Sunday, 31 May 2009

Cosmetics Contemplations: How Much To Pay?

What is ridiculous? What is too much or too little? While constrained by income, some/most of us are also constrained by some sort of personal morality regarding money. Even if we can afford to spend £50+ on a face cream, or at least can save up for it, we often choose not to. But why?

Speaking as a Brit, we can perhaps put this down to a) the country's history of restraint and the stiff upper lip and/or b) our naturally inbred sense of cynicism. There's perhaps just something in us that can't or won't trust what the companies are putting in the products, particularly since that programme in the Dispatches series where they revealed that many anti-wrinkle creams actually made women's wrinkles WORSE and that the placebo given to the control group (suncream) worked just as well if not better. This, in turn, is perhaps responsible for the rise and rise of natural products in Britain today. We want to know exactly what we are getting for our moolah, and this is where bloggers like myself and my colleagues, as well as review websites like Ciao, come in. Between us we can test a good number of products and give others more of an insight into how much of a product's price tag is really down to the product's efficacy, ingredients and expertise, and how much of it is down to paying for overpackaged products and the privilege of having certain brand names in your makeup bag.

So, to the first question. What counts as a 'ridiculous' amount to spend on makeup? This will of course be highly dependent on your income and how much you care about your skin. Everyone will have a different threshold on what counts as an investment in the future of your skin (keeping it hydrated and protecting it from sun damage) versus what will do absolutely no good at all beyond lining the pockets of a few fat cats. On a personal level, I would hesitate when it came to spending over £30 on a single makeup product, and over £50 on a skincare product; by this point, in my view, you should definitely be consulting other people beyond the sales assistant.

At the opposite end of the scale, however, we have not the issue of what is 'too much' but instead what is 'too little'. While it's true that low-priced products can be extremely clever (take Bourjois' Little Round Pot blushers, for instance, or the multi-use Sudocrem, which can be used on acne as well as on babies' backsides), there is such thing as being too good to be true. A little sleuthing on the Boots website reveals that you can pay as little as 77 pence for a moisturiser (with the next one up still at just £1.19). Is this product from the Boots basics range just being honest and giving you the simple truth of the matter, or is it likely to be packed chock-full of nasties? (Sadly, I can't answer this, as the Boots website doesn't provide a list of ingredients.) There is, to my mind, such thing as being so cheap that it can arouse suspicion (the meat that McDonald's uses in its burgers, for example - less than £2 for a burger just can't be good).

However, this does bring me to another point: that of packaging. Packaging (or rather, overpackaging) is one of the beauty industry's greatest sins. Certain companies have latched onto this and now play more towards users' sensibilities - Kiehl's, for example, reward you for bringing back empty bottles, and Lush has for a long time forsaken the demon plastic for cardboard, paper, and the sale of reusable tins. But as for brands who don't follow this example, you have to ask yourself how much you are paying for the massive box in which your tiny product arrives (and this includes delivery boxes and packaging when ordering online). Moving away from general environmental buffoonery, you also have to consider over-frilliness and over-prettiness in a product's packaging. Does it really need all those bells and whistles, and how much extra are you paying for it? (This is all without mentioning how often consumers will happily pay more than a product's worth just because the packaging is pretty *cough*Benefit*cough*).

The only solution (of sorts) to all this, of course, is to know what you're buying, particularly if a product is really expensive. Does the company use parabens in its products? Do they enable the recycling of packaging, or only use minimal packaging? Is the product actually of high quality? If you don't like it, then vote with your feet. New products and beauty companies are being generated all the time, and even though certain brands hog all the limelight, with a little clever purchasing power you only ever have to pay what you want to.

And, of course, there's always ebay.

Skincare solutions
Recession budget: Lloydspharmacy skincare. Total cost of cleanser and moisturiser = £8.98
Back-in-the-black budget: Liz Earle skincare. Total cost of cleanser and moisturiser = £36.50
Treat-yourself budget: Clinique skincare. Total cost of cleanser and moisturiser = £42.50
Credit-card budget: Guerlain skincare. Total cost of cleanser and moisturiser = £75
I-just-won-the-lottery budget: Creme de la Mer skincare. Total cost of cleanser and moisturiser = £176.19

Makeup solutions
Recession budget: EyesLipsFace, or ELF. Total cost of foundation, lipstick and mascara = £4.50
Back-in-the-black budget: Maybelline. Total cost of foundation, lipstick and mascara = £17
Treat-yourself budget: Urban Decay. Total cost of foundation, lipstick and mascara = £40
Credit-card budget: Nars. Total cost of foundation, lipstick and mascara = £68
I-just-won-the-lottery budget: Chantecaille. Total cost of foundation, lipstick and mascara = £111.16

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