Mass vs. Boutique Brands

One of the most frequent questions I get from patients is, “Are expensive skincare products really worth it?” Based on my experience working with a variety of companies and countless formulations, my answer is often no. In a nutshell, beauty behemoths like Unilever (the company behind Dove and Ponds), L’Oreal (responsible for lines like Vichy and La Roche Posay) and Johnson & Johnson (maker of Neutrogena and Aveeno) have deep pockets, so they have more resources to research, develop and test their products. Of course there are some higher priced companies like Estée Lauder that do great research and have products worth the cost. It really depends upon your skin type and what ingredients are right for you.  Once you know your skin type—find out at SkinTypeSolutions.com—it will help you decide when to save money on skin care and when to pay more.

When large personal care companies like the ones mentioned earlier start the product development process, it can take years (and millions of dollars) for the actual product to hit store shelves. They undergo extensive testing both in the lab and on real people, and many of these companies have their own research institutes devoted to product testing—because they can afford them. For example, a few years ago, Loreal’s research budget was over $200 million.

Smaller boutique brands, on the other hand, conduct their research and development on a much smaller scale. While they may create their formulations in smaller batches and with more rare or expensive raw materials, these costs are passed along to the consumer. But does this mean these products are more effective? Not always—and they seldom have the independent clinical studies to back their claims because clinical studies cost a lot of money. It is important to look for the words “clinically tested” on the packaging to know that the actual formulations have been studied.

When considering costs, consumers often turn to generic brands instead of brand names—but these products are not identical. Brands do the research and then generics just copy the ingredients, but the actual formulation is often different. The order in which the ingredients are added, the temperature used during mixing and the pH of the ingredients are trade secrets that greatly contribute to the efficacy of the products. While I love CVS, I have found that their generic versions do not work as well as the brand-name products they are copying. In my opinion, stick with Vaseline, Aveeno and Cetaphil—and don’t be fooled by the similar packaging.

A recent study featured in Consumer Reports compared mass-market anti-aging brands with pricier boutique counterparts, and the results may come as a surprise—especially if you’re one of those people who believe you get what you pay for. These creams were ranked by effectiveness (as determined by their effect on wrinkle reduction), and five of the top nine were inexpensive mass products.

So if less expensive products are often just as effective, or even more effective, than department store skincare offerings, you may be wondering what else contributes to their cost. In addition to the research and development mentioned above, elaborate packaging and celebrity endorsements contribute to the price as well.

But if you’re like most shoppers, the most important thing you look at when it comes to choosing a product is the price tag. Here are my product picks for a variety of skin types, whether you’re looking to save or splurge…

If you’re looking for niacin…

Great for sensitive skin and those with stubborn pigment, I often recommend niacin. The NIA 24 line contains a form called nicotinamide which is believed to penetrate the skin best, but your skin can also get a dose of niacin with CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM, which is much cheaper.

If you’re looking to even out your skin tone…

Clinique Even Better is a patient favorite, but you can also help eliminate unwanted pigment with Neutrogena Visibly Even Daily Moisturizer SPF 30, and the sunscreen is key for optimal results.

If you’re looking for an antioxidant…

I love Combray Oil because its packed with a powerful antioxidant called Oxofulleram, but in its place you can use Aveeno Active Naturals Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizer SPF 30, which contains feverfew for a similar protective effect. And instead of a pricey serum like Perricone M.D. Serum Prep (which contains DMAE), you can try Specific Beauty Skin Brightening Serum or Sophyto Anti-Aging Antioxidant Serum, available at Sam’s Club. But then again, if you’re willing to spend the money, Combray Oil, iS Clinical’s Pro-Heal Serum Advance+ andSkinCeuticals CE Ferulic are worth every penny.

If you’re into high-tech soap…

Silver-based Cor Soap has a cult following despite its $125 price tag—for one bar!—but you’ll be shocked to learn that Dove is a much better choice for your skin since it deposits fatty acids on the skin that leave it soft.

If you use daily SPF (and you should!)…

Women often fork over oodles of cash for sunscreen, and many of my patients swear by Laura Mercier Flawless Skin Mega Moisturizer SPF 15, Clarins Vital Light Day Cream SPF 15 and La Mer The SPF 30 UV Protecting Fluid. I recommend saving your money and trying Eucerin Q10 Anti-Wrinkle Sensitive Skin Lotion SPF 15.

If you’re looking for retinol…

Anti-aging products with retinol are the best way to keep lines and wrinkles at bay. On the more expensive side, there are offerings from Prada and Chanel that will do the trick, but you’re paying more for the name than anything. In the middle of the road, there’s SkinMedica Tri-Retinol Complex at $55 and Philosophy Help Me at $45, but I’ve found that RoC Multi-Correxion Night Treatment and Olay Professional Pro-X Deep Wrinkle Treatment are fantastic options that won’t break the bank

If you have very dry skin…

Patients of mine with extreme dryness say that La Prairie Skin Caviar Luxe Cream and Sisley Confort Extreme Night Skin Care are their extravagant go-tos. That’s when I tell them that I prefer Burt’s Bees Radiance Night Creme ($18), First Aid Beauty’s 5-in-1 Restore Cream ($36) and Reviva Labs EFAs Cream ($23).

Always worth the splurge…

Yes, these products are on the pricey side, but I’ve seen them at work so I know they deliver results. Sold exclusively in doctor’s offices, Vivité Vibrance Therapy improves signs of sun damage like roughness and dark patches. Also keep an eye out for Elure, a brand-new product that shows great promise for lightening unwanted pigment.

The bottom line…

Find out your skin type at SkinTypeSolutions.com and get skincare recommendations at every price point. We also want to hear about your favorites, so check us out and join the conversation on Facebook!

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