Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 has gained quite a reputation over the years for being, well, smelly AF. When you run through the long list of French beauty products we covet here overseas—from Bioderma to Biofine—they all have certain things in common: They’re chic and non-affronting, and they smell sort of like a freshly laundered T-shirt. They’re basically the essence of a French woman distilled to product form, and perhaps that’s why we want them proudly displayed on our vanities.
But then there’s Biologique Recherche Lotion P50. The off-white plastic bottle boasts purple accents and a computerized font that looks straight out of the early ’90s. Oh, and it smells like trash. Literally.
Glowy-skinned women from Emily Weiss to Garance Doré all swear by its magic abilities. Devotees swear that it erases dark spots, shrinks pores, and balances your complexion so that the final effect is something akin to a cherub’s bottom. One of the liveliest recent discussions in our Facebook group revolved around P50 and whether it really is worth the hype. (The consensus: It is).
Curious about whether this under-the-radar product is truly as paradigm-shifting as its followers proclaim, I did some investigating that involved a one-on-one consultation with Philippe Allouche himself, the son of the founder of Biologique, who took over the company in the early 2000s.
Keep scrolling to find out everything you need to know about Biologique Recherche Lotion P50.
- Promises to balance your skin's pH
- Hydroxy acids gently exfoliate
- Glycolic acid and phytic acid tone and brighten
Phytic acid is a gentle alpha hydroxy acid. It is typically derived from grains, legumes and rice. It can help to neutralize free radical damage in the skin, clear out and shrink pores, and brighten pigmentation.
- The scent
- Not readily available in stores
- Can sting upon application
The Bottom Line: It's a cult classic for a reason
Even though Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 smells like salad dressing, there's no denying that it delivers visible results. It promises to gently and effectively exfoliate, regulate oil production, and balance your skin's pH level.
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50
Best for: Normal to oily skin
Uses: Exfoliates, hydrates, and balances pH levels
Star rating: 4.8/5
Potential allergens: None
Active ingredients: Lactic acid, niacinamide, salicylic acid
Byrdie Clean?: Yes
Price: $30 for 1.7oz to $106 for 8.5 oz
About the brand: Biologique Recherche is an artisanal French skincare company, founded in the 1970s by Yvan and Josette Allouche.
About My Skin: Combination/Oily
To say that my skin and I have had a tumultuous relationship is putting it lightly. The best way to describe my skin is combination/oily. During my teenage years, I dealt with acne, and my early 20s introduced super oily skin. I'm also a bit prone to random breakouts and getting my oily T-zone and my large nose pores under control is one of my biggest struggles. Right now, my biggest issues are dull skin tone, random bits of texture and my supreme enemy, adult onset acne.
The Scent: Not the best
Thanks to ingredients like onion extract, horseradish, and vinegar; it smells like a mix between garbage and yogurt that’s been left out for too long. Or maybe a very pungent salad dressing. The point is, the scent definitely leaves a lot to be desired. But thankfully it doesn't linger, so you don't have to worry about your face smelling like an onion all day.
The Feel: Lightweight, watery, and slightly tingly
Lotion P50 has a watery, lightweight texture that absorbs quickly into the skin. The instructions say you can apply with your hands or a cotton pad; I chose to pat it into my skin like an essence because 1) I don’t like wasting product, and 2) a part of me wanted to see if I would experience the redness and tingling others boast so much about. Spoiler: I didn’t. Other than inhaling a strong vinegary scent, I did not feel the flush or burn on my skin like I was secretly hoping I would. I checked with Deven Hopp, Brand Director at Versed, who had used the product before. “If I use it after I’ve exfoliated, I do feel a slight sting, a feeling I actually kind of love,” she affirmed. “You really feel like it’s working. After, my skin can look a little pink or rather fresh.”I was somewhat appeased knowing that the tingling can occur if your skin is out of whack and can feel the acidity of the solution, so perhaps my skin is just incredibly balanced.
