Are Expensive Skincare Products Worth it?

Alexandra Thompson
Alexandra Thompson23 Aug 2022

Between local pharmacies and specialized beauty stores, there are millions of options to choose from for skincare products. Furthermore, products with similar ingredients and goals in treating skin concerns vary significantly in price. More expensive products typically have higher concentrations of ingredients and a more thorough regulation process; however, that does not necessarily equate to greater effectiveness.  

Deciding Whether Expensive Skincare Products Are Worth It 

If you are considering purchasing a more expensive skincare product, it's important to consider some key points. The questions below can help you decide if the more expensive products are worth the splurge and when you should seek out a cheaper or medium-expensive option

  1. Make sure the product has the active ingredients and the concentration level you are looking for. If you are comparing several products at different price points, look for which ingredients are used in each product and how concentrated each ingredient is. Later in the article, we highlight some effective active ingredients and ingredient combinations to address skin conditions.
  2. If you have an inexpensive version of a product, but it isn’t working for your skin, the pricer option might be worth the investment. Check what the active ingredients are in both products and if the concentrations differ.
  3. Before purchasing, you should also look at the reviews for the product online. Although everyone’s skin is different, reviews can be an excellent reference for the general consensus of whether the product is overall effective.
  4. If you are purchasing a skincare product in person, you can ask sales representatives what they recommend for your skin type, given your price range and products that have or have not worked for you in the past. If you see a dermatologist, you should also ask what types of products they recommend for your skin.
  5. If you're still unsure about purchasing the product, think about your motives. Are you buying the product for the hype or because of its branding? Are there other options available that are a happy medium between the cheapest and most expensive product? Do you know the products active will work for your skin based on previous products you have used?

What Makes Skincare Products Expensive vs. Affordable?

Over the last few years, there has been an increase in influencers and beauty bloggers providing reviews of expensive skincare products and recommendations for inexpensive replacements. Nevertheless, there has been much debate regarding whether or not more costly products yield better results, as some experts swear by cheaper drugstore options. 

According to dermatology expert Dr. Charlotte Birnbaum, there are a few key categories to assess when deciding if a product with a hefty price tag is worth the expense. 

Check the Marketing and Packaging  

Not all expensive products that are scientifically proven to be effective give you the most benefit and bang for your buck. Marketing is one of the main drivers of price for skincare products. More expensive products typically come from high-end or luxury brands, which tend to spend more money on campaigns and expensive marketing strategies. Thus the product cost can be indicative of the effort put into marketing. 

In addition to marketing strategies and campaigns, the packaging is also paralleled with product cost. Oftentimes brands will make their packaging box and product exterior visually appealing to increase their popularity and justify a higher price. Studies have shown that a brand or product packaging alone is a key driver of success and greater sales. Although certain brands will spend thousands of dollars on campaigns and creating aesthetically pleasing products, this does not necessarily indicate a better or more effective product.  

What are the Proprietary Ingredients?

It is also important to consider proprietary ingredients, which are formulations made with a mixture of ingredients unique to the product. When proprietary ingredients are used, the particular amount of each ingredient in the mixture does not have to be listed. With skincare products, proprietary ingredients can contain one ingredient that can drive up the cost. In turn, a small amount of a rare ingredient, which may not be enough to yield more effective results, can unjustly raise the total cost of the product. 

What is the Concentration of Active Ingredients?  

One of the most important dictators of cost and one of the primary measures to gauge if more expensive products are worth it is concentration. More expensive products will typically have a higher concentration of ‘good’ and active ingredients. Active ingredients in skincare ingredients are intended to treat and target specific problems, such as hyaluronic acid for dry skin.   

There are two ways you can tell the concentration of active ingredients in a product. Some products will list the concentration percentage on the bottle. For example, an anti-aging serum might explicitly state it has a 15% vitamin c concentration on the label. Not all products are as blatant with concentration percentage, which is why examining the ingredient list is your next best step. 

Ingredient lists on skincare products contain active and inactive ingredients; some products might even have separate lists for active ingredients. In either case, ingredient lists are ordered from highest concentration to lowest. A good rule of thumb is to see if the product has active ingredients within the first five ingredients on the list.  

Products with higher concentrations of active ingredients are generally safe for most skin types and don't contain fragrances that can lead to allergic reactions. Some less expensive products may have a lower concentration of potent ingredients, which can decrease the strength and effectiveness of the product. 

However, it's important to note that lower concentration is not always a bad thing; some products with high concentrations of active ingredients can be too harsh, depending on your skin type. When trying a new product with a highly concentrated ingredient, you should start by doing a spot test on the back of your hand to see how your skin reacts before applying it to your face. 

