Prices in the skin care market are notoriously shady. For example, a jar of Crème de la Mer moisturizer goes for $570 for 3.4oz., while a squeeze tube of Weleda Skin Food goes for $26.95 for 30 ml. Then of course there is the swanky model posing in the face cream advertisement who never-ever-in-her-entire-life had a wrinkle. With all the beguilement and bunk, it’s hard to know where the value lays. What’s the baseline difference, and how can you have that luxury skin care feeling on a scrawny budget?
Marketing and Packaging
The biggest determiners of value are not how it feels, smells, pretty packaging, or expensive marketing campaigns. Although it can be difficult to see through the rose-colored smoke screen of promised eternal youth, an honest appraisal is necessary. Ben Fuchs of Truth Treatments Skin Care says, “Most companies spend the majority of their money on the appearance, smell, and feel of a product long before they invest in great ingredients.” Those ingredients, in some cases, are proprietary and usually contain some sort of magical secret ingredient found to take off twenty years and fifty pounds, or some such nonsense. Before tossing yourself on the floor and having a two-year-old temper tantrum (like I did yesterday), check out the ingredient list.
If the active ingredients, like retinol, alpha hydroxy acids, vitamin C, or hyaluronic acid (see below for an important detail on this one), are near the top of the deck, you’re in good hands. If they show up about twenty ingredients down and thus have lower concentration levels, you’re paying for fluff. For example, a certain brand of vitamin C serum arrived on the market with screaming fans frothing at the mouth to buy it and was even endorsed by a famous celebrity. After checking the ingredient list I discovered, much to my horror, that the all-important vitamin C was number eleven on the deck. The product cost $350. The first ten ingredients were for texture, color, and smell, otherwise known as fluff. Yikes. It pays to do your homework.
By way of example, say you enjoy tea. I love tea. If I make a lovely cup of English tea and smoosh the tea bag to get out the flavor, then I reuse the tea bag for a second cup, the tea will taste, well, weak and nasty. That’s the difference between having high concentrations of active ingredients in your skin care, and drained-of-life feeble ones. This means that a drug store option that spends much less on marketing and more on ingredients has the potential to be an excellent product. If you are looking for an inexpensive but effective moisturizer, try the Weleda Skin Food mentioned above. For a mid-range moisturizer, my personal favorite is Image MD SPF 50 Moisturizer.
Potency on some ingredients is of vital importance. For example, one of the most important ingredients for exfoliation is retinol or vitamin A. In order for a product to be effective you need above .5% retinol. If you have too high a percentage of the ingredient you could have irritation, redness, and even a break-out. Therefore, the potency of retinol should be between .5% and 2%. Having said that, I use a 5% retinol and do not have any issues, so reactions will largely depend on your skin.
Hyaluronic acid, on the other hand, is highly irritating if more than 2% is used in a product. Because of this, hyaluronic acid needs to be more toward the bottom of the ingredient deck or it can be very drying. For an inexpensive Hyaluronic acid, try The Ordinary, and for a more medium range product, try Image MD Restoring Youth Serum.
The Last Word
In the end, there are a lot of solid mid-range and inexpensive products on the market so that you can have luxury skin care on a scrawny budget. Having said that, I’ve talked a lot about bang-for-buck in other articles, and the truth still holds sway that the best products to toss your money at are vitamin C serum and retinol. Given the distinct rise in inflation, though, it’s good to have clear options to save some money where you can.