How to Save on Skincare

By Kristie Reilly and Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
February 08, 2023
How to Save on Skincare

Skincare doesn’t have to be expensive. Here's what you can do to substitute alternatives to your favorite beauty products and how to save on skincare.

Skincare doesn’t have to be expensive, with a little creativity and planning.

The first rule of smart shopping: Buy (and keep) only what you’ll use. Many beauty chains allow returns.

At Sephora, for example, you can get a full refund in the first month, even after you’ve opened the package, and online credit after that. At Ulta, you get a full refund within two months. It’s fun to experiment, and you can justify the cost if you focus on finding the winners.


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Pay attention to ingredients. Despite manufacturers’ extravagant claims, many of the most effective ingredients in skincare have been around for decades, if not centuries.

On the natural side, coconut oil, cocoa and shea butters, glycerin, squalene (made from olive oil), and lanolin (derived from sheep’s wool) are historically popular moisturizers and emollients found in everything from budget buys to the highest-end department-store brands.

If it’s a priority to use products branded with organic ingredients, try Yes To and Burt’s Bees.

Many dermatologists consider petroleum jelly to be the gold standard of moisturizers. Mineral oil, another petroleum byproduct, has fans as well. Both are in your grandmother’s medicine cabinet for a reason: They’re gentle and widely effective on many types of skin.

In fact, they’re the second and third ingredient in one of the world’s most notoriously expensive moisturizers, Crème de la Mer from the Estee Lauder-owned La Mer (which costs a whopping $380 for 2 ounces). Do you really need to spend hundreds on a cream made up largely of petroleum jelly?

Peptides, which boost firming collagen, are the secret to many pricey products, but you can get them through Olay’s Regenerist line, which has been widely praised for formulations that take advantage of the latest skin science.

Here are a few more ways to save.


Vitamin A-based retinol and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are some of the most effective skincare discoveries of the past several decades. They exfoliate and brighten skin and can even reduce wrinkles. Most dermatologists recommend using them beginning in your 20s for serious age-fighting effects.

Consider, though, that you can spend $100-plus on a product with AHAs or retinol, yet less than $10 at the drugstore. Check the ingredients; they’re essentially the same product.

For AHAs, try Alpha Hydrox, a brand available at most drugstores. For retinol, Neutrogena offers safe bets at reasonable prices.

You can even make natural — and surprisingly effective — AHA-based treatments from yogurt or a variety of fruits at home, which will make your home spa day nearly free.

Remember to start with lower concentrations of these potent ingredients to avoid irritating or over drying skin while it adjusts. Use a 5 to 10 percent AHA formulation, and use only one at a time.

For example, you might use an AHA product one night, a retinol the second night, then take the third night off.

If you have sensitive skin, layer a moisturizer over them, too, and be sure to wear sunscreen religiously, since both make skin more sensitive to the sun.

Finally, to avoid risking sun damage, stick with using AHAs and retinol only at night, saving daytime for basic moisturizing.

Any skin expert will tell you the sun is more responsible for aging than any other single factor as much as 90 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Look at your skin that rarely sees the sun. Is it still smooth, unlike the rest of you? The well-regarded aesthetician Renee Rouleau suggests checking skin that rarely sees sunlight for wrinkles.  

To keep your face and neck looking more like sun-protected skin, protect it daily with sunscreen, even if you work inside. (UVA rays — those most responsible for aging — can penetrate window glass.)

Thankfully, this is one step where it’s easy to save money. Look for a combined moisturizer with SPF to take care of two skincare essentials with one purchase. The less you can spend, the better, since it will encourage you to use it liberally — at least a quarter for the neck, and another a dime or nickel for the face at each application, Rouleau recommends.


With all the money you’ve saved, you might invest in one knockout skincare product. If you’ve found your holy grail, concentrate your beauty dollars there.

But shop around on the internet before you buy. Often you can find coupons, and prices for the same products can vary dramatically from site to site.

If the scent, design, or effectiveness of a particular product makes you happy, that’s reason enough to splurge. Consider the boost it gives you an everyday investment in your own joy.


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February 08, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN