Where you should be spending money in your skincare routine, according to a scientist.

We know you've heard this before, but we'll say it again in case you were listening to a podcast or something: Just because a moisturiser is $200 doesn't automatically mean it works better than one that costs $20. Kay?

As someone who writes and talks about beauty on the regular, one thing I've learnt along the way is that a savvy consumer should always purchase skincare based on the ingredients, not the flashy packaging or marketing gibberish. 

Cause when you're trying to craft a skincare routine that won't require you to sink your savings, knowing what actually works and what's worth your money is a very valuable thing.

Watch: Looking for more skincare tips? Check out this Q&A episode of You Beauty. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

This then begs the question: Is there anything you should splurge on when it comes to skincare?

I'm glad you asked, friend. Full marks for you. 

Because we recently sat down with skin whisperer/PhD-qualified scientist Dr Michele Squire from Qr8 Mediskin and discussed where to save when it comes to skincare - and what's really worth investing in.

What skincare products should you save on?

"Great skincare doesn’t need to be expensive," said Dr Squire. "You can get just as much functionality from a supermarket brand of moisturiser, moisturising mask, hydrating serum or cleanser as an expensive one."


Told ya!

Listen: Speaking of cheap and effective skincare, here's the $2 face mask that will change your life. Post continues below.

An example? Cleansers

Squire explains that the main goal of a cleanser is to remove excess sebum, makeup, and skincare from your skin, as well as other things like dead skin cells, microbes and pollution particles - all without leaving skin feeling tight, dry, itchy or ‘squeaky clean’. 

An important job, sure - but one that requires lots of ~special~ ingredients? Nah.

"Cleansers aren’t designed to penetrate the skin, which has its own inbuilt barrier (the stratum corneum/skin barrier). So when you put something designed to remove debris from the skin's surface, on top of an existing anatomical barrier, and leave it there for less than a minute, it’s unrealistic to expect anything in that cleanser will do anything magical in terms of skin function."

Makes a lot of sense, no?

"For this reason, there is also limited science supporting the use of cleansers containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, alpha-hydroxy acids as acne treatments. That’s why an expensive cleanser full of fancy ingredients isn’t necessary," she said.

Sunscreen is another product Dr Squire said you should save on, cause you're slapping a whole heap of it on every morning for it to be effective, right? Right?


"I’m talking a teaspoon for your face, neck (front and back), chest, ears in order for you to get the same SPF that is advertised on the bottle. And you need to reapply it several times throughout the day." 

We know you all know this but we're just... checking.

"The danger in buying expensive sunscreen is that you won’t use enough of it," said Squire. "Most people only use one quarter to one half as much sunscreen per application as they should, dramatically decreasing the sun protection it offers."

According to Dr Squire, another one of the most common traps people fall into with skincare is thinking that just because a skincare product is expensive, they must automatically be paying for all the science, research and development that when into it.

We hate to break it to you, but this isn't always the case, you guys.

"I know of many brands (like CeraVe and La Roche-Posay, for example) that have extensive clinical data behind their products, and they don’t cost more than your handbag. Likewise, there are a lot of expensive brands with very little credible supporting science, that contain ingredients available elsewhere for very little cost."


Where should you splurge in your skincare routine?

Alrighty. The splurge-y stuff. Give it to us, Dr S! If we're saving on all the other stuff, what should we spend on when it comes to our skincare routine?

"I recommend people save money on these kinds of products [as above] so they can spend it on treatments that actually change the function of skin - like prescription skincare, laser, injectables, or a visit to a dermatologist."


So, basically save your money on things like moisturisers, masks, hydrating serums and cleansers, and instead put your dollars behind things that actually change the function of your skin - like in-clinic treatments and stuff.

If you're anything like us (cute, chatty, a black belt in karate), you tend to do the whole in-clinic lasers/peels/microdermabrasion thing, like, once in a blue moon. 

Why? Cause it's a lot of money. And you're already spending so much money on your skincare routine when you don't *absolutely* have to, sweet fools.

So, save your pennies on some of the general skincare products mentioned above (obviously bar things like prescription retinol, peptide serums, growth factor serums and what not), and spend on regular in-clinic treatments and seeing a dermatologist, instead.

What in-clinic treatments are best?

