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Lost in the Skincare Jungle

By Amalah

Dear Amy,
I have recently decided that:
A – I am getting old
B – My skin has always sucked
C – Well, I want better skin now – that’s all.
I’ve never had much of a “skin care routine.” I have been using random drug-store, cheap-as-can-be-because-it’s-there-in-front-of-me cleanser and moisturizer, never the same stuff twice and certainly never anything from the same line of products. But now I am looking to get serious about this stuff – moving on to even more than just the two basics. Mostly because I have been way too flaky with the moisturizer part. (Read: hardly ever and yes, I am paying for it.) I want to get the whole gamut of garb – the cleanser, the moisturizer, the toner, the eye cream, the this, the that and yes, please, some of the other.
So, seriously – What is the difference between the $20 bottle of Olay, the $80 bottle of Estee Lauder and the $120 bottle of Dr. Perricone and all the eight million things in between? Is there a real reason someone would use one over the other? Is it just personal preference? Is it best to mix and match based on individual skin and not going the route of using the same line? If I were to choose to go with Olay since, you know – it’s affordable, am I robbing myself of extremely valuable ingredients that will make a world of difference? And if I do spend my mortgage worth on skin care products, how do I know where to spend it the most wisely? Or do I just go to every stinking makeup counter and see which one I hate the least? Obviously, I have no idea. Are there really that many significant differences? I guess, obviously I just don’t want to spend a fortune and then find out that maybe I don’t like it so much or that maybe I didn’t need to. Everyone touts their products as the best on the market… but um… well someone’s gotta be lying. What’s your take on this?
Overwhelmed by Too Many Options that are “The Very Best Out There”

I wish there was an easy answer to this, but the honest truth is that everybody’s skin is different, and all those products out there really ARE the very best out there…for a certain number of people.
I’ve shared my own personal skincare testimony here more times than I can count, but here it is again. I have used every drugstore skincare line out there. Olay, Neutrogena, Ponds, Dove, Clean & Clear and every possible mix-n-match combination in between. I had consistently horrible skin with all of them, well into my 20s.
Then my mother’s Mary Kay rep convinced her to buy me the complete Mary Kay line (cleanser, toner, moisturizer, spot treatment, eye cream) one birthday. And ta-da! Less zits!
But then I changed my birth control, and started to get zits again. So I upgraded to Clinique’s line, since it was the only “upscale” line I could hope to afford with my stupid lame job. Bar soap, toner, moisturizer, spot treatment, etc. And once again, I was happy.
But while it took care of zits, my pores were still really bad and prone to blackheads. So I switched again, this time to Ahava, which included a clay mask. Then Ahava reformulated and I once again was set adrift and tried mixing and matching various products and brands without a real set routine and OH DEAR GOD, my skin regressed back to high school levels of crappiness.
And you all should know the ending, since I yap on about it enough around here: I picked up a starter kit of Philosophy and have been using it ever since, with only minor (and usually seasonal) adjustments. I realized that I was over-treating the oily area of my face and that toners were actually making my skin worse. And finally, I have reached skincare nirvana.
(An aside about toners: Toners are supposed to achieve Ph balance in your skin, but too many of them add acne-fighting ingredients that overstrip your skin of oil, thus making your skin produce MORE oil. So if you do use a toner, make sure it’s a GENTLE one. I know we’re all used to toners that sting and tingle, but seriously: those are not for grown-up skin.)
(All that said, if you must use a toner, I love Yves Saint Laurent Instant Pur Toning Water.)
(I actually love that entire line, if that’s a price tag you’re comfortable with.)
So I know that isn’t super encouraging stuff to hear when you’re just starting to look for What Works Best FOR YOU, but unfortunately there IS going to be some trial and error involved. From my experience, I see definite benefits to using one complete line of products as your foundation — they are designed to work together, yanno? I’ve always gotten the best results when I at least use the core cleansing and moisturizing components from the same line.
I also have no problem with you starting at the bottom of the price scale. A minimum investment in a few Oil of Olay products can’t hurt, because sure! They might work for you! But…they might not, and buying stuff because it’s cheap and not because it’s really the best choice for your skin doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Still, you aren’t going to HURT your skin by trying it, especially since it sounds like you’ve got nowhere to go but up when it comes to your skin.
We all have different price points we’re willing to spend: Philosophy products are about the top of my tolerance level. Thanks to samples and this column, I have dabbled in products that cost much, much more than that. And they are GREAT. They rarely disappoint. They work. But I won’t spend $80 on moisturizer, or $110 on a wrinkle cream. At least not right now, when I’ve found something cheaper that I think works just as well. A lot of women feel the same way about moving from Dove to Philosophy, and that’s fine.
More than anything, I’m DONE spending money on stuff that doesn’t work, whether it costs $55 or $7.99.
(I’ve completely lost my grip on the point of this column, I’m sorry.)
So sure. Try Olay. I’m not going to promise that it’s the Best Thing Out There, but it might be Good Enough? For now?
philosphy.jpgIf you find that your skin isn’t any better after a few weeks on the Olay line, then consider moving up, with guidance. Another reason I love Sephora and Ulta and the like: the salespeople aren’t there to push just one line or brand, like the women at the department store counters. Ask for help. Ask for someone to look at your skin and recommend something. I mean, they aren’t dermatologists or anything, but they do know a thing or two about the stuff they sell. Look for starter kits and small sizes. And for samples. Look at it as a fun science experiment instead of a Daunting Task. You will attain perfect skin, or at least vastly improved skin, eventually, and even if it takes awhile it WILL be worth it in the end.
(And when in doubt, the Philosophy Make-Up Optional set is a terrific buy for a terrific line of products that work for a ton of different skin types, and no, I get no money from the Philosophy people.)

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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