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How expensive should skincare really be? Paula Begoun shares.

Paula Begoun, also known as ‘The Cosmetic Cop’, is the founder of the hugely popular skincare brand Paula’s Choice. Paula is also well known for her tough critique that all skincare products should be based on ingredients that have been peer-reviewed. 

Along with her skincare company, she founded Beginning Press Publishing and has published 18 books on the beauty industry, which have sold nearly three million copies.

In this session of Mamamia's The Skin Summit, Mamamia's Senior Creative Producer, Lucy Neville, asked Paula Begoun just how expensive skincare should really be. 

What are the skincare products worth splashing a little bit of extra cash for?

Paula Begoun: Splashing a little extra cash is a relative term because the question is how much extra? I think it's easier to say: "What should it cost?" Because when they tell you skincare contains fancy ingredients, it's such a waste of money. You're literally rinsing it off. 

You should be using water-soluble cleansers that are gentle, and that takes off makeup. Then you can use it with a gentle, soft washcloth. They don't need to be expensive. I've been using a soft washcloth for 40 to 50 years. You don't need any extra tools! 

A soft washcloth, a cheap cleanser - easy! 

Whatever they're telling you about fancy ingredients - remember they are just going down the drain. The other thing to remember is expensive sunscreens are a waste of money. Because you are supposed to be using sunscreen liberally the more, the better. SPF 50 or greater is the best - not because you're necessarily getting more protection, but because you're putting on more sunscreen. If you're going to be sweating or swimming, it has to be water resistant, and it has to be cheap - so you can put it on liberally!

In terms of other kinds of products it really just depends. Most acne products shouldn't be expensive, but what's expensive is relative. It still has to be well formulated. 

A lot of times these beta hydroxy acid and benzoyl peroxide products come with irritating ingredients. Now that makes it cheaper because it makes it easier to formulate. It's hard to formulate and leave out the essential oils - the irritating central oils - so the product smells good. You make it easier for the chemists but it's not good for your skin. Using alcohol is always bad for the skin but it makes stabilising ingredients better - so it still has to be well formulated. 

But BHA products for acne and benzoyl peroxide products for acne do not have to be expensive. 

Then when you go into other kinds of products, then it really depends on the product. When you're looking at products that contain retinol oils, niacinamide, omega fatty acids and hyaluronic acids, and are really elegantly beautifully formulated for anti-ageing, and are fighting environmental damage, then you want to spend a little bit more. BUT it still doesn't have to be expensive. 

It just doesn't have to be expensive to be better. That's just BS, do not fall into that trap ever again, in life.

But there are so many products that are $200 to $300...

Paula Begoun: Forget that they exist.

If we see marketing or advertising, we're gonna go, "We don't believe that crap." 

You're never going to fall into that trap again. Take that money you're gonna waste on skincare, put it in the bank and save up your money. Then when you need procedures that really do something, you'll have the money in the bank because you haven't wasted it on $300 products that simply can't perform better than the (relatively) cheaper products. 

To clarify, I want you to 100 per cent confirm that a $300 moisturiser is not more expensive because it is better for your skin?

Paula BegounNo, it is not better at all. 

I've been doing this since 1979. I am almost 70 years old. I've been doing it for a very long time. I've written 21 books on skincare. I've formulated over 300 products, and I can say unequivocally, that I have never seen a product over $100 really that is worth the extra money. I haven't seen it. 

When it comes to buying skincare products, what are the green flags? Are there certain awards or reviews or regulations or accreditations? What are the things we should have our eye out for?

Paula BegounI'm very flattered when my Paula's Choice skincare products get awards. But even when my products get awards, I wonder how they made that decision. I know what science I used to formulate the products. I know why it's good, but I don't know why I'm there. I know what the other products are and I don't know why they're there!

And then I look at social media, and there are thousands of people who say they're skincare experts. And I'm thinking, "Really?" I don't know what science they're using, either. 

I don't know what science is being used and when I see some of the recommendations, it just drives me nuts. They're wrong. They're misleading. They're bad skincare. So it's one of the hardest questions for me to answer, because skincare is rocket science. 

It is complicated, and it varies based on your skin type and skin concern. At the age of 69, I'm dealing with sun damage, skin discolourations, I still have oily skin, I still break out. I still have clogged pores. I'm wrinkled and sagging - it's complicated. 

Even if you don't want to buy Paula's Choice products, that's okay. We have a tonne of information, myth-busting facts, we list all of our research, we describe all the ingredients, we always list our research. 

People always say to me, "What do you think about this? What do you believe about that?" And I don't think or believe - it's not a religion to me. It's the science and it changes, especially in skincare. The research over the past 10 years has been phenomenal.

If you're not well versed in skincare as a consumer, should you be looking for a brand that is backed in science?

