Brilliant-C Brightening Serum
This is a fairly standard, but good, silicone-based serum. It contains an impressive amount of vitamin C (listed as ascorbyl glucoside), but there is little research pertaining to this ingredient’s ability to lighten skin. In contrast, other forms of vitamin C (such as magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or L-ascorbic acid) have a considerable amount of research in this regard (Sources: Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, March-April 2009, pages 74–81; Phytotherapy Research, November 2006, pages 921–934; and International Journal of Dermatology, August 2004, pages 604–607). Still, like all forms of vitamin C, ascorbyl glucoside functions as an antioxidant, and Merle Norman included a smattering of other antioxidants, too. The amount of cell-communicating peptides and skin-identical ingredients are on the low side, but still worthwhile, making this a good serum for all skin types except sensitive. It contains fragrance and cosmetic pigments that lend a shiny finish to skin.
Highly concentrated anti-aging serum helps improve skin clarity and brings back a youthful glow. Exclusive Bright+ Complex blends highly stable Vitamin C with other brightening agents to help diminish the appearance of spots and discoloration. Vitamin C and peptides help improve the look of fine lines. Its velvety formula and optical diffusers luminize skin, leaving a silky, smooth, healthy look.
Merle Norman At-A-Glance
Strengths: Most Merle Norman boutiques willingly provide free samples so you can try before you buy; excellent cleansing lotion for dry, sensitive skin; effective, pH-correct AHA and BHA products; surprisingly good toners; excellent lip balm/lipline filler; good sunscreen and self-tanner.
Weaknesses: Jar packaging is prevalent; the Luxiva Changing Skin products do not effectively address skin changes resulting from menopause; most of the Luxiva Clear Complexion products cause more skin problems than they solve; a few very good products are impossible to recommend because they also include irritants; the Miracol and classic Merle Norman products are severely dated formulas that harken back to the days before computers replaced typewriters.
Merle Norman opened her first cosmetics studio in Santa Monica, California, in 1931. She believed strongly that women would love her products, if only she could "get them on their faces," and the company's now-famous try-before-you-buy program was launched. To this day, women who visit any of Merle Norman's 2,000 boutiques spread across the United States, Canada, and Mexico can take advantage of the company's product samples before making a purchase.
The free samples are great, but the question is why anyone would be inclined to try Merle Norman skin-care products. Although there have been some improvements since the Cosmetics Cop Team last reviewed this brand, much of what was problematic back then is still around today, and still problematic - and that's not good news for your skin.
Across the board, the biggest issue is jar packaging. Several of the moisturizers didn't receive better than a neutral face rating because they are poorly packaged. For a company claiming to be cutting edge, they somehow missed, or chose to ignore, the research showing how state-of-the-art ingredients deteriorate when exposed to light and air. In addition, repeatedly sticking your fingers into a product isn't sanitary, and further degrades the ingredients. What good is adding a lot of antioxidants and other plant extracts or vitamins to a product if their efficacy is all but gone within a week or two of opening?
There are other weak spots to watch out for, too, especially in the Luxiva Changing Skin and Luxiva Clear Complexion lines. Merle Norman also sells a group of antiquated products that are little more than cold cream and super-greasy moisturizers. These are as far removed as you can get from what we know about what skin needs to look younger and function in a healthy manner. Using many of Merle Norman's products is like using a typewriter instead of a computer.
As far as what's to like, you'll find several well-formulated cleansers and toners, some reliable AHA and BHA products, and an impressive lip balm, and most of the SPF-rated products provide broad-spectrum protection. Ultimately, it wouldn't be wise to try to assemble a comprehensive skin-care routine from Merle Norman, but if you focus on their better products you'll do okay.
For the record, it is perfectly fine to mix Merle Norman products with those from other brands. We doubt you'll get this advice if you visit any of the Merle Norman Studios, but it's true. In fact, this applies to any skin-care brandwhat counts is the individual product and how well it's formulated, not the company's predetermined ideas that their products work best if and only if they're used together.
For more information about Merle Norman, call (310) 641-3000 or visit www.merlenorman.com.
Note: We know that we've stated for quite some time that the team wouldn't be revisiting this line because of Merle Norman's complete disinterest in helping us get the information we need to review their products accurately. Over the years, my staff has been kicked out of several Merle Norman boutiques, both here in the Seattle area and in other states. As soon as we began taking notes or if we asked too many questions, we were eyed with suspicion and then asked to leave. There are two reasons we changed our mind: (1) our Beautypedia subscribers kept asking us to re-review this brand, and (2) a Merle Norman employee agreed to help us obtain the information we need, as long as she remained anonymous. We wish to extend a sincere thanks to the woman who sent us dozens upon dozens of samples and helped us compile all of the accurate information that made these reviews possible.
Please note: These productprices are in U.S. dollars, and for reasons unknown Merle Norman products are substantially more expensivein Canadian boutiques. Please be aware when shopping that these ratings are a reflection of U.S. prices only.
About the Experts
The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.
Our mission has always been to help you find the best products for your skin, no matter your budget or preferences. Beautypedia’s thorough and insightful reviews cut through the hype and provide reliable recommendations for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.