Long before skincare became a hip trend on social media and brands started to design their product packaging to fit that perfect Instagram aesthetic, a small homeopathic pharmacy in New York City created one of the first minimalist, skin health-focused beauty brands ever. And, well, it is still super popular to this day!
Kiehl’s started its minimalist, unisex brand life in 1851, in a small pharmacy right in the middle of New York City’s East Village. When Russian-Jewish immigrant Irving Morse purchased the shop from its original owner, John Kiehl, he put his pharmacology degree to good use and developed a range of products that would help people with various skin troubles, among them dryness and pesky acne breakouts. Morse’s original recipes for some of the core products in the Kiehl’s brand lineup are virtually unchanged even today, that’s how reliably good they were even back then!
Morse’s original recipes for some of the core products in the Kiehl’s brand lineup are virtually unchanged even today, that’s how reliably good they were even back then!
Apart from its gender-free, unisex approach—revolutionary back then!—Kiehl’s was an industry trailblazer in other ways as well: They were the first brand in the U.S. to list all of their ingredients on their product packaging, long before it became mandatory to do so. Kiehl’s stores also place great emphasis on a “try before you buy” philosophy, reminiscent of Korean beauty stores, where generous samples are the norm. I actually almost worked in a Kiehl’s store many years ago after grad school, and I can tell you, their employee training is no joke! Kiehl’s staff wear a white lab coat to connect them back to the brand’s pharmacy roots, and putting together a full skincare routine on the spot for any skin type and skin worry is just an average day for these beauty specialists.
I’ve tried my way through most of the Kiehl’s cult classics, so let me share my five favorite products with you—if you suffer from sensitive, highly reactive skin, these could just become your new best friends!
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser
Long before I discovered my love for Korean skincare, finding a decently-priced, mild and yet thorough facial cleanser seemed nearly impossible. Especially during my years living in New Zealand, where even drugstore products are insanely expensive, I struggled to find the right product for my sensitive combo skin.
The Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser was my skincare savior back then! It just ticks all the boxes: Firstly, it isn’t too expensive, given that it lasts for months and you only need a tiny amount for each cleanse. Secondly, it is gentle, with a soft foam that doesn’t feel stripping at all, thanks to the added apricot kernel, avocado, and sweet almond oil, plus hydrating glycerin and emollient (skin-smoothing) squalane.
Kiehl’s Calendula Toner
This is such a cult classic and probably one of the brand’s best-known products thanks to its striking appearance and gentle formula. The Kiehl’s Calendula Toner contains real calendula petals suspended in a watery toner fluid enriched with a number of soothing, anti-inflammatory herbal extracts.
Calendula, also known as marigold, is an ancient healing plant that has been used by cultures around the globe to treat skin diseases for millennia, dating as far back as ancient India, where these flowers have a strongly ritualistic and spiritual meaning. Lately there has been a rise in calendula-focused skincare from Asian brands, thanks to an increasing demand for extra gentle products that help soothe maskne-plagued skin. Calendula has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, redness-soothing properties and may even help regulate excess sebum. This is an alcohol-free toner, which also doesn’t contain any added fragrance, so it’s great for sensitive and/or sensitized skin.
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate
I remember when I first treated myself to the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate, buying this from my first ever salary as a bookseller back in my early 20s. This is another bestseller from the brand and one of its first anti-aging products ever, said to visibly smooth fatigue lines and wrinkles virtually overnight. Though I can’t claim that this is true, the Midnight Recovery Concentrate definitely helps to soften skin overall and replenish moisture thanks to a mix of precious oils such as rosehip, evening primrose, and sunflower oil, thus plumping skin and helping it to look smoother overall.
Now, be aware that this facial oil serum contains essential oils, so it may not be for everyone. Personally, I find this to be a gentle and very soothing serum, with the lavender oil giving it such a calming and pleasant scent. Using this for a little nighttime face massage feels special, and I swear my skin always gets that special glow afterwards. And the best thing about it? Like all Kiehl’s products, this oil serum is indeed super concentrated, so one ampoule lasts forever even with daily use. I usually apply a few drops before my moisturizer, but some people use it as a replacement for their nightly cream. You can also mix a drop or two into your moisturizer if you prefer to cut down on steps.
Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado
I have been on a quest to find the perfect eye care product since my late teens, and most of the creams, gels, and roll-on lotions I’ve tried over the years have honestly been duds. Only a few trusty eye moisturizers have stayed with me since my 20s, and the Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado is one of them. Even as a broke student, I would always make sure to get my trusty pot of this concentrated eye care goodness, because god knows I needed it back then thanks to too many all-nighters for some hectic last-minute essay writing.
Cream textures can be difficult for the delicate eye area, since they often contain oils that spread wider than anticipated, making them invisibly “creep” into eyes and thus cause them to tear up and develop redness issues. The Kiehl’s Avocado Eye Treatment, however, has been formulated to prevent this type of “creeping” phenomenon, so it stays put despite the super rich texture. As the name suggests, the star ingredient here is avocado oil, but this also contains shea butter, castor oil, sunflower seed oil, and beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant carrier that shows particular promise when it comes to helping heal damage caused by harmful UV rays.
Kiehl’s Crème De Corps Rich Nourishing Cream
Body care is another category that Kiehl’s is renowned for, and their best-known body care product by far remains the Crème De Corps Rich Nourishing Cream. This is one of the products whose formula has been pretty much the same since the brand’s humble beginnings in that tiny NYC pharmacy in the East Village. And it makes sense of course—why change a winning combo?
Lovers of this fragrance-free, hyper-moisturizing body lotion are in good company: Apparently, Oprah is a longtime fan, as is Zendaya. With 1.5 bottles sold every minute, the Crème De Corps Rich Nourishing Cream remains as popular as it did back in the 19th and 20th centuries, which is quite the feat given today’s hype-chasing beauty customers. I have a feeling that the winning combo of rich oils plus emollients and an ultra fast absorbing lotion texture are the reason for this ongoing success. This is a product that works pretty much for the entire family, and for pretty much all skin types too, though especially dry skin will benefit from the nourishing shea butter, squalane, and cocoa butter mix that leaves bodies extra smooth.