Ingredients: pH adjusters
But let’s talk about what’s actually in the skin-tingling, vinaigrette-smelling formula. In order to understand the product, it’s important to understand Allouche’s approach to skincare. “The epidermis is everything,” he tells me, impassioned, at the Ciel Spa in the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles, where I have just received a signature Biologique Recherche facial. “The epidermis is a platform for information—filtering, buffering, directing information from outside to inside and inside to outside. And it’s our last fortress against free radicals, so it has to be strong—it has to be protecting us.”
The epidermis is a platform for information—filtering, buffering, directing information from outside to inside and inside to outside. And it’s our last fortress against free radicals, so it has to be strong—it has to be protecting us.
Allouche says it’s important for the ecosystem of your skin—which includes the pH and lipid levels—to be healthy, even with the naturally occurring bacteria flourishing as a function of protection, just like probiotics in your gut. The idea is that If you have a balanced, flourishing epidermis, ingredients can penetrate and affect what’s going on beneath the surface; otherwise, they may not be as effective, no matter how “active” they are.
This was the mindset that spurred the creation of P50 1970 and its reiterations, which include exfoliating ingredients like lactic acid and salicylic acid and promises to balance your skin’s pH, regulate oil production, brighten dark spots, even skin texture, and help with acne.
The Results: Balanced and clear
I used the P50 consistently for a few weeks, religiously patting it in after cleansing and sometimes following with the Placenta Crème, which looks and smells like the P50 in moisturizer form (aka sour-smelling and unpleasant) and was recommended to me by the esthetician.
After a few weeks, I do think my skin looks and feels more balanced. I’m usually very oily but found that my forehead was less shiny during my midday blotting check. Also, when I slacked and forgot to use it for a few days in a row, I could’ve sworn I saw new blackheads creep around my nose. My pores (sadly) looked the same size, but overall, my skin felt brighter, clearer, and cleaner, if that makes sense. A weird part of me actually likes the smell now. Call it conditioning, but I find myself almost craving the product on certain nights; my skincare routine just doesn’t feel complete without it. At least I can rest assured that my skin is reaping the benefits of my addictive habits.
Buying Lotion P50
Lotion P50 is a bit tricky to get a hold of. It's not available in stores or major retailers. You can only purchase from select retailers like ShopRescueSpa, Vicki Morav, and Aida Bicaj. The price ranges from $32 for a travel sized bottle, to $109 for a large, 8.5 oz bottle. Alternatively, you can Google search Lotion P50 and the name of your city to see if any spas in your area sell it.
Alongside the standard Lotion P50 (which the brand recommends for normal to oily skin), there are also three other versions: P50V, which is vitamin-enriched for more mature skin types; P50W, the milder version for sensitive skin; and P50 PIGM 400, which is less acidic and specially targeted to lighten hyperpigmentation.
The Value: Pricey, but worth it
Lotion P50 is available in three different sizes: 1.7 oz., 5.1 oz., and 8.5 oz. The largest size is pricey, but it provides the best value at price per ounce. One large bottle can last up to six months, so it definitely ends up being worth it in the long term.
Similar Products: You have options
If Lotion P50's scent is just not for you, there are other, less smelly alternatives.
- Moon Juice Acid Potion: Priced at $42 dollars, Moon Juice's Acid Potion is a slightly more affordable option to Lotion P50. It's formulated with lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acid that are meant to work together to resurface and balance normal to oily skin.
- Youth to the People Kombucha + 11% AHA Exfoliation Power Toner: Like Lotion P50, this product also contains probiotic ingredients like kombucha meant to strengthen your skin's natural microbiome. At $38, a blend of glycolic and lactic acid promise to deliver gentle exfoliation.
Our Verdict: We love it
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 is a gem of a product, even if the scent leaves a lot to be desired. It's hard to dismiss the quick results and noticeably glowing skin after just a few weeks of use.
Houshmand EB. Effect of glycolic acid, phytic acid, soothing complex containing emulsion on hyperpigmentation and skin luminosity: a clinical evaluation. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021;20(3):776-780. doi:10.1111/jocd.13950