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Today I wanted to sit down and approach what can be a bit of a prickly subject: how much should we reasonably be paying for our skincare? As a blogger, I've been lucky enough to have tried great products from both extremes of the price scale. But, do you really need to pay big money to get effective ingredients? And are the pricey products on the market really any better than the likes of the Ordinary, the Inkey List and others? I think we all know that with something like La Mer, most people are buying it for the boujee factor, however for this post I'm focusing on more science-based, active ingredient-focused brands. Let's dive in...
- THE INGREDIENTS THAT PROBABLY AREN'T WORTH IT -Let's start by talking through some ingredients I really don't think you need to splash out on. Whilst the likes of Dr. Barbara Sturm price hyaluronic acid at an eye-watering £235, I really don't think you need to splash the cash on basic moisturisers (such as squalane, marula oil and rosehip oil) or humectants (such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid). They're just going to soften and hydrate your skin, which a lot of products will do! If you want to check out my comparison of affordable hyaluronic acid serums then you can do so here. For me personally, I wouldn't spend much more on it than my reasonably-priced Niod Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex* | £38 | full review | costs. The main differences are often ease of application and the texture.
Acids are a tricky one, but I'm going to say I don't think you need to spend much to get an effective salicylic acid. This ingredient is amazing on spots and, honestly, I've used both the Ordinary's Salicylic Acid 2% Solution | £4.20 | full review | and the Super Facialist Salicylic Acid Anti-Blemish Clay Mask* | £10 | full review (sponsored) | for years and they do the trick for me, getting rid of my spots pretty much overnight! However, when it comes to other acids like lactic and glycolic, I do notice more of a variation in terms of both gentleness and effectiveness across different price-points.
Retinol is an area in which I'm decidedly undecided! Last year I did compare retinol products at different prices in this post, and generally preferred my more expensive options, however I've since tried what are probably now my personal favourite affordable retinols: the Beauty Pie Super Retinol Ceramide-Boost Anti-Ageing Serum | £8.95 | full review | and the Wow You! Glow to Sleep Retinol & Rosehip Night Moisturiser | £18 (15% off with code JASMINE15) | full review. These products really do rival some of the much-more-expensive retinols I've used. Additionally, as lovely as something like the Omorovicza Miracle Face Oil* | £82 | is, good bakuchiol (often called 'the natural retinol') can be bought for much less than this. I recommend the Bybi Beauty Bakuchiol Booster | £12 | full review.
- THE INGREDIENTS THAT MIGHT BE WORTH IT -The ingredient I think is very much worth spending more on (even if that's in the mid-range price-point of £30-45) is Vitamin C. I wrote an entire post on if they're worth your money here and my conclusion was that cheaper options often don't have the right sort of packaging to keep the product fresh which often leads to it oxidising after very little good use. For example, I've tried Vitamin C serums from both Pixi Beauty* and Revolution Skincare* for under £30 and, although they started off great, they both oxidised fast! Whereas those I'll talk about from SkinCeuticals and Omorovicza are still going strong months after opening.
I also wanted to mention sunscreens as a broad category. We've definitely come a long way since my childhood of Boots Soltan leaving a silvery-blue sheen across my skin, however I do still find that generally that when I invest a little more in my sunscreens they tend to pill up less, leave less of a white-cast, look better under makeup and so on.
- DO EXPENSIVE BRANDS DELIVER? -
Most of the products from this brand that I've tried come from their Genius Collagen collection. There's a lot of debate on whether collagen is actually effective when applied topically, so for some that might be enough to rule out paying high-end prices for vegan collagen-based products. However, anecdotally a lot of people seem to love it. I've tried both the Genius Liquid Collagen* | £90 | and the Genius Collagen Calming Relief* | £55. The liquid collagen is a thick serum that melts nicely into the skin, which I used for a couple of months towards the end of last year in both the morning and the evening. Personally, I find the fatty acids and Vitamin E in this formula so reparative for my skin, making it look and feel plump and smooth. It's an amazing antidote for a tired skin day because the bouncy-skin results are so immediate and noticeable. I think if you're in your 30s and you want to combat the first signs of ageing, this could be a sound investment (if you're comfortable with the price).
A more affordable option is the Calming Relief formula, which really worked for my skin during the winter. It not only contains some of that amazing collagen (though it's not as concentrated as the Liquid formula) but also nourishing goodness like jojoba and avocado oils and shea butter. I use it as a serum, usually in the evening. Finally, for this brand, I've also tried a product from a different range: the AA Barrier Serum* | £80. This product is formulated around an algae extract with strong antioxidant properties, alongside niacinamide (another antioxidant) to calm and protect the skin. This feels beautiful on the skin and I used it a lot during the winter months to help with redness and irritation I was experiencing. It worked a treat for me, though obviously there are products costing far less that you can get similar results with.
