I spend too much time talking about how “old” I am, when, at 38, I’m really not. But girls of a certain late-30s age know that we occupy a unique space in the ageing spectrum — while we’re hardly at death’s door, we’re definitely not young anymore. Some of us who have ignored our skin for decades — and done downright abusive things like smoke, de-prioritise sleep, consume excessive amounts of sugar, and willingly cultivated sun damage (*raised hand*) — are realising that our skin is changing. And if you’re a 38-year-old woman looking to turn back back tiiiooome just a little bit, you’ve probably heard of Augustinus Bader.
The science-backed skincare brand was founded in 2017, but news of its power traveled to me organically through an active group chat comprised of my five best friends from high school, where topics like family, the Kardashians, and skincare are bandied about. When the Augustinus Bader discussion first surfaced, before-and-after selfies were shared over iMessage, showing a remarkable change in my friends’ skin texture, tone, and overall brightness. (My friends also communicated alarm about the price tags — most products are in the £100s and £200s or more.) Before long, the brand started popping up in other places — on social media, at trusted beauty retailers like Sephora, and right here on Refinery29, always accompanied by glowing accounts of how its suite of products had the ability to completely overhaul skin. Especially now the biggest offering of The Cream was just unveiled: 100ml for an eye-popping £430. Sure, it could be the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon at play, but my curiosity was definitely tickled. How could a brand so expensive have so many fans? I can only imagine it must be worth something.
So, after hearing all of this chatter for years (and watching my skin succumb with increasing speed to a chronic lack of sleep, collagen, and general care), I decided to find out the truth for myself. Read on for my honest review five of the brand’s capital-P pricy products: The Cream, £430, The Serum, £290, TheFace Oil, £195, The Essence, £70, and The Lip Balm, £32 — adding up to a grand total of £1017 in value.
I really put the stuff to the test. Over a roughly a month period that I used the mix of products, I was not very kind to my skin: I moved house, got food poisoning, slept very little, got my period, ate lots of pizza, drank a lot of beer and continued to not wear sunscreen. Basically, my face should have disintegrated by now — but instead, my co-workers are commenting (both on Zoom and IRL) that my skin looks better and that I have a bit of a glow. So, what did I think after test-driving five worth of skincare products engineered by a German science professor? Read on to find out.
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About Augustinus Bader & the hype behind the brand
Augustinus Bader (the person) famously spent most of his career working with burn victims, researching and innovating ways to heal skin that had been damaged by exposure to fire — and in 2008, after decades of experimenting, one significant breakthrough set the stage for his skincare brand. “Professor Bader developed a groundbreaking ‘Wound Gel’ that promotes the natural self-repair of traumatic wounds at a cellular level,” reads a lengthy summary on the brand’s website. “[The gel] functions by carrying a set of healing signals to the site of an injury, which, in turn, catalyses a response from damaged skin cells and facilitates an expedited, automated restoration process.” The bio-technology that fuelled this gel paved the way for TFC8 (“Trigger Factor Complex”), a potent blend of “natural amino acids, high-grade vitamins and synthesised molecules naturally found in skin” and the active ingredient in many Augustinus Bader products. Previously, former R29 deputy beauty director Rachel Krause explained that the “proprietary blend of ingredients forms an ‘activation signal’ that tells your own dormant cells what to do, [giving] your body what it needs to self-regulate and heal, resulting in healthier, renewed-looking skin regardless of what you started with.”
The hype surrounding “AB,” as many devotees refer to it online, is not to be fucked with. Beauty director Sara Tan explained that the brand’s “very expensive but very good Serum […] has truly changed my skin texture,” and Krause described a “feeling of dread” when her supply of The Rich Cream began to dwindle. “Absolutely in love” exclaimed a Cult Beauty reviewer of The Essence, the brand’s exfoliant-toner combo. “[I]n my opinion, totally worth the splurge.” One friend on my group text describes The Cream as “a light filter”, noting the “immediate impact — the first time you put it on you notice a lighter, smoother complexion.” After receiving a sample in a beauty advent calendar, Most Wanted editor Marshall Bright explained that when “used alone on clean skin, I also felt like I woke up with more of a glow. I was so smitten with it I eventually bought a full-sized bottle on sale last year.”
