Recently, the acclaimed former ballerina Darcey Bussell was quoted in a national newspaper extoling the virtues of “Sanctuary Spa Lipid Recovery Facial Oil”. The product name given on the website of a national pharmacist is slightly different, “Sanctuary Active Reverse Lipid Recovery Facial Oil” but appears to be the same product. A product with that name is also available on at least one on-line auction website and through other retailers in the UK and abroad.
The name used for this product interested me for several reasons. The first, of course, was that it contained the word “lipid”. The second was that the name also contains the terms “active reverse” and “recovery facial”, and because I am not sure I understand them. Taken at face (!) value, I imagine they are broadly along the same lines as “anti-ageing”, but they seem less clear than that term. The cynic in me immediately asserts that this is because the term ‘anti-ageing’ has been discredited: demonstrable evidence of a reversal of the process of ageing by applying oil-in-water emulsions to the surface of the skin, has yet to reach the public domain. However, the product label does contain some more text that allows us to deepen our understanding of what the manufacturers suggest it is for, and how it should be used:

“Lipid complex: re-charges, hydrates & protects cells from ageing to provide a host of visible benefits on the skin’s surface.”

The term ‘Lipid complex’ has a particular meaning in chemistry, that is not in common usage, nor is relevant to the ingredients listed on the product (see below). It is not clear to me what “re-charging” is in this context, only that it sounds like the sort of thing that one might want, whether or not it makes clear sense. “Hydrates” on the other hand, is clearer, is means to expose to water, especially in a way that moistens a surface or mass at a molecular level. Hydration of skin can of course be achieved with water itself, as anyone who has had a long bath will know. However, the list of ingredients do not include water, so hydration is apparently not possible—unless it is contained in one of two accompanying products, “Peptide Protect Day Cream SPF20” or “Peptide Replenish Night Cream” that are associated with it. However, they would be the hydrating agents, and not this preparation.

The next phrase “protects cells from ageing” is more dangerous, and I am afraid to say, an out-and-out lie. The cells on the surface of our skin are dead and so are not involved in the ageing process. So, simple logic tells us that there is no way that they can be protected from it. This phrase also sounds like something deliberately designed to be unclear but that sounds vaguely like what one might want.

These observations make one wonder what this preparation will do. We can start by looking at the ingredients:

“Helianthus annuus (Sunfower) seed oil, Simmondsia chinensis (Jojoba) seed oil, Triticum vulgare (Wheat) germ oil, Rosa rubiginosa seed oil, Caprilic/capric triglyceride, Lavandula angustifolia (Lavender) oil, Linalool, Punica granatum seed oil, Geranylgenarylisopropanol, Anthemis nobilis flower oil, Citrus aurantium amara (Bitter orange) flower oil, Limonene, Geraniol.”

The first four ingredients, and thus the bulk of the material in this preparation, are all oils. “Punica granatum seed oil” is the oil from pomegranate seeds. In chemical terms, these are triglycerides [link] that are a liquid at room temperature. Chemically they are very similar to olive oil and so the effect of rubbing that on your skin will be very similar to this preparation. What this preparation contains that olive oil does not, are various perfumes: lavender oil, linalool, Anthemis nobilis flower oil (better known as chamomile), Citrus aurantium amara (Bitter orange) flower oil, Limonene, Geraniol.

There is no doubt that this mixture would provide a sort of aesthetic experience that may improve mood, however, none of these ingredients has been shown to be able to reverse the effects of activity, the latter being the apparent claim of the product name.

This leaves us with one ingredient, “Geranylgeranylisopropanol”. This is a non-standard name for one of a collection of organic compounds produced mainly by plants, called terpenes. This ingredient has been included in at least one patent related to the treatment of medical disorders and is “rated” by writers of guides to cosmetic ingredients. However, according to the Thomson-Reuters database of scientific research (, no research has been published about this compound. It is therefore unclear what it may or may not do. The structure it has (at least according to a patent, that lists it) suggests that it probably has amphiphilic character, so could be classified as a lipid. It is unlikely to self-assemble as the polar head group is too weak, but it is probably amphiphilic nevertheless.

This leaves the current product investigation facing a damning conclusion: this product is unlikely to be what shoppers think it is, nor to have the effect that the deliberately-unclear name suggests. At best, there is no evidence for the claims apparently being made. Despite these, the product has not been exposed as a scandal (unless this article is the start, but I doubt it), it is still sold widely and it has not been withdrawn or re-modelled as a result of the application of the Trades Descriptions Act. There is some suggestion that the product contains an amphiphilic species, a lipid, so that part of the name appears to be correct.

The question in my mind now is: what is the point of this product? It is not flagrantly unlawful, but it serves no obvious purpose either, other than it might smell nice. Is this product part of a conspiracy to test Geranylgeranylisopropanol on a large group, an unsuspecting public?