Thursday, December 8, 2011

Erno Laszlo Active pHelityl Oil & Sea Mud Soap Review

The Erno Laszlo skincare regimen was the first comprehensive luxury beauty routine that I ever used. At seventeen I moved at warp speed from Bonne Bell 10-0-6 Lotion, Lip Smackers, and Maybelline Kissing Potion to Erno Laszlo's "1 O'Clock" skincare routine (which was quite a different time-zone from my 10-0-6 Lotion), YSL eye crayons and Chanel lip glosses. My first foray into this world of luxury skincare and makeup happened with my mom at the legendary I. Magnin on Union Square in San Francisco.

We would walk through the left pair of doors directly to the Laszlo counter where we would be happily greeted by Joan Atanous- our extraordinarily gracious and lovely Laszlo Consultant. She always treated us as though we were honored guests in her home, rather than customers in a store. She would thoroughly examine our skin, modify our routine if necessary- and give us any refills that we needed, and load us up with very generous samples. After our shopping extravaganza we would go downstairs to Narsai's Cafe and have a lovely lunch and either continue shopping afterward or gather our bags and go home. Once we got back home we would immediately empty our bags and look at the spoils of our shopping trip together. We would open bottles and jars, sniff and try everything. Often our self-restraint would get the better of us and we would run off to use our new products. We loved this whole bonding ritual that we shared. We continued this tradition for years, and when my sister was old enough she was brought into the fold as well. These are some of my most cherished memories from that time in my life, and as a result the familiar smell of the Laszlo products that I used then brings back a flood of memories now.

I was faithful to Laszlo for many years, but somewhere along the line I drifted away, much like what happens with some friendships that fade over time because you go away to college, or simply have changed and grown apart rather than together. But like an old friend that you reconnect with, Laszlo somehow made its way back into my beauty product orbit.

So one day I decided to revisit a few of my most used products over the years. While some of my skincare needs have changed through the ravages of time some of my core needs have not. I still have normal to combination skin (normal everywhere but the T-Zone which is combination). The logical things for me to try were a few cleansing products- so I purchased Active pHelityl Oil (a pre-cleansing treatment for dry to slightly oily skin) and the legendary black Sea Mud Soap (a bar soap for normal/combination to oily skin). It has been quite a long time since I have used either of these products so I didn't know how I would respond to them, or how well they would work on my now older skin.
As soon as I opened up my two packages and smelled the Active pHelityl Oil and Sea Mud soap I had a powerful visceral reaction that transported me back to a different time in my life. It was a very nostalgic feeling that I didn't expect to have-- like catching a fleeting smell that reminds you of something that your grandmother used to cook.

Anxious to try these two products again I filled my sink with hot water, while I was massaging the Active pHelityl Oil into my face. Afterward I dipped my virgin bar of Sea Mud Soap into the now cooling water and I felt kind of gleeful. I rubbed the gritty textured soap over my oily face and then started to lather it up which caused the lather to emulsify once it incorporated with the oil. What a fabulous feeling. The next step was the famous "splashing technique" that was the key to Doctor Laszlo's deep cleansing, hydrating, and firming philosophy. First you must splash your face 20 times (by leaning over the sink cupping your hands and splashing your face with the water in the basin). Then drain the oily soapy water and splash 10 times with fresh clean warm to hot water to thoroughly rinse your skin. Afterward pat your face dry with a clean soft towel and continue with your treatment products.

Be advised that it takes some time to get used to this technique, and sometimes a little longer than that not to get water all over the floor and walls. However, once you become an adept "splasher" there is really no turning back. In fact, I never stopped using the Laszlo splashing technique- even when I had stopped using Laszlo products. 

So how did my skin feel after trying these two products again after so many years? It felt absolutely fantastic. My skin was deeply cleansed, but not stripped. I noticed that it had whisked away a few whiteheads that I had on my chin, and made my skin feel baby-bottom soft. It also didn't hurt that it transported me to many great memories from my days as a teenager and young adult. There is a definite reason why there are so many Laszlo devotees who have used this line for 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years! Some people stay married for 50 years, some people bounce around until they find the "right one." I guess I am in the latter category (both in life and in my choice of skincare products).

I am very happy with my purchase and will really enjoy using these two products. 
Active pHelityl Oil  costs $40.00 for 6.8 oz.
Sea Mud Soap costs $40.00 for a 6 oz. bar
Both will last you a remarkably long time.

I purchased mine from Nordstrom (not all Nordstrom stores carry it, but they do have it online). It is also available through Erno Laszlo directly as well as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.


  1. Hi - love your blog! Was wondering if you are still using the Erno Laszlo cleansing system and if not what made you stop? I found that with the recent (2 years ago) takeover the products just weren't as good as they used to be in terms of packaging, ingredients and results. Would be interested to hear your perspective on this. I also wasn't mad on rubbing alcohol on my face with the Light Controlling lotion - if removed the grey film left by the soap but somehow dried my skin out!

    1. Hi Zah! Thank you for your kind words-- I'm so glad that you love my blog! I only have a couple of products left from Erno Laszlo, and they are from the old formulas. I have one bar of the original Sea Mud Soap, a little of the Phelityl Oil and one bottle of Light Controlling Lotion. I have never tried any of the newer versions of these three products- so I can't comment on how they differ. I have read some reviews from people who have used Laszlo for many years who have stated that the new products are not the same as the old. I use these three products periodically, but have so many other products in my rotation that I love that they are often neglected. When I do use the Light Controlling Lotion I saturate my cotton ball with water first and then add a small amount of Light Controlling Lotion-- that way I don't experience any of the drying effects of the alcohol. See if that works for you! I was really sad to see the old packaging replaced by the new packaging, and am really sad to hear that the ingredients and results are not the same. They should have left the core line intact as is, and then expanded by introducing new products to the line.