My reviews of Augustinus Bader skincare
The night before I started my skincare journey, I actually got about 7 hours of sleep, but I still woke up needing some help — my notes from that day describe my skin as “literally grey.” I wasn’t sure which product to start with, so I dove in with The Cream, the hottest topic of my group chat and Augustinus Bader’s unequivocal best-seller. On the brand’s site, this has over 220 five-star reviews and many commenters praise its almost-instant skin-brightening and smoothing effects. Along with TFC8, The Cream is packed with vitamins (A, C, and B5), anti-inflammatory hydrolysed rice protein, and potent classics like aloe vera and shea butter — a blend that promises to deliver healthier-looking, “energised” and radiant skin.
I applied two pumps, which is the amount that’s recommended in the instruction manual that accompanies the box. The texture was very light and very thin for a moisturiser that I expected to be ultra-hydrating. That day, I noticed that my skin looked a little better on a Google hangout — but was it advantageous lighting and the placebo effect of a £430 moisturiser? The next day, feeling frisky, I boldly followed my application of the Cream with the Saie Tinted Moisturiser. The two products combined nicely, and while it felt like I am putting on a lot of STUFF on my face (I’m not really a makeup person), I forgot it was there after a while. Don’t know if it was the Cream or the Saie Moisturiser, but my skin was noticeably brighter. I monitored my reflection closely as I used this product in subsequent days, I have to say that my face definitely started looking … different. It’s hard to describe, but I’d liken it to the quality I notice when I am ovulating or when I’ve had a REALLY good night’s sleep — my skin just looks brighter, smoother, more even and healthier.
While I have no evening skincare routine to speak of and usually fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day, I tried to leave my comfort zone one night by washing my face and applying some product before bed — and I nominated The Face Oil to help me with this task. Here, the TFC8 is infused with a blend of nutrient-rich nut oils like babassu, argan, and hazelnut. In my typical abusive fashion, I cleansed with a foaming hand soap and a slightly mildewy washcloth in my bathroom, leaving my skin a little damp and using the Face Oil’s high-tech dropper to apply the product. You have to press a button at the top of the cap to dispense the product, which took me just a little too long to figure out. One thing I noticed (and liked) immediately is that Augustinus Bader’s formulation seemed to absorb really fast — not what I am used to from the face oils I’ve used in the past.
The following day was less successful: I applied the oil in the morning, didn’t wash my face that night, and woke up with a huge spot on the side of my mouth. Not sure if it was the product, the stress of moving, or chronic lack of sleep, but I may have gone overboard with this one. A reviewer on Bluemercury described a similar experience: “Initially, I had a reaction to the oil, however, it was brought to my attention that I was applying it too liberally. When I cut back, the results were remarkable. It lessened the wrinkles in my skin and actually, I’ve noticed a “‘lifted effect’ in the chin area. Ladies, I am in my 60s so this is a pronounced change. I absolutely love this product, and I have the entire line.” Taking this advice, I then cut down on my oil usage and my skin soon cleared up. Now I can just enjoy how soft and supple this stuff makes my face feel. Do I think its worth almost £200 though? Honestly no, I reckon you get the same effect from far cheaper face oils like ESPA’s Optimal Skin Rejuvenating Night Booster.
Considering all the reviews of this, I was very excited to try it. “What an amazing product — but for the price, it should be,” remarked a customer on SpaceNK. “Just a tiny dab of this light, un-fragranced serum in the evenings keeps my skin looking so fresh, rested, clear and bright — it almost sparkles.” Another SpaceNK reviewer echoed the sentiment, explaining that the product “sinks into the skin quickly and layers well with other skincare (especially the [Augustinus Bader] moisturiser). Have had compliments on my skin and makeup and I’m sure it’s down to this serum. Like golden elixir! Cherishing every drop.” A Sephora reviewer summed it up nicely: “BOUGIE skin care coming in hot!”
