I got a call from a girlfriend recently, all breathless and excited, having just seen an ad for a skincare line that promised to make you “look 10 years younger after only one month of use.” “But it’s $200,” she wailed. “Should I try it?”

Friends know that I’ve been in the beauty industry for, well…ever, and I’m an unabashed beauty product junkie. I love the rich creams, the shimmery gold jars, the yummy scents, and the promises of youthful beauty, especially at an age where everything from the neck down has staged a coup on my once-perky body and taken my youth south of the border, with no return in sight.

However, I’m also a bit jaded about product promises vs. product delivery. I ask questions. I check ingredients. I want to know what it’s going to do for me, and exactly how it’s going to do that. Over the years, I’ve become a beauty product Sherpa to an extended group of girlfriends, who freely call from their homes, cars, or the Nordstrom cosmetic counter, asking “Is this product worth the money?”


After a quick response to her question (No, you do not need to spend $200 on your skincare line), she suggested a post on where to splurge and where to save on beauty products. I love it when friends and family suggest post ideas (helps avoid nasty writer’s block), and so to encourage a continuation of that activity, I promptly agreed.

Following is my Insider’s Guide to Beauty Products, Part I.

Many women, unfortunately, rely on makeup to hide the damage to their faces from years of stress, sun exposure, environmental toxins, bizarre diets, too much alcohol, and too little sleep. But makeup should not (and cannot) be expected to cover up blotchy, sallow, fried skin. Makeup can make good skin glow, but repair is a function of a targeted skin care routine. It doesn’t need to be complex or expensive. It just needs to be good.

A simple, but effective skin care regimen includes a cleanser, an exfoliator, and a moisturizer with sunscreen. That’s it. You don’t need to buy them all at Nordstrom, but you can’t find them all at Walmart.

1. Cleansers. This is where you can save a bundle. The most important thing to remember about cleansers is that you rinse them off. Regardless of how many anti-aging ingredients are supposedly in there, cleaners don’t stay on your skin long enough to do anything and they’re not absorbed into the skin. Why pay more? Inexpensive, unscented drugstore products work great.

2. Exfoliators. These are products designed to remove dead skin from your face. Without exfoliation, none of your other products will work. Dead skin sits on your face, layered like a shingle roof on your house, and works the same way. Nothing gets in (including your expensive, anti-aging moisturizer) and nothing gets out (dirt, oil, and environmental toxins that accelerate aging). Every product line from Olay to Chanel has one, and they’re all good. Find one from your favorite brand and use it every day. But go easy. You’re not stripping furniture. Gentle, daily use will make your skin smoother and more translucent, while increasing the absorption and effectiveness of your other skincare products. Bonus: Your makeup will also look better.

3. Moisturizers/Sunscreens. Most good moisturizers come with at least a 15 SPF, and this is where you’re going to want to spend some money. I get asked this one all the time. Are higher-priced moisturizers better than the drugstore ones? In a word, yes. Not because of the glitzy jars and the blinged-out sales counters. It’s because ofwhat’s in them. They contain better quality and higher amounts of key anti-agers like collagen, hyaluronic acid, and Retin-A. Retin-A is widely recognized as a rock star warrior against environmental agers (i.e. sun, wind, dust, hard water) and one of the first topical ingredients proven to actually help repair existing damage. You want this. You want this a lot. You don’t need Crème de Mer for $195 a jar, but go to a store like Nordstrom or Sephora and buy the best you can afford. This is the product where you get what you pay for.

4. Eye Creams. The cash cow of the beauty industry. The most generous thing I can say about these is that the marketing is pure genius. “Let’s tell every woman that buys a moisturizer from us that the skin around her eyes is somehow different than the skin on the rest of her face, then sell her a tiny jar of obscenely overpriced cream, in addition to the $75 moisturizer she just purchased (which, admittedly only a moment ago, we told her was fabulous, but now we’re saying needs an expensive booster for that “special eye area.” Just talk fast and add it on while her credit card is out). We’ll make millions.”

Seriously, dudes??

If your moisturizer is high-quality (you’re not just slapping $4 body lotion onto your face)  and contains sufficient quantities of proven anti-agers, including sunscreen, it will also serve as your eye cream. You do not need a second product. Use your yummiest anti-aging moisturizer/sunscreen in the morning, all over your face, including around the eye area, and you’re done.

5. A quick comment on Brand loyalty. This is one of the most commonly asked questions ever. What brand should I use? Very few industry insiders purchase all their products from the same line. “These products work best when used together” is a sales pitch. If you love Chanel’s moisturizer at $98, but prefer Clinique’s exfoliating lotion, that’s what you should buy. Use them both with Dove soap. Feel free to mix it up. Buy the products you like, from whatever line you like, as long as they perform their functions.

And there you have it. Part II, coming soon, is titled Makeup Products. Where to Save, Where to Splurge. In the meantime, if you have any questions, put them in the Comments section below, and I’ll answer them if I can!

An Insider’s Guide To Face Products: Where To Splurge And Skimp was last modified: by

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