Top Active Ingredients and Combos for Skincare Products

Active Ingredients are the main things to look for inexpensive and affordable skincare products. The biggest factor when comparing products is the amount of active ingredients in each product.

Here are some of the top active ingredients:   

  • Alpha-hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
  • Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)
  • Ceramides
  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Niacinamide
  • Peptides
  • Retinoids
  • Antioxidants
  • SPF

Active ingredients alone are effective in addressing some of the top skin concerns. However, when multiple active ingredients are used in combination with each other, you can increase the effectiveness of your targeted treatments. Below is a chart of some of the best active ingredient combinations and their respective benefits.  

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Active Ingredient Benefits in Skincare Products

Ingredient Combination Benefits 
Niacinamide and Vitamin C Reduces inflammation, minimizes pores, promotes collagen production, reduces fine lines, protects from UV damage 
Retinoids and Hyaluronic Acid Improves skin tone and signs of aging, maintains moisture, and promotes collagen production 
Antioxidants and SPF Protects against sun damage and UVs, fights against skin cancer
Hyaluronic Acid and Vitamin C Smooths skin texture, reduces fine lines, creates balanced and brighter skin

Source: Byrdie.com 

When Should I Apply Each Active Ingredient?

For greater effectiveness and reducing the likelihood of causing reaction and irritation, it's important to apply your active ingredients at the right time and with the proper routine. Below we outline some products that may be beneficial to add to a morning and evening skincare routine. Nonetheless, everyone’s skin is different, so you should always speak with your dermatologist about what skincare products are best for you. 

Morning Skincare Routine 

In the morning, it's best to start your day with a clean slate by cleansing your face and following up with your favorite toner. Toners work to remove excess dirt and impurities stuck in your pores following your face wash. Toners can help reduce the appearance of pores, restore skin’s pH level and improve texture. 

After your toner, you should add hydrating serum and products such as hyaluronic acid.  In conjunction with your hyaluronic acid, you can apply vitamin c and other antioxidants. You should finish up your morning routine with an SPF ingredient or sunscreen, especially if you plan to go outside during the day. 

Nighttime Skincare Routine 

For your nighttime routine, experts recommend double cleansing, especially if you wear makeup. Start with micellar water to wipe off makeup and oil build-up. Micellar water is an all-in-one cleanser, toner, and moisturizer that removes dirt and oil buildup and cleans your pores without drying out the skin.  

After the micellar water, follow up with your regular cleanser, then your nightly serums, treatment, or creams that work the best overnight. Some of the most common nighttime treatments are retinoids, AHAs and BHAs. 

Common Skincare Product FAQ(S)  

Below are some answers to commonly asked questions about skincare products, ingredients to avoid, and comparing products. If you are unsure about a product's ingredients and how it will react to your skin, you should seek advice from your physician or dermatologist.

What are common skincare ingredients to avoid mixing?  

There are a few combinations of active ingredients that you should avoid:

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Retinoids + AHA or BHA  

Retinoids and common skin acids such as AHAs and BHAs are both super effective but can lead to extreme skin sensitivity and irritation. 

Retinoids + Vitamin C   

Retinoids in combination with vitamin C can cause over-exfoliation of the skin and increase skin and sun sensitivity. 


AHA and BHA are not indeed layered together and can cause severe irritation. A common BHA is salicylic acid, and AHA is a common lactic acid. 

It's important to note that some products may not be 100 percent free of the previously listed ingredients, but the lower on the ingredient list, the better. Additionally, if you find a skincare product and have questions about the ingredients, you should seek out professional opinions from your physician or dermatologist

Where is the best place to compare skincare products?  

If you plan to shop in stores, locations such as Sephora and Ulta Beauty offer a huge selection of skincare products at varying price ranges. In-store shopping also allows you to seek out recommendations from beauty professionals, consult product reviews, and compare ingredient lists before purchasing.  

If you want to take your product comparison to the next level, websites such as Think Dirty, CosDNA, and Skincarisma allow you to enter your product into the browser and instantly receive a full report of the ingredient list and safety recommendations. 

Bottom Line 

When it comes to skincare products, a larger price tag does not always lead to more effective products and better results. If your main goal is to have the most effective skincare regimen, looking at the ingredient list and finding out more about the concentration of active ingredients should be your first step. Although more expensive products will typically have a larger concentration of active ingredients, utilizing the right combination in your regimen can yield even better, brighter, and healthier skin.

Mira may be a great option if you are trying to save on health care expenses, such as prescription skincare products. For only $45 per month, Mira members get access to affordable urgent care visits, lab tests, and discounts on prescriptions. Sign up and start saving today.

Alexandra Thompson

Originally from Houston, Texas, Alexandra is currently getting her Master's in Public Health with a health policy certificate at Columbia University. One of her life goals is to own her own art gallery!