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When is the price right?

Although I had promised readers that I wouldn’t be writing any new posts until January, a recent discussion compelled me to do an additional post on this:

How much does price affect the efficacy and quality of skin care products?

With the holiday shopping season upon us, you may be thinking about picking up that expensive cream or serum as a gift to yourself or someone you love. However, before making that purchase, think if that product is really worth buying. Why are you buying it? Is it because you’re curious whether that product will live up to the claims shown on its advertisements? Or is it because the recipient of said gift places a high value on the product’s brand and therefore, will remember and thank you more emphatically? If the reason is to make someone else (or yourself) joyful, then by all means it doesn’t really matter if the product is actually beneficial as long as the spirit of the gift is. However, if the reason has anything to do with how well a product is supposed to perform, then you need to think critically before making the purchase.

Proponents of both sides have several eloquent and relevant arguments.

Those who believe that price directly influences efficacy argue that because:

  • Many sensitive ingredients like L-ascorbic acid and retinol are difficult to stabilize and require unique delivery systems to enhance penetration, they require additional (financial) efforts to elucidate, comprehend, and integrate;
  • The raw “active” ingredients present in a product require funding, if more of said ingredient is present in a formulation, the price would logically be higher.

While these are both excellent observations and realities, they only remain valid to certain extents. They are not broad sweeping generalizations that can completely justify the price of something. For example, what about expensive cleansers? What about creams and serums that don’t contain ingredients that require special attention? And let’s be serious, most expensive skin care products don’t even utilize special delivery systems. The majority of them are simple oil-in-water or water-in-oil emulsions that employ ingredients like dimethicone and emulsifying wax, which are certainly not expensive. On the other hand, a retinol product by Neutrogena, which I recently reviewed here, contains a “unique” delivery system that employs sequestering agents that allow for a timed-release. You don’t see that being sold for hundreds of dollars.     

Now, those who believe that price does not influence efficacy argue that:

  • Many high-end companies inflate their prices because their target consumers equate price and quality;
  • These companies also have quasi-scientific studies done, which require funding, in order to provide evidence for the claims attached to products that will allow for precipitations in sales;
  • These companies have to factor in the cost of returned products since most high-end and even midrange lines have lenient return policies.

Once again, these are certainly good points. However, they don’t always apply. For example, just the other day a buddy of mine returned an Olay cream because she didn’t like it. In addition, some products contain new ingredients that were found to be greatly beneficial through actual scientific studies and trials, though this particular scenario is rare.

So what is the final answer to this question of price and quality? Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear one since sometimes it’s yes, and other times no. All you can really do is look at the ingredients and see which ones are well-documented and beneficial. That’s it: Ingredients, ingredients, ingredients. It’s not about brand, anecdotal reviews, or price. Keep in mind that you also need to consider other important properties like pH and packaging. And yes, although there are limitations to ingredient-based reviews, for example you can’t tell what concentration of a specific ingredient is present or if it will penetrate your skin, it is the only tool that everyday consumers like us can meaningfully and accurately utilize to evaluate a skin care product before actual application.

Please feel free to comment and ask questions below. Maybe you found some fallacy to my argumentative structure or an exception to something I said. Whatever it is, I’m sure the readers and I will be grateful that you spoke up!

Please note that a slightly tangent discussion about this topic can be found here.

About John

The Triple Helixian is an unbiased science and research-based site that attempts to clarify and elucidate questions about skin care, while aspiring to be the most thorough and complete source of information.


2 thoughts on “When is the price right?

  1. I wish I could figure out what products would make my skin look best w/o endless trial and error. I recently shelled out a lot of money for several Perricone products and in 7 weeks of daily usage, I see absolutely no difference in my skin. I emailed them and questioned how the product’s active ingredients can remain stable when most all of them are in jars which you open and expose the contents to air each time you go to use them. They re-assured me it was all fine and good, no problem, but I was stupid for believing them… and all the hype around their products. I’d love to find something really effective that would transform my skin but I just don’t believe it’s out there. I’d happily switch to other products once the Perricone ones are used up but like I said, the endless trial and error just annoys me.

    Posted by Karen Stauss | January 10, 2012, 8:28 pm
    • Yeah I can definitely see that happening. I hope this article helped enlighten you on some topics. And of course, if there are specific products you are interested in, I’d be happy to review them for you if you send me a request. Thanks for commenting!

      Posted by John | January 10, 2012, 8:39 pm

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