Skin Deep: Is professional or medical skin care better than what you buy in a drug store?

On the surface, skin care—no matter where you buy it—offers the same thing: anti-aging, hydrating, exfoliating, firming, brightening and more. So why do some skin care brands cost so much more than others? Many attribute it to packaging, marketing and profit, but the reality is that the pricing starts with what’s inside the bottle.


Think if it this way: an economy car and a racecar both get you from one place to another. Yet, there’s a big difference in price. The racecar costs more because it requires more time to make during production, uses higher end vehicle parts and leverages the latest technology and innovation. The economy car is designed to fit a price point and sacrifices in quality are made without endangering the user. Skin care is much the same: the difference between inexpensive and expensive skin care is the quality of the formula and the quality of the result.


Active ingredients—what are they, why do they matter?

Active ingredients are thought to have altering effects on skin. In other words, they are the ingredients that deliver a specific result. The Cleveland Clinic shares what to expect from the most common active skin care ingredients. Actives are awesome, but they come at a price.


Location matters

It’s important to know your skin care. shows you how. All skin care formulas list ingredients in order of volume. The first ingredient represents a high percentage of the formula. The last ingredient is a very small percentage. This is how many less expensive skin care brands include high-cost ingredients in their products. It really comes down to simple math: The lower the percentage, the lower the cost.


Pricing is tied to ingredients

It’s not uncommon to swap out “similar” ingredients to shave pennies off the manufacturing price. Let’s look at two common moisturizers: one pound of lanolin costs about $17.00, while one pound of refined shea butter costs $29.00 or more. It may not seem like a lot, but it is—and the difference is making your skin break out. scores lanolin as one of the more pore-clogging ingredients in skin care. explains how it can also trigger breakouts.  


Expiration dates—real or a marketing gimmick?

Skin care products, once opened and exposed to air, light, humidity, fingers and bacteria, can degrade and lose effectiveness over time. But do they actually expire? For most products, the answer is no. For others, such as sunscreens, expiration dates are definitive. tackles this tricky issue for you.


Nothing lasts forever. Skincare and makeup are no different. Real Simple offers guidelines for when to replace skin care and makeup. It’s definitely to replace or replenish when you notice these changes:

  • Texture changes. For example a product has turned oily, thin or lumpy
  • A change is fragrance or develops an “off” smell
  • Changes in color
  • The product separates or divides into layers
  • The product triggers a rash or your skin experiences a different sensation when you apply it.


You may be tempted to buy inexpensive skin care. Before you do, know what you’re potentially giving up. Professional or medical grade skin care may cost more, but the results are worth it!