Does Price Matter? The Truth About Drugstore Skin Care Products

Janell M. Hickman


When it comes to beauty—there’s no true price point on looking great! But for those of us on a budget, there’s a fine line between when its appropriate to save versus splurge. Which got us to thinking, is there really a difference between department store and drugstore beauty brands? We picked the brain of two top dermatologists to give us the low down on the similarities and the differences between the two. Now, all you’ll have to do is figure out how to spend that extra cash you saved!

Figure Out What You Are Paying For
“[With department store brands, you are paying for] ingredients, formulation, the way the ingredients are actually mixed together, packaging, prestige, and perception,” shares New York City-based dermatologist, Dr. Neal Schultz, Founder of and creator of “In some cases, you may be paying for efficacy as well.”

Don’t Skip Any Steps
“When it comes to skin care, the first step is generally cleansing,” shares dermatologist Dr. Ellen Marmur. “For daily skin cleansing, you can absolutely trust a drugstore purchase like Dove to provide effective, gentle skin cleansing benefits. By using a cleanser—whether a bar or body wash—with non-irritating ingredients and hydrating moisturizers, you will be setting yourself up for success.”

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Know The Importance of Ingredients
“There are two types of key ingredients [in skin care products]: active ingredients (which actually are the treating ingredients) like Vitamin C, glycolic acid or caffeine, and vehicle ingredients, like the ingredients that make up the lotions or cream that the active ingredients are dissolved in,” shares Dr. Schultz. “Active ingredients are more important than vehicle ingredients but they both count and are necessary.”


Keep An Eye on Expiration Dates
“Expiration dates are fairly reliable as long as you keep your products at room temperature,” shares Dr. Marmur. “Even a hot humid shower environment can destroy some products—so always be aware of the conditions you expose your product to. If it changes consistency or color, toss it.”

Certain Products Are Worth The Splurge
“I’d recommend splurging on treatment products like eye creams, moisturizers, exfoliants and antioxidants. These products contain large amounts of active ingredients, which often are at least marginally better in department store products,” explains Dr. Schultz. “Infrastructure products like cleansers, toners and sunscreens can be purchased at the drugstore. Sunscreen ratings are regulated by the government so you are getting the same protection from equivalent SPF numbers no matter where you purchase.”

Price Points Don’t Dictate Efficiency
“Some of the more luxury department store brands may have more premium ingredients in them, though that doesn’t mean drugstore brands aren’t efficacious,” shares Dr. Marmur. “Always invest in protection—your core, simple routine first. That means a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and of course, sun protection. Over the years, your skin will have fewer wrinkles and sun spots than your less committed peers.”

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You Can Mix and Match Different Brands
“It’s really all trial and error—90% of my clients mix and match and I very rarely see any issues,” shares Dr. Schultz. “There’s an advantage in using one brand because you can be sure they are consistent internally in terms of ingredients and formulation. The clients that don’t mix are more apt to be in the department stores for their perception and loyalty of a brand.”

Think Beyond Skin Care
“Remember to choose smart makeup too!  Ideally select products with three qualities: light-weight, made with moisturizing ingredients (like glycerin or hyaluronic acid) and that contain SPF 20+,” adds Dr. Marmur.

Beauty is like…A Plane Ride?
“I always give my patients the airplane analogy when asked about drugstore versus department store products. Whether you are flying coach or business class on a flight, you are still getting to the same destination—in the same amount of time,” explains Dr Schultz. “With business class you will have more space, better service and more amenities. Despite the cost of the ticket being 5 to 10 times more in business class, you are not getting 5 to 10 times more material benefits (but you do get marginally better material benefits). Different people choose to spend their discretionary money in different ways. There really is no right or wrong answer—it’s all about personal preference and perceived value!”