Omorovicza is my ultimate indulgence! It's definitely on the more luxurious side of the brands I'm discussing here, but I truly think the products are great, so I'm talking about them anyway! Omorovicza's products all contain their signature thermal spa water. Something like the Queen of Hungary Mist* | £55 | is a totally-unnecessary-but-lovely luxury, so I haven't included it in this post, instead focusing on the more active ingredients that you can really see a difference from using. First up, let's talk the Daily Vitamin C* | £87. As I've mentioned, I really struggle with finding an affordable Vitamin C serum that doesn't oxidise within a few weeks, but this rather intelligent packaging design ensures the Omorovicza serum stays fresh and good to use for ages. It's definitely given me a brighter, more radiant and even complexion, all whilst feeling amazing on the skin and having a hydrating texture. If you can bear to part with that much cash; it really did work well for me as a gentle daily dose of the ingredient.
Another product I really enjoy from the brand is their Elemental Emulsion* | £87 | which is a nice, light moisturiser that softens, plumps and smooths my skin. It contains high-quality hyaluronic acid, as well as marine extracts, which are all their own exclusive formulas, so it's hard to compare it directly to anything else. I personally really love this moisturiser and this mini is so generously-sized that I'd pick it up again. It's a really great option for dry or dehydrated skin in the summer, because it gives you everything you need in a texture that isn't too thick. If that's still feeling like a bit of a splurge then I know the Ordinary do something similar in serum form, though I haven't tried it myself. As I've already mentioned; I have and very much enjoy their bakuchiol oil but there are great alternatives out there that cost less.
QMS MedicosmeticsBuy here
We're venturing into the realm of cosmeceuticals, which is where several of the brands I'm discussing sit. I'll get the negatives on this one out of the way first; the Hydrating Boost Tonic Mist* | £38 | is nice and refreshing and adds moisture, but its ingredient list is pretty basic, so I think you can probably do yourself a favour and just buy a cheaper mist. A product I actually liked a lot, but can definitely be found for less money (being a hydrating, lightweight but basic cream cleanser) from a brand like Wow You! Beauty or Pixi, is the Deep Gentle Cleanser* | £38.
The product that actually knocked my socks off from this brand and could be 'worth it' if you're ok will splashing out was the Collagen System Sensitive* | £195. I think once you've already discovered and introduced active ingredients into your routine, it's quite hard to get dramatic and visible results in your skin again, however this set gave me that. Effectively you have a day collagen serum, a night collagen serum and an acid peel in this set. The concept is that you use the peeling treatment (with lactic and glycolic acids) then go in with either the day or night collagen serum to aid penetration into the skin, so if you wanted to do this for less, you could just pick up the day or the night collagen serum from this brand (which are both high-quality formulas) and just use whatever your existing acid toner of choice is beforehand. Either way, this system gave me such smooth, plump, glowing skin, to an extent that really made me stop and take notice. The high price tag is largely due to the fact you're effectively buying three separate products with this set, so consider if you really need the entire system or just a single product from it.
Skin RegimenBuy here
This brand is built around anti-ageing and protecting the skin against urban living. Therefore it's no surprise that the products I've tried from them are a sunscreen and an antioxidant. I actually discussed the Vitamin C Booster* | £76 | in my post about Vitamin C serums, so please go and check that out for more details, however this serum is only actually good for a month after opening which was the deal-breaker for me. Despite getting good results in terms of having bright, even skin during the time I used it, I just don't feel this is a sound investment. If you're happy to use it like a treatment course for £76; go for it, but getting an actual treatment done would yield more dramatic results for your money.
But, what about the sunscreen? The Urban Shield SPF30* | £42 | is a mineral broad-spectrum sunscreen formulated with titanium dioxide. For various reasons, from environmental ones to allergy-related ones, some people prefer mineral sunscreens to chemical formulas. This type of sunscreen physically blocks and reflects back UVA and UVB rays so they don't damage the skin, though this sort of formula can be problematic for deeper skin tones because it has a habit of leaving a silvery-blue white cast on the skin. This is actually one of the most fluid, lightweight and easy-to-wear mineral sunscreens I've ever used. It does take some massaging in, however on my skin tone I don't get a white cast, though if you're deeper than me, you possibly could. For me; what differentiates one mineral or chemical sunscreen from the next with the same protection level, is how fussy and messy it is to apply and this one sits nicely under makeup and doesn't feel thick or heavy. If you only want to use mineral formulas; this is probably the best I've tried and would make a sound investment.