    2. I feel much the way you do about the new packaging, this company seems hell bent on turning Laszlo from a pioneer into a follower i.e.: 'pre-cleanse', double cleanse and the like. I still use the oil and soap BUT I am now using Janet Sartin's Clear Astringent in place of Lt. Controlling lotion(I too saturate the cotton with water first), I use Sartin's Duo Phase treatment in place of the now discontinued Shake-It and her White Astringent in place of the also discontinued reg Controlling Lotion. Miss Sartin was Laszlo's assistant/secretary and it was rumored that they romance. I actually worked for Miss Sartin at her Park Ave. salon the late 70's. You can find her products online.

    3. Hi there! The last time that I went to a Laszlo counter, which was quite a while ago, it really struck me just how different the line had become from its origins. I was very sad by all of the products being discontinued that I grew up using. I haven't made any Laszlo purchases in a very long time, bit am curious to see if my beloved Sea Mud Soap and Phelityl Oil are the same as they used to be.

      I remember using a few Janet Sartin products years ago, and remember that she had worked for Dr. Laszlo himself! How interesting that you worked for her! Thank you for taking the time to stop by and leave your wonderful comment! Have a lovely day!

  2. Hello, I too enjoyed this post and indeed have returned to it after having read it several years ago. I purchased the phelityl oil after several years back , it was a much yellower oil than today's and since I have become very interested in oils since my first look at Lazslo (and his use of Tamanu, Chalmogra and Emu oil)I wonder if the original version had more jojoba than than the new recipe. Lola do you have any old boxes to refer to? I really want to try to mix my own!!!

    1. Hi porky! Thank you for stopping by! It's funny, I have been thinking about trying the Sea Mud Soap and pHelityl Oil again since I no longer have any left. I wish that I had one of the original boxes to let you know how the ingredients may have shifted, but sadly I do not. It's interesting that the old version is much yellower than the current version, and that certainly could indicate a varied formula. From all of the reviews that I have read from longtime customers, they seem to indicate that most of the original products seem to have new formulas. The Erno Laszlo website has a "Clean Promise" disclosure: "The products you love made cleaner for you (and the environment). Since we launched nearly 100 years ago, we've been dedicated to constantly revisiting and evolving our brand to meet the highest standards when it comes to safe and effective skincare.As part of this process, we're eliminating potentially harmful ingredients from our formulas and updating our packaging so that everything meets our high clean, safe and sustainable standards*. We know we're not the first to make a commitment to embark on this journey, and hopefully we're not the last." This may be the reason that most of the product formulas have changed. You might consider emailing the company directly to see if they can send you the ingredients from the original formula to compare it against the new formula.

  3. Hello, I too enjoyed this post and indeed have returned to it after having read it several years ago. I purchased the phelityl oil after several years back , it was a much yellower oil than today's and since I have become very interested in oils since my first look at Lazslo (and his use of Tamanu, Chalmogra and Emu oil)I wonder if the original version had more jojoba than than the new recipe. Lola do you have any old boxes to refer to? I really want to try to mix my own!!!

    1. I id see some very old (70s?) Active Phelityl oil on ebay a while back. The ingredients list was a lot shorter - just seemed to be paffifinum liquidium, safflower oil, and various colourings & preservatives. But the brand had various owners after Dr Laszlo passed away in 1972. Cheeseborough Ponds, Avon and Elizabeth Arden all had their time as owner of the brand and each played with the formulas. The one I saw on eBay was very yellow! For making a homemade version I would probably swap the liquid paraffin for castor oil and then add in some plant oils like sweet almond. avocado and safflower. I've only made a homemade cleansing oil once and I read somewhere that the caster oil was key...very good at loosening sebum plugs....maybe try castor, jojoba and avocado.

    2. Hi again - so I tracked down a vintage 1970s bottle of Active pHelityl oil online and the ingredients are as follows (if you want to try and make a DIY version)- I if you do i would try another brand of Sea Mud soap (not the current Laszlo one) that is pure sea mud (without charcoal- the original didn't have charcoal) and remove with warm to hot water and the 30 - 40 splash technique.

      1. Mineral oil
      2. Hybrid Safflower Oil
      3. Fragrance ( I guess you could add non irritating essential oils you enjoy the smell of - neroli?)
      4. BHT (preservative)
      5. BHA (preservative) (grapefruit seed oil (few drops) would be a natural preservative)
      6. Hydrogenated vegetable oil (i's use a mix of say sweet almond or jojoba with some carrot oil to give it the yellow colour)
      7. Propyl Gallate (another preservative)
      8. Carotene (this is what gave it the gold / yellow colour)

      So as you can see a very simple formula ( no chalmoogra oil etc) in the 1970s version. The brand has had many owners starting with Pond's in the 1960s bt also Elizabeth Arden and Avon so I don't know if the original 1930s one had more exotic ingredients...

    3. Hi Zah, That was so thoughtful of you to follow through on Porky's question! Thank you for doing that! Its amazing that you were able to find a circa 1970s Active Phelityl Oil on eBay!

    4. Hi Lola
      no problem- it just took me a while to track it down. Interesting article here about Laszlo's focus on the Chinese market which seems their biggest market now. I do think its a shame what happened to the brand. I really enjoyed my time using the full ritual

    5. Hi Zah, This is great information, thank you so much. This is really too bad, it sounds as though their marketing strategy is about making as much money as possible, and they should change their language about animal testing because they clearly are not a cruelty-free company. What a shame.


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