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Find out which beauty products are worth splurging on—and where you can save

By Mariève Inoue

It’s no secret that a product that costs twice as much as another isn’t necessarily twice as effective. And although a higher price tag may in some cases reflect higher quality or additional benefits, a much less expensive alternative can often perform just as well. So why do certain products tend to be more expensive?

“Packaging definitely costs a lot,” says Jennifer Brodeur, the founder and CEO of JB Skin Sävvi (formerly JB Skin Guru). “For smaller brands, it’s often a question of ingredients and formulations.”

Product claims can also affect production costs. “Claim testing really drives the cost of a product,” says Abena Antwi, an associate director and product designer at Burt’s Bees. This is why products with proven benefits are often more expensive. Which products are worth splurging on, and where can you save with less expensive alternatives of comparable quality? We took a look at different product categories.

Face and Body Cleanser

Save. “Cleanser stays on your face for less than 15 seconds, so you don’t need to spend a lot of money on it,” Antwi says. Make sure to choose a gentle, non-irritating formula. If you have significant skin problems or struggle with very sensitive or dehydrated skin, it may be worth spending a little more on a pH-balanced cleanser, which will help you steer clear of itchiness and redness.

Serum and Treatments

Splurge. Serums and treatments are targeted. “When you want to address a specific issue such as dark spots and redness, the active ingredient in a serum is the key to achieving good results,” Brodeur explains.

Although serums are among the most expensive types of products, they typically have higher concentrations of key ingredients such as vitamin C, retinol, niacinamide, and peptides than are found in standard moisturizers and cleansers.

Moisturizer

It depends. The type of moisturizer is key in this budget/beauty trade-off. A basic moisturizer can be perfectly suitable for daytime, for example. “But you can invest a little more in your night cream,” Brodeur says. Nighttime is when the skin repairs and rehydrates itself, so it’s crucial to provide the skin with the nourishment it needs to accomplish this important task.

As for body moisturizer, an affordable product can do a great job. If your skin is sensitive, simply opt for an unscented formula.

Sunscreen

Save. A formula that contains SPF 30 is fine for daily use. There are so many different textures of sunscreen on the market that you’re sure to find a product to match your needs.

“You can find one suited to your preferences and skin type without spending a lot of money,” Antwi says. Looking to save even more? Brodeur points out that a highly hydrating sunscreen can replace your traditional moisturizer, especially in summer.

Eye Cream

It depends. Is a designated cream for the eyes truly necessary? While some experts claim it isn’t, others argue that the eye area requires a product designed specifically for its thin, delicate skin.

“If you have a good face moisturizer and don’t have any specific issues in the eye area, your regular cream should provide sufficient hydration,” Antwi says. But if you have sensitive skin or dark circles, an eye cream with targeted ingredients may be beneficial.

Pay attention to texture, too: “If your day cream is rich and very thick, you may not want to apply it to your eye area,” Brodeur says.

Shampoo and Conditioner

Splurge. According to Alexia Baillargeon, a makeup artist and hair stylist and the owner of the Au Studio salon in Montreal, it’s worth spending money on a high-quality shampoo that is suited to your hair type. Once you’ve found a good shampoo that doesn’t irritate your scalp and a conditioner that effectively rehydrates your hair, you can skip the hair mask, which should help balance your expenses.

Perfume

Splurge. The high price of fragrances is due in part to luxurious bottles and celebrity endorsements, but there are other factors at play. “The way fragrances are formulated influences how long they last on the skin,” Antwi says.

our choice of fragrance is very personal, so splurge on a perfume you love. “Your scent becomes your signature,” Brodeur says. However, if you prefer a variety of scents so you can match your perfume to your mood, consider spending a bit less on each product.

Foundation and Concealer

Splurge. Foundation and concealer are applied directly to your skin, so look for formulas that blend in f lawlessly. Foundations that are pricier may offer additional benefits, such as hydrating ingredients and added sun protection. Similarly for concealers, Baillargeon says, quality often comes at a price: “Since you apply it to areas that are prone to fine lines or wrinkles, you need a good amount of coverage.”

Blush and Highlighter

Save. You’ll find good basic blush shades such as pink and raspberry at the pharmacy. “If you’re already using a high-quality foundation, you don’t have to spend too much on blush,” Baillargeon says.

What about highlighter? It’s an enhancer, rather than an essential makeup item such as concealer or mascara, so there’s no need to break the bank.

Eyeshadow and Eyeliner

Save. Some eye makeup is very pigmented and has a nice texture despite not costing very much.

“You’ll find drugstore formulations that work as well as, if not better than, other options you’d be paying a lot more for,” Antwi says. This is particularly true for eyeshadows and eyeliners, though Baillargeon points to one exception: “I’d spend a little more on a liquid eyeliner to help ensure that it won’t flake or feather.”

Mascara

It depends. “Everyone has different lashes and application techniques, so it’s hard to say,” Baillargeon says. In some cases, a pharmacy product will provide as much volume, definition, and length as a much more expensive one, but the opposite can also be true. A good mascara is a combi- nation of an effective formula and a high-performing brush, and can cost anywhere from $14 to $56—or more.

Lipstick

It depends. Lipstick comes in a multitude of formulas and shades at every price point. If you like to experiment with a variety of textures and hues and don’t mind reapplying often, there’s no reason to spend a lot on each tube. “However, a quality product will generally be more hydra- ting and easier to apply, while helping to keep the colour from bleeding and getting caught in any wrinkles around your mouth,” Baillargeon says.

Photo: iStock/Davizro.

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