This is one of the OG, cult expensive cosmeceutical brands, aiming to give results comparable to getting a facial treatment from the comfort of your own home. Top tip if you want to get their products for less: Look Fantastic often do discount codes that can be used on this brand and I've seen some amazing gifts with purchases on their site too. Their most famous product is probably the C E Ferulic* | £140. This is a Vitamin C serum with Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid, in a stabilised formula designed to last longer than most Vitamin C serums. That being said, it'll set you back a pretty penny... This product is primarily designed at slowing the effects of ageing, improving the skin's overall texture and making it look more even and radiant. For me, it absolutely has done this and improved the overall look and quality of my skin. Is it worth the amount it costs? That really depends on how much you spend on skincare treatments as it is; if you do things like getting professional peels, this could actually give you really similar results over a longer period, at home for less money.
The other serum I tried from them was their Retexturising Activator* | £90. This is a bit of a less-special item to me, as it's effectively a glycolic acid serum, albeit with a 20% concentration and a high-quality one, at that. This worked really well for me, again, giving me skin that was softer, smoother and clearer when using it every other day. I guess with this one, I just feel glycolic acid is less difficult to pin down than Vitamin C, so you can get a good serum containing it for less money than this. Finally, for SkinCeuticals, I also tried their much more reasonably-priced Brightening UV Defence SPF30* | £41. Obviously sunscreen is the most important step in any anti-ageing routine and extra-important when you're using strong actives like the serums from this brand. I really like this broad-spectrum sunscreen and would buy it again myself when I run out as my 'every single day' option. It's very lightweight, despite being a mineral formula, and I honestly don't get that weird silvery blue tinge to my skin when I use it. It doesn't pill up, it works really well under makeup and makes wearing sunscreen very easy.
Dr. Dennis GrossBuy here
This brand was founded by the eponymous dermatologist to combat signs of ageing, and was one of the first skincare lines to really just focus on actives and innovative skincare technology. The most iconic product from the brand is the facial peel; I have both the Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel* | £89 for 30 treatments | and the Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel | £89 for 30 treatments | full review. The two-step treatment contains an intense cocktail of acids, followed by a calming, soothing serum step (which also contains a little bit of retinol) and the Extra Strength version just takes the intensity up a notch. Using these peels (though they aren't for the faint-hearted, must be built up to and followed up with sunscreen) has given me such soft, clear and even skin, though I definitely can't afford to be using them daily; I still get great effects by incorporating them into my routine once or twice a week (or you could do a concentrated course of using them daily for 2 weeks) and they're absolutely worth the hype for me. You can buy a pack of 5 for £19, so if you only plan on using the peel weekly, it isn't too terrible.
Whilst I don't have oily or spot-prone skin in general, I definitely suffer with hormonal breakouts and have tried a couple of other products from the Alpha Beta line that help me a lot with this. A way of getting a little dose of the effects the peel has (but with more bang for your buck) is by using the Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel* | £17 for 60ml / £45 for 225ml. Whilst I wouldn't use this on my normal-dehydrated skin every day, it really helps clear my skin and make it glow, without feeling overly stripping. There's also the Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting and Refining Serum* | £68 | which I often switch to when I'm breaking out, because it not only helps clear up any active breakouts, but I find I get less scarring when I use this serum. It also has a brilliant smoothing effect on the skin and helps with blackheads on my nose. There's something about this formula that seems to really clear out my pores. However, if you don't want to part with the cash, regular use of the cleanser can yield a similar effect.
- MY VERDICT -As I hope my blog has demonstrated over the years; you really don't have to spend big to have a great skincare routine. The products I've given my seal of approval to in this post are brilliant if you can spend the money on them without the crushing feeling of guilt and expectations so high that no product could meet them. It's all about what you're comfortable with and what you want to invest your money in, particularly in the current climate! There are plenty of products from brands like the Ordinary and the Inkey List that I reach for more often than some of the ones I talked about here, which should really say it all. Whilst some ingredients (like Vitamin C), I do think are worth investing in, you don't have to use those ingredients. And, as amazing and next-level as some of the results can be with a product like the Dr. Dennis Gross peel, it's totally reasonable not to spend 500% on the price of a cheaper alternative to get 20% increased efficacy. If you do like to invest, hopefully this gave you an idea of the products I think are worth it. If not, I hope it reassured you that there are some amazing brands out there giving us skincare that works for affordable prices too.
Do you splash out on skincare? If so, which products were worth it for you? If not, what are your favourite brands making great skincare for less?
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