Note: you don’t simply open this £290 serum — you unsheath it (let that sink in). The gilded, test-tube-shaped vessel that houses the product (pictured here) is about the size of a cigar, but because the bottom is rounded. It’s equipped with a translucent blue glass holster that allows it to sit upright in your medicine cabinet, doubling its footprint and making the act of application akin to removing a treasured artefact from its display case.
This was by far my favourite product and the one that I used the most consistently. Not only was it the most expensive and insanely-packaged item in the haul I was afforded, but it’s also one of the most powerful products in the Augustinus Bader arsenal. Along with TFC8, it contains a blend of rice bran oil, vitamin C, squalene, edelweiss, and pomegranate seed extracts. While the brand recommends using The Serum to target specific areas — something that reviewer testimonials support — I didn’t read the instruction super carefully and just slathered the stuff all over my face every other day or so. Not only did my skin feel much softer to the touch almost immediately, but it also maintained a “clean” feeling for much longer. I’d go without washing my face for a day or two after applying the serum and it never felt oily, dull, or dirty, even though I felt oily, dull and dirty in person (the joys of moving house, ey?).
The brand’s hybrid toner contains all the acids — phytic, salicylic, hyaluronic — and gluconolacctone for a unique product that’s “part exfoliant, part toner, part hydrating essence”, according to the brand. Per the instructions, I patted the product into cleansed, dry skin (I used bar soap this time) with my fingertips before bed one night. The texture was thin and watery in a way I’d expect a toner to be and left a slightly tacky after-feel on my fingers and a smooth finish on my face. I didn’t follow up with anything else — was I supposed to? — to let the Essence do its thing. Normally, if I don’t moisturise immediately after washing my face, my skin feels uncomfortably tight and dry. While the toner didn’t leave me feeling ultra-hydrated per se, I didn’t feel overly dry, either. I didn’t notice a huge difference in my face the following morning, but I looked well-rested and bright-eyed despite the paltry three hours of sleep I’d caught the night before, and my skin felt smooth and soft.
I liked the results a lot but wasn’t sure how the Essence might fit into my routine. To understand why someone might need the Essence in addition to (or in lieu of) other products from the line, I tapped Most Wanted beauty and wellness writer Karina Hoshikawa. She explained that the Essence is actually her “favourite Augustinus Bader product.” It’s essentially a hydrating water,” she shared, “perfect for “someone like me who is oily and doesn’t need something as intense as the Cream or the Rich Cream.”
Sounds strange to say but I was excited about The Lip Balm. Here was something firmly within my comfort zone: a pint-sized luxury that I could potentially afford to re-buy. Boasting a plant-derived, lip-enhancing ingredient blend, vitamin E, quick-absorbing candelilla wax, conditioning shea butter, and bisabolol to protect the skin barrier, it seemed like a makeup-bag no-brainer. Applying the balm felt good when first on — it wasn’t as oily or greasy as the drugstore products I normally use, with a little of that tight feeling that some balms can impart. But I also found my lips drying out quickly and that I needed to reapply often — probably because I’m one of those people who abused Chapstick growing up and the microbiome of my lips is permanently altered. I did stop using this after a few days and reverted back to my trusty Vaseline instead which, I think, works so much better and is so much cheaper.
For anyone who made it this far, here are my final thoughts. First and foremost, the line worked for me. While there are certain products that I wouldn’t return to based the lack of impact (the Lip Balm or Face Oil, for example), using multiple Augustinus Bader products consistently for four-ish weeks (especially heavy hitters like the Cream and the Serum) made my skin look much better than it has in years and feel nicer than it’s ever felt, full stop. I suspect that this is in part thanks to my extraordinarily lo-fi approach to skin care all these years. Thanks to years of neglect, my face is primed for anything that’s even a little bit effective, so the application of a results-driven product has an immediately transformative effect. I suspect that if you’re a skincare savant who’s been savvily using retinol or other “actives” for years, you may not feel the effects as immediately, but for someone like me who’s making up for lost time, Augustinus Bader does the trick.
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