CVS, Walgreens, Target, Walmart, Ulta Beauty, Rite Aid and other stores are packed with skin care brands — old and new — promising to nourish, revive and restore our skin to be as smooth as a baby's bottom. We want to know one thing: Is affordable skin care delivering on its promises? Or are the products just wannabes of luxury brands costing two to 10 times as much? Here's how to choose and what to use and keep in mind.
1. Stick to reliable name brands. Want the same up-to-the-minute technology and ingredients as expensive skin care? Remember that the bigger the name, the bigger the budget for research and product development. That's why beauty giants like Neutrogena, L'Oreal Paris, Garnier and Olay can afford to roll out updates that duplicate prestige. Their regimens are designed to be flexible so that swapping in a reformulated cleanser/serum/cream won't disrupt your routine. You can fearlessly combine products from different lines within the same brand. For example, you might use L'Oreal Paris Revitalift Bright Reveal Day Moisturizer SPF 30 and L'Oreal Paris Age Perfect Night Cream. You get the same brand, different lines and consistent science.
2. Try a brand or ingredient that is new for you with one item. Unlike prestige brands, sampling isn't possible when economizing. You can select a posh but frugal product with a key new ingredient like hyaluronic acid — the new-this-minute hottie. It acts like a supersponge, attracting water to the skin to plump up lines. So for a great introduction, consider Garnier SkinActive Moisture Bomb: The Antioxidant Super Moisturizer at $13, L'Oreal Paris Hydra Genius Glowing Water Cream for Extra Dry Skin at $14, or Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel with Hyaluronic Acid at $18.
3. Add in your problem-solving extras. You may use these in your basic routine as needed. Try an eye gel that deswells and brightens or a disposable sheet mask that freshens a tired face quickly on special mornings.
4. Best buy of all: sunscreen. The top low-cost brands have at least one moisturizer with a broad spectrum SPF. However, if your favorite daily moisturizer doesn't offer the protection or you plan on spending time outdoors, add a separate sunscreen product as the final step in your regimen. This inexpensive item (after all, who buys expensive sunscreen?) will protect you from new wrinkles, lines, brown spots and even skin cancer — but only if it's a daily morning habit and you reapply when outdoors. By now you know whether your skin prefers a physical block (titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) such as CeraVe Sunscreen Face Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 50 or a chemical one (avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone) such as Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Liquid Daily Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 70.
5. Intrigued by organics? No need to splurge. The focus on wellness has pushed organic and natural skin care lines — once carried only in hippie health food stores — to luxury status with brands like Rodin Olio Lusso and Tata Harper. If you prefer no silicones, GMOs, petrolatum, mineral oil, artificial colors and parabens, or are vegan, then look for ethically sourced and cruelty-free products in several drugstore lines. SheaMoisture, Alba Botanica, Avalon Organics and Pacifica combine botanicals and modern technology at reasonable price points.
For more beauty and style tips for women age 50+, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life and Love After 50 by Lois Joy Johnson and AARP's Beauty & Style issue.