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Where To Save & Splurge On Skin Care, From A Cosmetic Chemist

Skincare cosmetics bottles on gray concrete block
Image by Marc Tran / Stocksy
September 4, 2022
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Caring for your skin is essential, as it is your body's largest organ. That being said, most people don't wish to spend a pretty penny on every single item—especially if their lineup consists of more than a few products. (And at the end of the day, no product can replace the simple act of taking care of yourself.)

However, if you're trying to create a realistic beauty budget, it's important to decide what comes first on your priorities list. Here, cosmetic chemist Javon Ford shares what skin care items you should invest in and which ones you might be able to save a few bucks on if you're craving balance. 

Why vitamin C and retinol may be worth investing in. 

Basic skin care does not need to be astronomically expensive. However, some ingredients cost more than others on the manufacturing side as well. According to Ford, retinol (in its many forms) is one of them: "It's not a cheap ingredient, nor is it cheap to stabilize," Ford tells mbg. 

What exactly does "stability" mean in skin care? Well, less stable ingredients are more subject to degradation when exposed to air, light, heat, or water in some cases. When the ingredient is unstable, it may be less effective and can even cause more damage to the skin. 

This is why you'll oftentimes see products like retinol stored in airtight containers that protect the ingredient from destabilizing factors like those above. The same is true for the buzzy skin brightener vitamin C. 

When it comes to choosing a vitamin C serum, Ford says, "Buy whatever you can afford, except the more money you pay, the more stable the formula should be." To reiterate: You can certainly buy a budget-friendly vitamin C serum, but if your product does come with a steep price tag, you may be investing for better stability.

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Where to save. 

When it comes to products like cleansers and hydrating serums, the pricier products will oftentimes provide a better sensorial experience. "The more money you spend on a product, the better it will feel on the skin; that's the point of luxury skin care," Ford explains.

For example, a less expensive hyaluronic acid serum may feel a bit sticky on the skin, while the pricier option may leave behind a smoother surface. An affordable oil cleanser may take a bit of work to fully rinse off the skin, while the more expensive product may wash off with ease. Of course, we're generalizing here, and you can certainly find sensorially appealing options at budget prices, but it's an overall pattern Ford has found from years in the industry.

However, cleansers and simple serums like hyaluronic acid oftentimes deliver similar results. "They do what they claim to do, and they may not have the best texture, but they deliver on their performance," Ford explains. 

So if you need to cut down on your skin care spending, you might want to consider opting for a more affordable cleanser and continuing to invest in vitamin C and retinol products to ensure you're getting the biggest bang for your buck all around. And if you choose to spend more on skin care regardless of the step, you shouldn't feel bad about it—self-care is something you should enjoy.

The takeaway. 

Figuring out where to spend and where to save on skin care is no easy task. As a general rule of thumb: Invest in products that are notoriously unstable, like vitamin C and retinol serums. If you need to cut down costs, reach for a more affordable cleanser and hyaluronic acid serum (if you're using it). And at the end of the day, caring for your skin in any capacity you can afford is what matters most.

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Hannah Frye
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.