Is Your Skincare Routine Worth the Price Tag?

If you like to take care of your skin, you’re probably already resigned to the fact that skincare products are not cheap. The worst part is, those tiny bottles of serum and moisturizer always seem to run out faster than you expect.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could pamper your skin without busting your budget? As it turns out, there’s a way you can do just that – and it’s the approach dermatologists have used for years.

We called up a dermatologist to get the scoop on what skincare products are actually worth spending money on – and which ones you can probably ditch altogether.

Simplify Your Routine

With the popularity of the 10-step Korean beauty trend, many consumers have spent more money by adding steps to their routine. But Dr. Neelam Khan, a board-certified dermatologist based in Washington, D.C., worries that a longer routine makes it harder for people to stay consistent.

Instead, she prefers a simple routine she learned in medical school. In the morning, you should:

  • Use a gentle cleanser
  • Apply a Vitamin C serum
  • Apply sunscreen and moisturizer

In the evening, you should:

  • Use a gentle cleanser and/or makeup remover
  • Apply a retinol or retinoid product
  • Apply a moisturizer

“The number one thing that matters the most is the consistency of the person using the product,” she said. “I don’t really care that much whether it’s something you get at CVS vs. Sephora.”

If a product irritates you, stop using it and try another. But in general, Khan says you can find items that work at a drugstore or grocery store. There are plenty of drugstore brands she recommends, including CeraVe and Neutrogena.

Visit a Dermatologist

There are some skincare issues you can solve on your own. For example, if you have dry, flaky skin in the winter, you can try switching to a stronger moisturizer and note the results.

But Khan says there are many problems that require professional assistance. In some cases, you may actually save money by seeing a dermatologist before trying a DIY solution. For example, there are different types of acne that an expensive over-the-counter cream may not solve.

The good news? Your insurance may cover all or some of a dermatologist’s visit, and may even pay for some of the prescriptions they recommend. For example, if you have acne, your insurance may cover a prescription-strength retinoid product that will also prevent wrinkles.

If you want to get your money’s worth, bring your skincare products to the appointment so the dermatologist can review them. That way, you’ll know if the products are right for your skin.

Avoid the Marketing Hype

If you read women’s magazines or follow beauty influencers on Instagram, you’ll likely see claims that a certain product worked wonders for a particular celebrity or individual. And while that may be true for the person in question, there’s no guarantee you’ll have the same success.

Many celebrities also forget to share their other beauty treatments, like fillers and Botox. These less affordable treatments are likely more responsible for their lack of wrinkles than a particular retinol brand.

Remember, if a magazine or influencer is promoting a product, they’re likely either getting paid to mention it or they’re receiving a portion from each sale. If you want to read honest reviews, look at sites like or the skincare forums on Reddit.

Spend Where It Matters

For Khan, getting a facial or buying a fun disposable facial mask is more about self-care than crafting the perfect skincare routine. For example, a hydrafacial may feel relaxing and exfoliating, but it’s not as important as buying and using the right retinol product every day. Plus, at the cost of $200 to $300 a pop, a hydrafacial often isn’t worth the money.

“No one-off treatment is really going to make that big of a difference compared to your daily at-home skincare regimen,” she said. “I’d rather people splurge on their daily routine.”

When it comes to dropping dollars on your skincare products, Khan said you should spend more on products that will sit on your skin for a long time.

“If you’re going to spend any money on your skincare regimen, the cleanser should be the cheapest thing you get,” she said. “Even the fanciest cleanser is only going to be on your skin for a minute. I’d rather someone spend their money on a leave-on product.”

How to Save Money on Skincare

Use Sunscreen

Dermatologists are capable of removing years of sun damage, but that takes a lot of time – and money. A less expensive solution is to use sunscreen every day, covering your face, neck and upper chest.

Another major problem that Khan sees is people forgetting to apply retinol to their necks and upper chest. If you only apply retinol to your face, you’ll eventually have a disparity between your face and the rest of your body. This can also take several treatments to correct.

Use your HSA or FSA

A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA) is like a special savings account for health-related expenses. You can deduct the contributions on your taxes, which will save you money at the end of the year. If you already have an FSA or HSA, you probably know that you can pay for a doctor’s visit, bloodwork or imaging with those funds.

But you can also use money from your HSA or FSA to pay for a dermatologist visit and any related prescriptions. Many skincare products are also FSA and HSA-eligible, including sunscreen and acne treatment products. For example, if a doctor prescribes you a retinoid, you can use your FSA or HSA card to pay for it.

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Zina Kumok (146 Posts)

Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Conscious Coins.


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Makes Noise is a blog where you can find all the juicy details on a variety of topics including health and fitness, technology, lifestyle, entertainment, love and relationships, beauty and makeup, sports and so much more. The blog is updated regularly to make sure you have all the latest and greatest information on the topics that matter most to you.

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