IT'S a story worthy of a Marvel comic strip. A Nasa physicist is working on delicate experiments with rocket fuel when a dramatic explosion leaves him badly disfigured. But the accident unexpectedly leads to his discovery of a substance with mysterious superpowers.
Happily, our hero chose to use his powers for good rather than evil. The physicist's name? Dr Max Huber. Huberman, if you like. And his discovery was the so-called Miracle Broth that helped heal his scarring and became known as Creme de la Mer, the world's most coveted beauty cream.
"He was lucky to be alive," says Diane Inverarity, a passionate ambassador and glowing advertisement for the brand – her 50-year-old skin is astonishingly youthful. "He was pensioned off – probably in his 40s – and started experimenting, making lots of lotions and potions in what was, basically, the garage of his house on the east coast of California. It was a hobby; he carried out 6,000 experiments over 12 years, but it was just for himself. It was never intended to be what it has become."
A keen environmentalist, he was way ahead of his time in harnessing the power of the ocean. "The fishermen's arms looked so youthful," says Inverarity, "so he started to study the anti-inflammatory benefits of sea kelp. He was using light and sound energy and eventually hit on the biofermentation process. The only way we can describe it is it's like making grapes into wine."
The process takes up to four months, resulting in a whole that is, it is claimed, far more than the sum of its parts (as well as the kelp, each one of those desirable ivory tubs contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, lecithin, Vitamins C, E and B12, plus oils of citrus, eucalyptus, wheatgerm, alfalfa and sunflower).
Celebrities swear by it. Rihanna and Desperate Housewives actress Marcia Cross are fans, so are Keira Knightley and Halle Berry, while Jennifer Lopez is rumoured to smear the stuff all over that famous body of hers. But the company doesn't launch new products very often, and everything it does still bears the unmistakable fingerprint of Max Huber, despite the fact that his daughter sold the company – and its secret formula – to Este Lauder in the early 1990s. (The rumour goes that Lauder herself had attempted to replicate the cream by buying a pot and demanding her scientists deconstruct it and recreate it in her own labs. Apparently, they failed.)
As a result, any new launch is hotly anticipated. That's why beauty addicts all over the world are saving their pennies for The Radiant Serum, arriving on counter on 1 March. Four years in the making, it promises youthful volume, smoother skin, a more even complexion and a reduction in age spots. All this for a not inconsiderable 215.
"We needed to evolve," says Inverarity. "Loretta, our physicist who develops these products, is so passionate. They say she actually channels Max Huber. There's so much new technology in the industry, she knew she could take the serum we already have and make it better."
Make-up artists have been among the lucky ones to test the serum early and have been calling it "an absolutely amazing product". They talk of an improved texture and tone, a youthful glow and an instant plumping effect. Inverarity herself justifies the price tag by saying only a tiny amount is required for each application. And the results speak for themselves.
Her job may take her around the country – as well as to Long Island in New York, where Huber's garage lab was moved lock, stock and test tubes when it was bought by Lauder – but home is Livingston in Scotland, where she lives with her husband of 30 years and her two sons, aged 20, and 18. Born and brought up in Easthouses, outside Dalkeith, she worked as a hairdresser for 20 years before moving into beauty. And her first introduction to Max Huber's Miracle Broth was when a client gave her a pot as a gift.
"My first thought was: Madonna uses this; J Lo uses it; I'd seen it in the paper. I just couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I went home, planned one of these evenings. I was going to shave my legs and use the Creme de la Mer. I opened the packet, went right in and slapped it on and thought, 'What on earth?' It was very, very rich. I'm a bit of a product junkie so kept with it, but wasn't sure it was for me."
About a year later she learned she had been going about it all wrong. The cream – a tiny amount – needs to be warmed up between the fingers then simply patted lightly on to the skin to release its mythical powers. "The difference was amazing. And it was comments from other people that made me notice."
Around four years later she joined Este Lauder, first to work with Clinique then, later, joining Creme de la Mer.
"It is fantastic," she says of the labs in New York. "They still fill the pots by hand" – allegedly to maintain the ingredients' delicate balance – "they still use exactly the same method as they did when Max Huber was alive. And they harvest the kelp just twice a year in specific cycles of the moon, then it is packed in ice and flown to Long Island."
The harvesting periods are when the kelp is growing at its fastest and is at its most nutrient rich. Only the top fronds are taken, and it is a sustainable process, with the brand working closely with the charity Oceana to protect marine environments.
So far, so right on. But when Inverarity meets customers at specially organised events, they tend to be less an edition of Tomorrow's World and more a case of Loose Women. "We have a glass of champagne and just talk," she says. "The stories you hear – we have people who use it on their babies, people who use it on their dogs.
"They do think when they first come along, 'That's the expensive cream.'" But, she says, they're usually surprised to find it's not as expensive as they thought. For the record, a 30ml tub retails for 94, while a whopping 100ml jar will set you back 970. It's not the most expensive product on the market by a long shot – "we're middle of the road in terms of price range now," says Inverarity – but it still represents a significant investment. And at a time when some supermarket brands are claiming similar results for a fraction of the price – with Waitrose's Baby Bottom Butter (2.54) and Aldi's Lacura Multi-Intensive Serum (3.49) making recent headlines – one might question the economics.
Creme de la Mer quietly refuses to be drawn on any price comparisons, merely pointing to its millions of loyal customers who can't live without the stuff. But, when Inverarity meets them, as fascinated as they are to learn more about the cream, they are just as intrigued by her own smooth skin. "They always ask how old I am. They ask if I've ever used baby wipes on my face, or gone to bed without taking my make-up off. Well, we all have, haven't we?
"They check behind my ears and everything," she laughs. "At first I didn't know what they were looking for, then I caught on. I've never had any work done," she insists, "and I could never see me going down that route, but never say never."
But she's honest enough to admit that her great skin is as much down to great genes as it is a great beauty regime. "My mum had good skin. I don't think they had serums and things like that in those days. She just used moisturiser. In fact, the celebs call Creme de la Mer a miracle in a jar. But, really, it's a moisturiser. One with fantastic results."
• Creme de la Mer The Radiant Serum is in shops and online from 1 March, 215 (www.cremedelamer.co.uk)
This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 13 February, 2011