Luxe for less: 7 cheap swaps for skin care products

Nov. 28, 2011 at 1:48 PM ET /
Why pay for pretty packaging if your face still can look great for less?

Here's a little insider secret: While some prestige brands have hefty price tags to cover their high quality ingredients, a good chunk of their production costs go to their fancy-looking packaging. In fact, many brands spend more resources designing the package than creating the formula itself. On the flip side, drugstore brands' bucks go into researching the product formulas — which means much of what you can buy for $20 or less at CVS is pretty similar to what you'll pay $80 and up for at the department store.  

That's why went to skin care expert Paula Begoun, best-selling author of "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me," to find out which drugstore skin care products are truly comparable with high-end faves. Now you too can have flawless skin like your Sephora-obsessed friend — except with more cash in your pocket to spend at H&M, too.

Acne Exfoliator

Spendy: Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Acne Clearing, $65

Thrifty: Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Anti-Blemish Scrub, $7.99

Money saved: $57

Why you'll love it: The ExfoliKate is a "scrub with enzymes and alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) ingredients, but the enzymes likely won't remain stable in the product," says Begoun. Plus, "this formula contains fragrant irritants that hurt skin's healing process." Instead, opt for Neutrogena's scrub, which has salicylic acid instead of enzymes to treat blemishes, and AHAs to smooth the appearance of fine lines.

Eye cream

Spendy: La Mer The Eye Balm Intense, $145

Thrifty: ShiKai Borage Dry Skin Therapy 24-Hour Repair Cream, $15.99

Money saved: $129

Why you'll love it: Begoun says La Mer's eye cream commits three cardinal skin care sins:

1. It's packaged in a jar, so the most beneficial ingredients won't remain stable once the product is opened.

2. The formula contains several irritating ingredients that damage healthy collagen production, leading to skin that looks older due to daily chronic irritation.

3. The $145 price is tough on a tight budget.

Begoun says ShiKai Borage Dry Skin Therapy 24-Hour Repair Cream is a great swap. "This drugstore product has a similar emollient texture to La Mer's Eye Balm Intense, but without the irritating ingredients found in La Mer's product," she says.

Cleansing brush

Spendy: Clarisonic Skincare System, $145

Thrifty: Olay Professional Pro-X Advanced Cleansing System, $29.95

Money saved: $115

Why you'll love it: Begoun says Olay's "battery-powered cleansing brush with soft synthetic bristles works well to give skin an extra level of cleansing." The Olay brush claims to clean skin six times better than the now archaic hand-to-face wash. Begoun adds, "To save even more money, use a gentle cotton washcloth instead."


Spendy: Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Cream SPF 55 PA+++, $35

Thrifty: Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid Daily Sunblock SPF 50, $11.99

Money saved: $23

Why you'll love it: While Shiseido provides great broad-spectrum protection, Begoun says you can find similar coverage with Neutrogena's sunblock. "Be sure to pair this with an antioxidant serum to provide an additional measure of environmental protection and wrinkle repair," she says. Try Paula’s Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum, $25.95.

Anti-aging serum

Spendy: Peter Thomas Roth Firmx Growth Factor Extreme Neuropeptide Serum, $150 

Thrifty: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Serum, $26.99

Money saved: $123

Why you'll love it: "Peter Thomas Roth Firmx is a good serum, but it's needlessly pricey. It's actually closer to a moisturizer formula than a serum formula," says Begoun. Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Serum, which has amino-peptides and a B3 complex that penetrate deep into the skin to hydrate skin, will give you similar wrinkle-reducing results.

Face cleanser

Spendy: Fresh Soy Face Cleanser, $38

Thrifty: Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleanser, $7.50

Money saved: $30.50

Why you'll love it: Fresh's Soy Face Cleanser is gentle for sensitive skin, and soy increases collagen production -- therefore helping even out skin tone and texture. The Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleanser is a "less expensive cleanser that's very gentle and also contains various forms of soy," says Begoun.

Clay mask

Spendy: Boscia Luminizing Black Mask, $34

Thrifty: Boots Botanics Conditioning Clay Mask, $8.99

Money saved: $25

Why you'll love it: "The Boscia mask is an old-fashioned peel-off mask that contains several skin irritants," says Begoun. "Those with oily skin will likely find it makes their oiliness worse, because irritation stimulates excess oil production deep in the pores," says Begoun. A far better choice for an oil-absorbing mask (or a mask that dries on skin which you then rinse) is Boots Conditioning Clay Mask. "Both masks contain clay, which helps absorb oil," says Begoun. "But the Boots mask uses a gentler clay that doesn't have any irritants. It also contains a soothing agent (burdock root), which can help reduce redness."


Next: Check out these bargain swaps for high-end makeup products.


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