Is Expensive Skincare Better?
To splurge, or not to splurge
It’s not unusual to be tempted by the promises of luxury skincare. After all, who doesn’t wish they could afford that $200 gold-flecked night cream? There’s also this idea that luxury brands have bigger budgets and more resources, so surely their products must work better. But the truth is that a higher price tag doesn’t guarantee anything. Luxury brands are in the business of selling a lifestyle, so it’s important to know what you’re paying for.
Why are expensive products so…well, expensive?
There are a few reasons why luxury skincare comes with luxury prices, so we’ve outlined some of the most common ones here:
Exclusive ingredients. Because of their reputations, high-end brands are more likely to have access to exclusive ingredients. These may be hard to source, difficult to grow, hard to process, or come from exotic locations. They may get ingredients that are specially sourced and not available to lower-priced brands.
Secondary ingredients. Secondary ingredients really affect the way a product is formulated and your experience using it. It changes the way the product feels, what kind of finish it has, and how long it lasts. Luxury brands have a bigger budget to spend on these secondary ingredients. Their products may feel silkier, have a glowy finish, or go on smoother than drugstore brands that focus their resources on the main ingredients.
Proprietary blends and R&D. Formulation, testing, and certification all require money, and sometimes a lot of it. A brand that charges a premium for their products is more likely to have the money to do many rounds of tests and trials. This also means they can develop combinations and blends that are exclusive to them.
More actives, sometimes. This all depends on the product. There is a chance that a higher cost product will have a higher concentration of active ingredients (or more actives), because those ingredients cost more and are more difficult to formulate. However, this is not the case 100% of the time.
Fancy glass jars, special droppers and airless pumps all raise the cost of production and shipping, and those costs get passed on to the consumer. Sometimes these packages help to preserve the formula, and sometimes… well, they’re just for looks.
Marketing, marketing, marketing. This is the main reason why pricey products can have sky-high prices. Celebrity endorsements, events and promotion are the number one added cost for luxury products. This is in line with pretty much all luxury items. They are, after all, selling a lifestyle that promises consumers something more than the “regular” stuff everyone else is using.
Why price doesn’t guarantee a product that works for you
It would take some guesswork out if costly skincare automatically meant better skincare, but luckily that isn’t the case. One of the most important things to remember is that exclusivity is just that - something that is less common, but not necessarily better. A proprietary blend of ingredients may be unique to a product, but it doesn’t make it any better or worse for you. This is the same for rarer ingredients. Rare doesn’t mean it works better, and it certainly doesn’t mean it will work for your specific skin.
If you’re looking for something functional and don’t need the frills, you can often find something that works just as well in your local drugstore. Budget brands and higher end brands are sometimes owned by the same parent company, meaning they use similar formulas but different packaging. You may be better off spending time looking for an affordable product that works, so you can keep using it long term.
Tips for getting good skincare, on a budget
- Look for good ingredients that work for you. Good ingredients work in both low and high-priced products.
- Look for science to back up claims. Some ingredients are well-researched, and known to produce results. There are less likely to be many studies about ultra-rare ingredients, so beware of marketing that claims that expensive ingredients are miracle ingredients.
- Look at the ingredient list. What’s near the top of the list? Do I know if these work for me? Don’t forget to look closely, regardless of the price point.
- Don’t assume higher concentrations are better. It all depends on what your skin needs. A luxury brand may advertise a 10% concentration, but if you only need 2%, why pay for something you don’t need?
- Save your money for products with more actives. Serums and ampoules are often the heavy hitters when it comes to repair, anti-ageing, and fading pigmentation. They have higher levels of actives, so they’re going to cost more. If you’re going to splurge, do it on something that is going to get absorbed into your skin and stay there a while, not something you’re going to wash off in 10 seconds.
Our best skincare advice when it comes to expensive products? Look at them the same way you'd look at any other product - with an eye for ingredients you know will work for your skin.