The cost of cosmetics: does dearer mean better?

Creams and lotions can cost hundreds of euro for a tiny jar, but are they worth it? Would you be better off buying a cheaper version or making your own in the kitchen?

Brand loyalty: many of us seem to buy products because we have been blinded by advertising, science and the lure of famous names. Photograph: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

Brand loyalty: many of us seem to buy products because we have been blinded by advertising, science and the lure of famous names. Photograph: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

 

While working in the make-up section of a department store, I once met a woman who spent a lot of money on a very small jar of face cream. It was supposedly packed with vitamins and minerals to help “rejuvenate the skin from within”. She scoffed the lot in just two weeks. We knew she had eaten it because she came back complaining that although her skin did indeed feel younger, more radiant and glowing, the jar hadn’t lasted as long as she would have liked.

I think she had convinced herself it was working because it had cost so much. How many of us, blinded by advertising, science and brand names, do the same?

When it comes to cars, technology and household appliances, it can often be argued that when you spend big you get more value for your money. Or that if the designer shoes or handbag are made from the finest Italian leather, they will last longer and are worth the investment

But when it comes to expensive cosmetics, how easy is it to justify higher prices? A lot of work goes into testing and formulating face creams, but are there enough expensive ingredients in them to justify spending hundreds of euro?

A typical cosmetics hall can be divided into four categories: the make-up artists (Mac, Laura Mercier, Bobbi Brown, etc); the fashion houses (Chanel, Tom Ford, YSL); the beauty houses (Estée Lauder, Elizabeth Arden); and the dermatologists (Lancôme, Clinique, Clarins).

Most of the make-up artists are great at producing make-up that stays on, looks well and photographs perfectly. The product is usually developed with quick removal in mind. The fashion houses often employ experts to develop skincare and make-up ranges for them, and experts cost money. The beauty houses are all-rounders, good at fragrance, make-up and skincare.And the dermatologists are already experts in their field, so should they be passing the expense on to the costumer?

 

Creams of the crop

Crème de la Mer costs a lot because it was developed by a former aerospace physicist who was badly burned in a laboratory accident, and he undertook extensive research and more than 6,000 experiments to produce his miracle broth. The cream is made of rare maritime ingredients and includes semi-precious stones.

I have tried the eye concentrate from this range, which in my case did not produce dramatic results, and the only justification for the €100 price tag is that I’ve been using it since last Christmas and it hasn’t run out yet.

This year I was sent an illuminating serum from Armani. I used it under my make-up for a few days and thought that my skin looked healthier and younger, and that my make-up lasted longer and looked better.

I began to use it on clients and went to buy more. When I discovered that it cost €115, I removed it from my work kit and slipped it back into my own personal make-up bag. I now save it for very special occasions.

In the past I’ve also used Lidl’s Cien range with very positive results. It costs less than €4 a jar, and you can get the day and night cream plus a tube of cotton pads for less than €10. I don’t know how Lidl even packages it all for that price – but it works. I wouldn’t describe it as amazing, but it works.

 

Ingredients

In a world that is increasingly sensitive to chemicals and additives, do we ask ourselves what cosmetic products are made from? Past generations survived on Pond’s Cold Cream and little else. It’s now trendy to be paraben-free – and rightly so – but you don’t have to spend a fortune to be more organically friendly to both yourself and the environment. Lots of less expensive brands such as La Roche-Posay and Vichy tick most of those boxes.

I have friends and clients who swear by liquid paraffin oil to remove make-up, rosewater to tone and coconut oil to moisturise. Any of these can be found in a pharmacy or supermarket for just a few euro.

There’s also a move towards using everyday kitchen ingredients to concoct masks and scrubs. When we read the back of our expensive lotions, are the technical terms used just scientific descriptions of ingredients we already know and use on a daily basis?

In the Irish market, producers such as Bia Beauty and Voya have gained popularity in recent years. A relative of mine had fantastic results with Bia Beauty cream on his psoriasis. It is so natural that you can eat this stuff, although please don’t.

Do we need manmade proteins such as Matrixyl to boost collagen? Over 20 weeks’ supply of No7’s Protect and Perfect sold out in a day after it was reported that the science behind this protein could reverse the signs of ageing. This protein can also be found in Olay and Skin Doctors, neither of which is a high-end, bank-breaking brand. There haven’t been many luxury-brand stampedes on cosmetics counters or first-day sell-outs. Perhaps this can be attributed to the price point. You’re not going to get a €300 potion to sell out in record time.

 

Lifestyle solutions

Some of the most dramatic results I’ve had have been through changes in diet and lifestyle. Proper cleansing at night, be it with a diamond-infused exfoliate or an oatmeal and honey scrub you have blended yourself in the kitchen, can help, as can giving up smoking, drinking more water and eating a diet rich in antioxidants.

I’m eager to try a facelift diet – full of spinach, strawberries and salmon – that I read about and that Eva Mendes swears by. Ingesting supplements such as spirulina and omega oils has numerous benefits to skin, hair and nails also.

We are what we eat, how we feel and what we do. We get out what we put in. Stressful job causing frown lines? Poor diet causing dehydration? Papering over the cracks with pricey creams will only help temporarily. And it probably won’t do much good at all if you digest them rather than apply them to the skin.

 

Kate Noonan is a make-up artist and blogger based in Cork

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