You’ve probably seen the simple blue jar on your grandma or mom’s vanity or tucked away on the bottom shelf at a drugstore. It looks bland, feels bland, has a bland ingredient list, but its impact on my skin is anything but. Spoiler alert, it’s fantastic.
Nivea Cream Overview
What is it
A creamy rich moisturizer that really locks in hydration and smoothes and softens the skin. The formula dates back to 1911 (it has changed since then, though not by much) and was the first stable oil-and-Water based on cream on the market!
Best suited for
Anyone under 30 looking for a super minimal routine. Normal/combo/oily skin types will enjoy refreshing water-like gel texture. Dry skin types might find it too light.
A plain blue tub or jar or tin, depending on what size you get. Seriously the packaging is a snooze-fest.
Contain artificial fragrance and it smells exactly what you’d expect a 100+ year-old (the recipe, not the cream itself) cream to smell like. A very classic floral scent, you know, the kind of scent you’d get a whiff of if you hugged your grandma. Not strong or offensive at all!
Thick, like butter thick. You need to warm it up before applying it on your face, which you can do by rubbing it between your fingers/palms first.
Depending on how much you use, this can leave a dewy finish. Otherwise it doesn’t pill, doesn’t leave a white cast, and plays well under makeup.
Nivea’s ingredients explained
Full ingredient analysis
We can all agree that there’s truly nothing sexy about these ingredients, right? One in particular has been vilified – Mineral Oil. There’s so much misconception about mineral oil that I need to say this loud and clear:
MINERAL OIL IS NOT EVIL. Cosmetic grade mineral oil is actually one of the safest and non-irritating ingredients available!
All the toxic substances from crude oil (from which mineral oil is derived) are removed during the purification process, and the quality is regulated in the US and EU. It’s also non-comedogenic, but because it’s such an awesome occlusive, any comedogenic or irritating ingredient you apply under mineral oil will get trapped and possibly cause acne.
Another unfortunate victim of fear mongering: Petrolatum, aka. Vaseline. It’s also derived from crude oil and gets the same bad rep as mineral oil, so I’ll say this as well: PETROLATUM IS NOT EVIL. Like Mineral Oil, it’s gentle on the skin and an excellent occlusive.
Some other ingredients to note:
- Microcrystalline Wax – a thickener derived from crude oil and safe to use in skincare.
- Lanolin Alcohol – a fatty alcohol derived from sheep that makes an excellent emollient. Can be comedogenic for some people.
- Paraffin – A thickener derived from crude oil.
- Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MIT) & Methylisothiazolinone – Interestingly they’re the same preservatives used in the $170 Creme de La Mer (more on that below), but they’re also potential skin sensitizers and irritants. Personally I haven’t had any reactions yet, but if you want to avoid them, try the German Nivea Creme.
Now the Nivea Creme does contain panthenol which is great for soothing the skin, but by and large this product does one thing and one thing only – keep your skin moisturized by preventing trans-epedimermal water loss (TEWL) and keeping the hydration locked in your skin.
But don’t all moisturizers do that, and more?
Yes. Nowadays moisturizers not only include occlusive ingredients that keep hydration in, but they also include antioxidants, brightening ingredients, anti-aging ingredients, and all that beautiful stuff we love seeing. BUT!
When it comes to occlusiveness, petrolatum’s abilities are second to none. (source)
Mineral oil, lanolin alcohol, and paraffin are all excellent occlusives as well, making the Nivea Creme more occlusive than your typical moisturizer. The latter usually rely on less “heavy” feeling oils like jojoba, shea butter, or even dimethicones to give that smooth silky feeling we associate with good skin.
For normal/oily skin you can definitely get by with any regular moisturizer, but for those with perpetually thirsty skin or a compromised moisture barrier, you may need something more. *Cue the Nivea Creme*
La Mer vs Nivea
I actually did try a sample of the famous La Mer Cream, and I admit, it’s lovely. For me it performs slightly better than the Nivea Cream, but not nearly enough to justify the difference.
Take quick look at the top 10 ingredients in both the La Mer and Nivea Creme, and you’ll see they use pretty much the same occlusives, but with an outrageous price difference – $170 vs $1 for 1oz! All because La Mer’s ingredients listens to friggin’ Mozart (ok not actually Mozart, but they do play music for it!)
The key ingredient in La Mer is their fermented algae extract (ie. lactobacillus/kelp ferment filtrate), which is not a rare ingredient by any means. They also contain more antioxidants, so I won’t deny that their formula is superior. But again, is it 170% more superior? I personally don’t think so.
If you want to replicate the effects of La Mer, I suggest getting the Nivea and layering it over one of the following products:
- Holy Snails Shark Sauce (30ml for $29) – A hydrating serum with fermented algae extract, 5% niacinamide, licorice root extract, green tea extract, and all these other great ingredients to soothe and brighten the skin!
- Skin Actives Sea Kelp Coral (2oz for $20) – Fermented algae extract in a jar, with a few additional antioxidants like astaxanthin thrown in. Apparently this also makes a great hair mask!
Why and how I use the Nivea
My poor exfoliation habits have left my moisture barrier damaged and me wondering why no sleeping mask or moisturizer I used was ever quite enough. Then I stumbled upon this Reddit thread singing Nivea Creme’s praises, and since it’s only $1, I figured “why not?”
Um, BEST $1 I’ve ever spent on my skin. Now I’m wondering where this has been all my life??
I apply this as the last step in my routine, after my moisturizer/sleeping mask, in order to prevent moisture loss. I’ll scoop up a pea sized amount, rub it between my fingers, and apply that under my eyes and on my cheeks where my skin is driest.
After massaging for a bit the white cast disappears, and I go to sleep. I wake up, and my skin looks as if I had just sheet masked – the overall brightness and the invisible pores & lines – all signs associated with hydrated skin.
I thought this was a fluke, and knowing my luck I was probably going to break out in a few days, but nope. I’ve been using my Nivea Creme day and night for the past 2-3 weeks and the only thing it’s given me is juicy skin.
I’ve stopped wearing foundation now because I’m at a point where I can be comfortable in my bare skin (except for those pesky dark spots that refuse to go away) and I love the glow that the cream gives me. All this for $1.
Despite my success with it, I don’t think everyone necessarily needs it or would benefit from it. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- You could get similar occlusive effects with Vaseline, but that will definitely leave your skin looking and feeling greasy.
- Only apply to areas that are prone to dryness. If you have super dry skin, you can get away with using it all over, just make sure to patch test first!
- If it doesn’t work out for your face, use it on your hand or feet! I love layering this over my regular hand cream before bed, and lately I’ve been using this exclusively as my feet cream too. Hello soft hands and feet!
For $1, you have little to lose and a lot to gain. If you find your skin perpetually dehydrated and nothing seems to work, I highly recommend picking up the travel sized jar and giving this a try. I've already repurchased a backup, and this will be a staple in my routine until I win the fucking lottery (then I'll splurge on La Mer because why not) or kingdom come.
I’m also loving all the positive experiences in the comments below! It’s rare for a brand to keep a formula around for 100 years, so when they do, you know they’re doing something right!