Paula BegounWhat I care about is when companies mislead or hype their products. The "natural" insanity, the "clean beauty" insanity - it's making people afraid of ingredients and they don't need to be afraid.

For example, you can't make an all-natural sunscreen. It's not possible. And there are very few products in terms of stability, absorption and bioavailability that can be all-natural. Also, 'natural' requires more preservatives - it's less stable than ingredients that are manufactured in a lab. So the best products contain a marriage of both. 

I remember when I used to have my period, and about a week before I got my period, I would get increased breakouts. This means you need to change your skincare. When your skin changes, you need to consider changing your skincare. Age isn't necessarily a skin type (except where oestrogen is concerned). But separate from oestrogen, I have more in common with a young person who has oily skin, breakouts and clogged pores than somebody who is necessarily my age.

Age is not necessarily part of a skin type. It makes no sense. You take care of what you see and what you're experiencing.

How do you identify your skin type? And then how do you find the products that are right for you? Is there a way to try before you buy?

Paula BegounThe problem with identifying your skin type is that often we are creating the skin type we don't want. If you're using drying cleansers, irritating skincare products, products that are loaded with fragrance and essential oils and alcohol, or if you have oily skin and clog pores and you're using heavy creams and moisturisers that you think are anti-ageing, you're going to make your skin worse.

So identifying a skin type is difficult, because the products we use is what's creating the problem. 

In terms of how do you choose? I have no clue. My first book came out in 1985 and my goal was to help women not be confused by the insanity in the industry. It's really only gotten worse. 

What I would say is that you have to cover the basics, then treat the specifics. The basics don't always have to be gentle because if you irritate your skin in any way (whether that's with cold water, hot water, harsh scrubs etc.), then you're making your skin worse. 

Also, you always have to address sun damage, and sun damage begins within the first minute unprotected skin sees daylight - the first minute! The bad rays of the sun come through the windows. Nothing is as significant as sun protection. 

The other thing is trying before buying doesn't tell you anything. It might tell you if you liked the texture of the product, it might tell you if you like the feel, but it won't tell you if it was well formulated. 

The only product that you can really tell how it's working for you is an AHA or BHA because alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids worked fairly immediately. In fact, when you use a well-formulated AHA or BHA, you can see a difference in your skin within the next day or two.

Other products like sunscreen or products that contain antioxidants, retinol, niacinamide or hyaluronic acid - are what I call relationship products. Their benefit is over time. It can take several months to see a difference or you're really doing it for maintenance or prevention. If you put on a bad product, you wouldn't necessarily know. For example, if you put on a daytime moisturiser that doesn't have a high SPF and is water resistant - you wouldn't know that you're ageing your skin and potentially causing skin cancer. You wouldn't know that until 10-15 years later when the brown spots and the wrinkles come up. 

If I'm someone with oily skin, is it best not to go get a really thick daytime moisturiser?

Paula Begoun: So the rule of thumb is you always buy products in terms of texture based on your skin type. 

I have never on my oily skin have ever used a creamy, thick, rich moisturiser of any kind. Everything I use on my face is either a very thin, lightweight fluid serum or toner or booster or something with a water texture. It would contain all the basic ingredients, antioxidant skin-repairing ingredients - all the ingredients my skin needs, but the texture is appropriate for oily skin. 

If you have dry skin, then the textures should be more rich and creamy. If you have normal skin, then they could be lightweight lotion or really just your preference. 

When we're looking at that little expiry date on the back of our product, how much do we need to pay attention?

Paula BegounI hate those expiry dates. If you have bought a product and you haven't used it up by the expiry date, it's probably because you didn't like it - or it wouldn't still be there in your skincare routine. 

The expiry date is more significant when the product comes in a jar or if you've bought a 30 ml product, and it's still there past that little expiry date, then you didn't like it. So you should have returned it already. 

I wouldn't want somebody keeping a product of mine around for that long that they just never used. So I think the expiry date is a bit of a joke. Especially for cleansers. 

We have it on a lot of products just because people put it on and because people expect it nowadays.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what three products would you take with you?

Paula BegounSPF 50 or greater, and it has to be water resistant! In fact, I would leave everything else at home and I would just have bottles and bottles and bottles and bottles of sunscreen. 

I would have a cleanser and I would have an antioxidant serum. I'd pick a cleanser because you've got to have clean skin. Antioxidants are your skin's best friend, in terms of helping to reduce environmental damage. They're some of the best healing ingredients that the skin is hungry for.

Did you miss The Skin Summit presented by Mamamia? Get on-demand access to the best skin experts in the world. Whether you love nerding out over a 12-step skincare routine or still use a bar of soap, the summit is the secret to the best skin of your life. Streaming directly to your couch. Catch up on-demand here.

You can follow Paula Begoun on Instagram

Feature Image: Mamamia.

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