“You get what you pay for.” We hear that about so many things in life, don’t we? Cars, clothing, food, and of course skincare. While I believe that this is true for many things (like organic, whole foods for sure), but is it the truth for the other things? Are luxury priced cars really safer and longer lasting? Are designer clothes really better quality than clothes from discount stores? Are premium priced skincare products really better than products sold at drug stores or made at home? For these last things, my answer is a definite MAYBE. The reason for that is because pricing is not always based on cost or quality of raw ingredients. Often pricing is based on marketing–how the brand is positioned, how and who it is advertised to, packaging, how it’s sold, whether there is a celebrity or influencer endorsement, etc. Because of this, it is common for sub-par products to be dressed up and sold as luxury. But there are still the cases where quality does win out and is genuinely responsible for a high price tag. In skincare particularly, high prices of some luxury or professional skincare products are due to fact that they are made with rare, expensive skincare ingredients.
I recently had the opportunity to contribute my knowledge of expensive skincare ingredients to an article that was published on Insider.
In this article, 7 Ingredients in Your Skincare Products That Are Making Them So Expensive, I, along with other skincare experts, talked about the reasons why ingredients such as rose essential oil, jasmine essential oil, arginine, and gold are expensive to source, and what overall benefits they bring to the skincare party.
Click HERE to read about those!
In addition to the expensive skincare ingredients listed in the article, I wanted to share four others that might be hiking up the price of your skincare products, and whether they are worth it:
1. Hyaluronic acid
I consider hyaluronic acid to be the “mother of all humectants,” since it can hold 1000 times its weight in water, and therefore (in theory) can deliver extreme hydration to the skin. It also contains antioxidant benefits. It is expensive for two reasons. First–production. Top quality HA is produced from rooster combs. There are lower quality versions, less potent out there that are used in cosmetics that are either made from sugar beets, are synthesized, or bacteria-fermented. On the retail side though, the price typically would imply the animal-sourced HA. The bigger reason for the high price though, is that it is VERY difficult to formulate with as it is known to deactivate the effects of some of the other ingredients in the formula, and is extremely difficult to preserve.
2. Argan oil
Argan oil is extremely rare because the Argania Spinosa trees that produce the fruit from which it is produced only grow in a specific part of Morocco, between Marrakesh and Essaouira, by Berber women’s cooperatives. The process to produce the oil is extremely time consuming and labor intensive, and it takes the fruit of 8 argan trees to produce a single liter of the oil. Another factor that drives up the cost of argan is that it is very susceptible to damage from exposure to heat and light, and is also prone to rancidity. It must be stored properly, but even so, has a shelf life of only about a year, unless other stabilizing and antioxidant ingredients are added. However, many women will say the price and the effort are worth it. It is incredibly beneficial for helping to support skin elasticity and maintain skin hydration, is also known to help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as scarring. It is also known to help aid in sun protection and help the skin recover from sun damage, though it is not a substitute for sunscreen.
3. Prickly pear seed oil
Prickly pear seed oil (Opuntia ficus indica) has quickly gained favor among natural skincare enthusiasts for its gentle astringent (tightening) properties, high mineral content, and high antioxidant content (it contains more Vitamin E than other carrier oils) which help to neutralize free radical damage and protect delicate skin cells from oxidative and environmental damage. It is also known to help soothe and improve the appearance of acne-prone skin, and balance oil production. While prickly pears themselves aren’t uncommon (they grow abundantly in Mexico and the southwestern US but have have also migrated elsewhere in the US and overseas), the high price comes from the fact that the oil is cold pressed from the tiny seeds, and we can’t ignore the fact that the cactus’ spines make the process slower!
Retinaldehyde–also known as retinal–is one of the Vitamin A derivatives that’s commonly used in professional skincare products as an alternative to less expensive forms of Vitamin A such as retinol palmitate or stronger forms like retinoic acid. It is a preferred ingredient because it is less inflammatory and gentler to the skin when applied topically, and has been studied for its benefits for skin issues such as acne, rosacea, and premature aging. What makes it expensive is that it is expensive to produce, and it is also difficult to keep stable once bottled. Its benefits are known to degrade quickly which makes formulation more laborious and expensive, and though more stable forms of the ingredient have been synthesized, all that has done is raise the cost on the ingredient itself.
Are people are more likely to buy products with expensive skincare ingredients?
This is a question that many of my Create Your Skincare Professional Edition students ponder, when deciding what ingredients to include in their formulations. In general, I think that yes, people across all markets are more inclined to buy products made with expensive skincare ingredients, even if the product itself doesn’t contain very much of it. Once an ingredient becomes famous for common skin complaints such as dark spots, scarring, fine lines, or wrinkles–it does seem like everyone wants to try it and will pay extra for it.
But do products made with these expensive skincare ingredients really work better?
It really depends on several factors. First, you have to consider what is the quality and purity of the ingredient? Is it the real deal? Has it been sourced, processed, and stored properly? How fresh is it? Is it the right species of the plant that’s known for the purported benefits?
If it’s been cut, diluted, or otherwise adulterated (which unfortunately does happen), it’s not going to provide as much benefit. It also depends on what else happens to be in the product–how much of this “star” ingredient is actually in it, and are there other ingredients present that might compete with it for absorption?
Lastly, it depends on the person. Not every ingredient works for every person, so unfortunately, many of the people who buy products with these star ingredients won’t receive the desired benefits, not because the ingredient or product doesn’t work–just because that person’s unique needs require something other than that ingredient. What’s great about plants is that many of them contain similar benefits, so we can often experience many of the same benefits of a rare and exotic plant by using a more common one that’s less scarce, easier to harvest/produce, and therefore, less money.
Often the price of a skincare product has nothing to do with the ingredients at all.
Typically when a commercial skincare product is designed, the formulator will pick one star ingredient, and focus the packaging, advertising, etc on that ingredient, but in truth, the product itself often contains a very low percentage of that ingredient. Sometimes that’s OK. In the instance of essential oils or other potent extracts or actives, too high a concentration is not necessary, and can even cause harm.
Honestly though, I don’t think a star ingredient is enough of a reason for someone to shell out a ton of money if the rest of the product doesn’t also deliver in quality. In these cases, pricing has more to do with packaging, positioning, how/to whom it’s sold, marketing, etc–an example would be how a mass produced product with a celebrity endorser vs a small indie brand. The big brand with the celebrity’s endorsement usually contains mostly water, synthetic emollients, then functional ingredients like emulsifiers, stabilizers, and preservatives, and a very tiny amount of the star ingredient. It’s expensive because of the advertising campaign, packaging, etc.
On the flip side, an artisan or indie brand might make a product that contains no water at all, and high quality plant-based emollients with a very low concentration of functional ingredients like emulsifiers and stabilizers, but without the celebrity endorser and expensive ad campaign and simple packaging–and both products might cost the same.
So I encourage everyone to read labels and look for quality over quantity! And even consider making your own products so you control your costs, and your ingredients.
Do you want to learn how to make top quality natural skincare products or start a skincare business?
I can teach you that! In my Create Your Skincare Professional Edition course, I teach ingredient selection in terms of purity, quality, and efficacy extensively. I also teach you how to choose ingredients purposefully, so that they are smart choices for the person you’re making products for, as well as for the formulation as a whole. And I also teach you how to brand and market your product line based on your skincare business goals. Our next semester starts soon!