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Price points of pretty: Are expensive beauty products better?

We’ve all heard the rumors — the drugstore mascara that exceeds the results of even the priciest of department-store brands. The shampoo that costs less than a latte, and yet will give you more vibrant results than the most celebrated of high-style names. Are these urban legends — or does beauty really have no set price point?

Is more expensive makeup worth it?

What you’re really paying for

“Cosmetics made with natural ingredients and at high active levels won’t be cheap, but they won’t be outrageous either,” says Kayla Fioravanti, RA, Cosmetic Formulator for But she cautions that there are a lot of products out on the market that are simply outrageously expensive, particularly certain anti-aging or weight loss treatments. You’re pretty much paying double, triple or more for a cute box or a chi-chi name.

Eyeshadow - four colors

So what are the differences? Seriously — how different can one lipstick be from another? Here are some of the factors that come into play:

Pigments vs fillers: When it comes to makeup, the top brands usually have the best ratio of color pigment compared to filler material (such as talc). This generally means a more intense, long-lasting color.

Ingredient quality: Just like there are different grades of everything from gasoline to steaks, all cosmetic ingredients are not equal. In addition, organic, natural, imported and rare ingredients will bump up that price point. Same goes for the occasional real scientific formulation.

Smoothness: How finely-ground is your eyeshadow or face powder? The more milled the ingredients, the more smooth and silky they will tend to be. Smaller particles also adhere better to the skin.

The key to knowing the value of a cosmetic is in becoming a great label reader. If makeup, a shampoo or skincare product is packed with fillers and cheap ingredients, it isn’t worth much no matter how high or low the price tag is.

>> Are your natural beauty products really natural?

“I have seen products filled with dimethicone, mineral oils and chemicals that appear to be the same formula, with both a high price tag and a low one,” Fioravanti says. “It has a lot to do with branding and packaging. The right brand can sell the same low-cost product with a high price tag on packaging and reputation alone.”

When to break out the bucks…

Risi-Leanne Baranja, Editor-in-Chief of international beauty product review site, features thousands of reviews from over 400+ global brands and products.

She offers a few tips to keep in mind about what you’re buying when paying more:

Lipstick  More concentrated ingredients: A little will go a long way, which means money saved in the long run.

  More quality ingredients and testing, leading to in better results. Put simply, the better your skin looks in the end, the less foundation, powder, etc. that you will need to use!


  More glamorous and sturdy packaging (this is for women who love what their beauty products look like in addition to how they work.)


  Value is never about price point — women will pay a lot of money for products that work. In the end, even if a product if very cheap, if it doesn’t work, and doesn’t make the you feel great, then it’s not a value — no matter what the price.

Depending on your budget and your aesthetic sensibilities, you might decide that your only justification for choosing one haute brand over the drugstore version is because of its fragrance or texture. Personal preference is certainly a valid reason for spending a little more, because part of what you are purchasing is the experience you get when using a product.

>> Help your lipstick last all day

… And when to hold on to your cash

The truth is, there are great products at every price point. “Over the years, I’ve noticed that the not-so-expensive items seem to work best,” says Lilyn Hester, “PR chick” at Capstrat, Inc.

She says the following products are mainstays in her beauty bag — and all are available for under five bucks:

  1. Woltra Stik 100% Cocoa Butter for the face. I use this under my makeup and it removes flaws from the skin. Retails for about $1.99.
  2. Rosebud Salve I use on my lips and cuticles. Costs about $4.99.
  3. Vaseline is great for the ash. I use it on elbows.
  4. Witch Hazel, an astringent – Great, but not so good for sensitive skin. It cost about $3 for a huge bottle.
  5. Oatmeal – It really works when you create a paste. Price: really cheap!

>> How to buy cosmetics from the drugstore

“I firmly believe that price and quality have little to no correlation,” says Nadine Haobsh, author of the book Beauty Confidential (my personal beauty bible), as well as the mega-popular blog, Jolie in NYC. “When you buy an expensive department store product — that hot new anti-aging serum, say, or the luxury night cream that all the socialites use — you’re really just paying extra for fancy packaging, extensive marketing and advertising, and a prestige markup.”

>> Top skin anti-aging ingredients

Olay Regenerist

She points out that some of the best products out there cost under ten dollars and are available at the drugstore. On the other hand, though, there is a ton of overly expensive, overly-hyped junk that simply doesn’t work. Says Nadine, “I’m a huge fan of anything from Neutrogena, and Olay Regenerist is one of the top anti-aging products available, bar none.”

Picking the winners

The message? Don’t judge products on their package — or their price tag – but on their results. Use recommendations and reviews (great books like Beauty Confidential or articles here at SheKnows), and be armed when shopping. Try samples whenever available (online retailers Sephora, and offer free samples with every order) to find out what works for you.

And don’t forget to check out what you’re actually buying. “If consumers read labels and look for real ingredients, they can become empowered to make wiser choices,” Fioravanti says.

With a little investment of time, you may discover you can have gorgeous skin… and cash left over for that latte, too.

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