This is the second in a four-part “Beauty Saving” series. Last week, we discussed makeup deals. In coming weeks, we’ll learn how to save on salon services, teeth whitening and other beauty regimens.

We know we can save on lip gloss and mascara, but when it comes to skin, conventional wisdom (and advertisements) tell us to treat ourselves. Those anti-wrinkle creams and sunscreens are great investments, right?

“Investing is such a strange word to use with beauty. It’s not investment. It doesn’t pay back, really,” said Linda Wells, editor-in-chief of Allure magazine, who has edited the leading beauty magazine for more than two decades. But if beauty products aren’t investments, should we be splurging?


“It depends what you can afford and how you want to spend your money,” Wells said. “Some women will spend $600 on shoes and buy their makeup from the drugstore. If you buy from a drugstore, you’re not compromising, as long as you know what you’re doing.”

Buying drugstore products, either online or with coupons, can save drastically. (We wrote about great sites last week.) But what products should you use? How do you keep your skin healthy? Wells shared her knowledge with us.

Not your mother’s drugstore

“I remember when the drugstore was kind of generic and unappealing,” Wells said. “Now, so many companies are devoting so much to research and development to find ingredients that work, and they’re in the drugstore.” Wells recommends Olay, L’Oreal, Aveeno, Neutrogena and Roc.

Things expire

With a growing number of dollar stores in the country, many have become repositories for expired products. If you choose to buy beauty products at discount or dollar stores, check the expiration date. “For things like body lotions, you can shake the bottle, and if it sloshes around like salad dressing, it’s not thick enough,” Wells said. Also, don’t buy a container that has been opened or let lotions and moisturizers sit half-used in a cabinet for years. Once ingredients are exposed to oxygen, they can become useless after a year or two.

Read labels

Look for the ingredients you need in skin care products. They include green tea, vitamin C, pomegranate and vitamin E. Wells says to look for products that have a high percentage of the active ingredient. Roc Retinol Correxion is an example of a great buy given its more high-end active ingredients. ($21, drugstores).

Don’t do it yourself

Is it ever best to make your own skin care products? “Why would you want to?” Wells asks. “Progress has been made, and besides feeling crafty, there is no upside to making your own.” Some DIY treatments can cause allergic reactions and are most-often made in your home, not with machinery designed to make the ingredients penetrate the skin. “It’s a nice ritual, but it won’t help your skin.”

Combined products

Beauty counters try to sell you specialized products. Instead, buy one product that does everything. Wells says you should buy a day cream or moisturizer with active ingredients and a sunscreen of at least SPF 30. (Neutrogena and Garnier both have combination moisturizers with SPF 30). If you plan on going out in the sun, you have to reapply regularly. A combined product saves time and money.


People often forget to exfoliate, and it’s a key part of a healthy skin care regimen. Many contain ingredients that are rough on skin, so Wells recommends looking for one with synthetic beads or one that has a lactic or glycolic acid included.


Aging is often related to discoloration, not just lines. Wells recommends looking for a product that has hydroquinone in it, such as Ambi skin care fade cream ($5, drugstores).

Sensitive skin

If you have severely dry, itchy skin, you don’t have to splurge on expensive products.
“AmLactin is a great product, but it’s not sexy at all,” Wells said. “It doesn’t smell like anything gorgeous. It has a high concentration of lactic acid. I use it in winter, and it repairs the skin barrier.” Drugstore products by reputable, doctor-recommended brands such as Eucerin are often better for those with acne, eczema or other skin problems. (AmLactin Moisturizing Lotion sells for $15 at drugstores).

Docs know best

Vaseline isn’t the most glamorous product, but the stuff docs use works wonders on your skin. Other over-the-counter products can work wonders as well. “Surgeons tell their patients to use Aquaphor after a face-lift,” Wells said. “It doesn’t look good under makeup, but if you’re sleeping alone with your cats, watching Bravo, you might put it on.” (Aquaphor sells for $9 at drugstores).

High-tech procedures

When it comes to fancy procedures, Wells makes it clear that everyone is different. “A facial feels really good, but it doesn’t make a visible difference on the skin.” While some cosmetic procedures do provide results, the best ones are pricey. As for splurging on facials, it’s wiser to spend on a product you need.

THE BOTTOM LINE:There’s no need to splurge on three-figure creams when reputable drugstore beauty brands can do the trick. Advances in research mean that lines such as Olay and Neutrogena contain the same quality ingredients found in expensive brands. Also, don’t buy 20 products. A night cream and daytime moisturizer containing sunscreen will keep your skin healthy.