some of erythropoietin’s effects.” He also points out that the cream contains a bunch of other commonly good-for-you skin ingredients including shea butter, panthenol (a form of Vitamin B5), squalane, superoxide dismutase (an antioxidant naturally found in the body), and palmitoyl tripeptide-8, another peptide with supposed calming and soothing effects on the skin. All of this comes packaged in a weighty, blue, plastic cylinder with a magnetic top and a pump mechanism from which you dispense small amounts of the silky, unscented fluid. It’s non-oily to the touch.
Plenty of people swear they’ve seen differences in their skin from using it. “My skin just looked at first like plumper or thicker. It didn’t feel as thin,” says Grey. Connie Wang, Senior Features Writer at Refinery29, said, “My skin texture did actually change. It became more noticeably smoother. Bumps I had along the sides of my chin are gone.”
The cream has its detractors as well. Yana Shept of Instagram beauty review account Gel Cream told me she initially liked the cream (she tried the brand’s thicker version, Rich Cream) and reported that it felt “moisturized and velvet and soft to the touch. I was really happy for two days and then got the worst milia near my eyebrows and nose. It took two weeks to heal.”
I first learned of the cream during Paris Fashion Week when the brand’s publicist invited me to meet Bader and Rosier. For 27 days, I used nothing else apart from face wash and an eye cream. I had a cheek pimple that was a persistent pest for 23 of those days. Rather than pop it or try to make it disappear with a strong clay mask, I let the pimple live the Bader way. I remembered Rosier sending me before/after photos of a young model whose hormonal acne diminished over time with the cream. My pimple lived the life cycle of an emo teen, going from angry to pissed off to mildly irritated. At around day 23, I finally let esthetician Renee Rouleau put it to sleep.
While the Bader cream wasn’t successful in helping get rid of my pimple, I did notice that it made my skin look and feel smooth, even though I wasn’t exfoliating or using any acids. It also seemed somehow “stronger” — which is a weird way to describe your skin. When I’m tired, I think my skin looks a little droopier and shadowy. But with the cream, it looked healthier, sort of like there was a good bra holding things up under it.
Does it really work? It depends. “It’s the hardest thing to answer,” says Linda Wells, founder of Allure and Flesh Beauty, who gave the cream to friends for Christmas. “Your eye cannot measure the depth of a fine line. It’s all fairly subtle. That means it requires a certain amount of faith.”
She suggests that the magic lies in the story — and the price tag. “The origin story is what made me positively inclined to the cream in the first place. It suspends disbelief. It’s peculiar enough so you go for it.” And because it’s so expensive, she adds, people are more likely to adhere to the routine and believe it works. “I don’t expect anything to turn back time, to quote Cher,” she says. “This is not medicine. But I think it’s a really good cream.”