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How to Have Luxury Skin Care on a Scrawny Budget

By Suzanne Blons August 09, 2022 Beauty

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 a product feels or 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 20 years and 50 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 20 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 #11 on the deck. The product cost $350. The first 10 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 latter 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.

What do you focus on when looking for skin care products? Do you look at the ingredient list? Where do you like to go more inexpensive?

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H thanks for the info! It is good to learn about the chemicals (that’s all they are) we are using as beauty products, although the brands are unfamiliar, as I’m in Australia.
Nothing, NOTHING, will reduce wrinkles, make skin younger, lengthen eyelashes,
The less makeup used, the more our skin can breathe & will look great for many years.
N.B. I so don’t care if someone earns $3000 a day —could these emails PLEASE be blocked, they spoil this site.

Suzanne The Beauty Shaman

Hi Jen, it’s true that it’s good to allow the skin to breathe and go without makeup and chemicals. It’s also true that not all chemicals are bad! It really depends on their toxicity rating. I try to use as few chemicals as possible, and also research the other ones to be sure they aren’t harmful


Let’s get real. Wrinkles come with age, even with latest technology. I often say I would not use anything on my skin that I can not safely eat. At 76 I doubt I will really doubt I will remove the marks of time. Those that live in the hope of this may feel better by using the expensive creams. I wish them luck.

Hi Jenny, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

The Author

Suzanne Blons, The Beauty Shaman, has been in the beauty industry for nearly 40 years. A former Revlon Charlie Girl, she is now a professional makeup artist and has worked with such luminaries as Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and Arianna Huffington. Today, Suzanne shares her beauty secrets on her YouTube channel, The Beauty Shaman. Check out her store, blog, coaching, and beauty courses.

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