The Drugstore Skincare Slump

Hello Left Brain and Right Brain,

I have read dozens of your articles in the search to discover what really works and what is just beauty company puffery. I have seen you, time and time again, debunk any notion that expensive skincare products do anything more than the run-of-the-mill drugstore options. I think I even saw one of you quoted (outside this blog) as saying that spending any more than $25 on a moisturizer or anti-wrinkle cream is a waste of money. I've practically given up on the idea of using an anti-aging product at all, since it seems that nothing really works aside from Retin-A, and to a much lesser extent, Retinol. 

I have very frequently seen you recommend the typical offerings of the drugstore facial care aisle, Olay and Neutrogena especially. Although I haven't delved into the world of anti-aging in their skincare lines (or those of Roc and L'Oreal) I have tried my fair share of their moisturizers. They seem to do the job fine. Since I don't have dry skin there isn't much difference between my skin that has been moisturized for days and my skin that has gone days without moisturizer. I mostly use moisturizer because my understanding is that keeping one's skin moisturized is a preventative measure against aging in itself.

I'm sticking to moisturizer here because I'm not keen to spend $20-$30 on the mass-market lines' anti-aging products that might not work, but I am willing to spend $10-$15 on their moisturizer. The trouble is, I'm a very disloyal beauty consumer. I don't like to buy the same product twice, and if I do, it will be years between the first and second purchase. I like variety in my products. I like to be "wowed" buy a new cream's texture, application, and, to a lesser extent, smell or lack thereof.

What I'm saying is, the drugstore is a bore. I'm actually getting sick of looking at the same line-up of products. I'm suffering from cream fatigue. I recently even bought two creams by Olay, a day and a night, that I swear are exactly the same.

It seems as though you guys aren't the biggest fans of "natural" and "organic" cosmetics, but there seems to be a wider offering of lines at places like Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Erewhon. Lines like Andalou Naturals, Avalon Organics, MyChelle, and Dr. Hauschka. Simple products that I am concerned with like cleansers, toners, and moisturizers are quite a bit more expensive than their drugstore counterparts. I've barely tried any of these products.

My question is, is there anything in these products that are as effective as the ones at the drugstore? They are chock-full of oils and extracts of plants and herbs, but can any of these moisturize, cleanse, and tone as well as traditional chemical-based ingredients? Do they justify the higher price tag, and will they have the same (or better) effect on my skin?

Yes, I want variety, but I'll be damned if am going to spend between $40 and $150 at the department store counter minefield on Estee Lauder and Lancome, or, even worse, on Caudalie, Peter Thomas Roth, Dr. Brandt, or (dare I say it?) Perricone, at the Sephora cartel.

Thank you for reading my whining long-winded inquiry.


Bored at the Drugstore.


  • Dear Bored, 

    We do stand by the two generalizations that you mentioned: 1.) you shouldn't waste your money on expensive beauty products and 2.) with natural/organic products you may be sacrificing efficacy to satisfy someone's definition of "natural."

    However, that doesn't mean you can make specific product recommendations based solely on whether a product is sold in the drug store or the department store or whether a product is "natural" or not. You have to consider what the product claims to do, how well the formula will deliver against those claims, and how much the product costs.  
     You ask "is there anything in these [natural] products that are as effective as the ones at the drugstore?" The answer MAYBE yes if the product contains the right kind of active ingredient but there's no way to answer that as an abstract question - we can only give a definitive answer if we know the claims and the formulas involved. 

    I realize that's probably not a very satisfying answer but hopefully it makes sense. If you have a specific "natural" product that you'd like to compare to a specific "drugstore" product, I'd be happy to take a look at them for you.   
  • Randy, thanks for your reply. I think I can be more specific for you.

    One moisturizer that I've used in the past is Olay Age Defying Classic Daily Renewal Cream.
    Here is a link to the ingredients and the claims:

    This product retails for $10.99-$12.99 (at the drugstore)

    Andalou Naturals has the
    Beta Hydroxy Complex Recovery Cream

    here is a link to claims and ingredients:

    This one retails for $24.99

    The main ingredient they both seem to focus on is Beta Hydroxy Acid.

    I'm wondering if it might be worth it to try the Andalou moisturizer even though it's $12 more. The Olay one was nice enough but I'm always  on the hunt for something better.

    Thanks again!
  • The Olay product is $12.99 (at the high end) for 2.0 oz. which makes the cost about $6.50/oz. The Andalou is $24.99 for 1.7 oz which is $14.70/oz. That's a pretty substantial price difference.

    Both products focus on sal acid but the Andalou product has it listed pretty far down so I doubt there's as much in the formula as there is in the Olay product. Finally, the Andalou also brags about its fruit stem cells. Unfortunately, that technology has not been proven to be effective as far as we has seen. 

    If you like this product and can afford it, then go ahead and use it. But I don't see anything that suggests it's worth the extra money just based on the ingredients. 

    Water, PPG-15 Stearyl Ether, Glycerin, Stearyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Cetyl Alcohol, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Acrylamide/Sodium Acryloyldimethyltaurate Copolymer, Dimethicone, Steareth-21, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Cyclopentasiloxane, Laureth-7, Dimethiconol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Steareth-2, Disodium EDTA, Fragrance

    Aloe Barbadensis Juice*, Vegetable Glycerin, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel)*, Glyceryl Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Fruit Stem Cells (Malus Domestsica, Solar Vitis) and BioActive 8 Berry Complex*, Stearic Acid, Zea Mays (Corn) Starch*, Epilobium Angustifolium (Willow Herb) Extract, Salicylic Acid, Salix Alba (Willow Bark) and Spiraea Ulmaria (Meadowsweet) Extracts*, Zinc Gluconate, Panthenol (Pro-Vitamin B5), Allantoin, Cyamopsis Tetragonolobus (Guar) Gum*, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Butter*, Camellia Sinensis (White Tea) and Sabdariffa Extracts*^, Tocopherol, Phenethyl Alcohol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Oil* 
  • Thank you, Randy.
  • You're welcome, Gemma! (And, like I always like to say, if you find our advice helpful you can return the favor by writing a review of our podcast on iTunes. We'd really appreciate it!)
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