There's no real straight-forward answer to this one, you guys - because everyone obviously has different skin concerns and needs.

"This will be different based on each person’s pre-existing skin condition, budget, and tolerance for downtime," adds Dr Squire.

"There are also a huge number of in-salon treatments available, and individual practitioner experience will impact the chosen treatment parameters (like power, wavelength, number of passes over the skin, depth of needles, etc.) and how well patients are matched with a suitable treatment."

However! There are some specific in-clinic treatments that are the gold-standard when it comes to results.

"In general, energy based devices like lasers, Broad Band Light (BBL) and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), and deeper peels typically offer the best bang for buck when used by experienced practitioners."


What about at-home treatments? Should we spend on them?

Home treatments are less expensive than the in-clinic versions, not to mention super convenient (especially off the back of the pandemic). 

But while it may be tempting to throw your money at all the fancy LED masks, micro-current devices and micro-needling on the market, is it really worth it?

Dr Squire has some thoughts. And you're going to want to hear them.

"I hate coming from a place of ‘no’ but if you are going to invest in DIY treatments, make sure there’s enough evidence to support their use, and that they are right for your skin," advises Squire.

She said to take at-home micro-current devices for example - the devices that promise to lift and tone skin, increase collagen production and smooth wrinkles, and all that other good stuff.

"They work by delivering small, safe amounts of electricity to the skin. This supposedly increases ATP (cellular energy) production to build muscle and increase collagen production," adds Squire.

"However, there is only a single study that has specifically investigated the effect of these devices. Two plastic surgeons were asked to grade participants who had used a micro-current device daily for four months. They were unable to detect any improvement in signs of ageing." 

Oh! Awks.

"What these devices do is massage the skin, temporarily increasing circulation and muscle tone, producing a transient contouring effect. Evidence-based collagen induction therapies like prescription retinoids and lasers will produce far better results, and at a far cheaper cost!"


It's not only the scientific evidence you need to look for but also make sure that the device is suitable for your skin type - a common mistake Dr Squire said a lot of people make when purchasing DIY treatments.

While DIY micro needling, dermaplaning and chemical peels are less invasive and expensive than their in-clinic versions, Squire said "people with sensitive/reactive skin, rosacea or those using prescription retinoids are not good candidates for unsupervised, self-administered, invasive treatments".

If these kind of at-home treatments are over-done, she warns "they will do more harm than good, even if you have healthy skin. Rectifying self-inflicted damage can be very expensive!"

Read: Defeating the whole purpose of saving money. Damn.

What to ask yourself before you buy skincare products.

We all know it's a little insane to drop $500 on a face cream. We know this. We really do. But when you're faced with a silky formula, beautiful scents and social media hype - things just ~happen~ and you suddenly find yourself transferring money from your savings...

¯\_ (ツ)_/¯ 

And then we swear to ourselves that they're better than our regular old pharmacy formulas. We can feel the difference. See the difference.

"There is also something called ‘post-purchase rationalisation’ that plays into expensive skincare," said Dr Squire. 

"This is a version of buyer’s remorse: in order to justify an expensive purchase, consumers will convince themselves that it works, even if it doesn’t."


We... feel seen.

To avoid this, Dr Squire recommends people ask themselves some questions before purchasing expensive skincare. 

Firstly, she said to ask yourself if you even need it. "For example, if you are using a prescription retinoid for anti-ageing, then a peptide or growth factor serum won’t really get you any marginal gain in collagen production."

Oh, you DO really need it? I see...

"What skin goal are you trying to achieve? And is there a skincare product that can even help with that? There are limits to what you can achieve with topical skincare, even the prescription variety - sometimes a laser or even surgery (in some cases) is the only answer," said Dr Squire.

Next, Dr Squire said to ask yourself if there is any credible scientific evidence behind the ingredient and formulation and how much you really want to spend.

Lastly, she said to make sure what if the particular skincare product actually fits in with your lifestyle and skincare philosophy. 

"Are you going to commit to multiple layering or are you a ‘one cream and dash out the door’ kind of person? And will you protect yourself from the sun diligently? Because if you’re not, don’t bother!"

Do you think spendy skincare products are worth the money? What's your favorite skincare splurge? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below!

Feature image: Getty.