The range in skincare pricing is a wide one. On one end, you can purchase a three-step regimen at the drugstore and get out the door for around $20. On the other end, high-end skincare can run in the hundreds per product. Yet, you’ll notice similar promises—reduced wrinkles, faded dark circles, and minimized pores to name a few.
So, what’s the deal? Are you paying for a name and fancy packaging or are you actually getting a better product?
When it comes to comparing skincare products, not unlike comparing top-shelf whiskey to bottom-barrel swill, it all comes down to ingredients and the process by which it’s made. Drugstore-level products are generally very low in active ingredients, while premium-level skincare products pack them in. Active ingredients are the ones that actually do the job, they do what the front of the bottle promises. Everything else in the formulation is an inactive or “delivery” ingredient.
Here’s a quick analogy: Picture a bus full of construction workers heading to a job site. The construction workers represent the active ingredients while the bus represents the inactive ingredients. With premium skincare, the bus is full and the construction workers are eager to get to work. With drugstore skincare, the bus has only a few construction workers on board and they’re sitting in the very back not looking very enthused about the job ahead.
Where the construction workers are sitting or, rather, where the ingredients are listed on the label, matters. While there are exceptions, generally, you want the active ingredients to be listed within the first seven ingredients in a formulation. Often, on a drugstore-product label, the hero ingredient, the one featured on the front as the cure-all youth serum will be one of the last on a long list of lazy ingredients.
Then things get really tricky because inactive ingredients aren’t completely useless—they’re the bus, remember? If you were a construction worker, would you rather be driven to a job site on a school bus or a Mercedes Sprinter? Inactive ingredients in drugstore-level skincare products are rickety school busses with a lot of stops to make before getting to the destination (i.e. results). On the other hand, premium skincare products are carefully formulated with Mercedes Sprinter-level inactive ingredients that are engineered to deliver active ingredients faster, safer, and more efficiently.
Sure, scour the drugstore long enough and you’ll find a decent product at a good price. But if you’re really looking to drive results, why waste your time?