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Recession Skincare

By Amalah

Hi Amy,
I have a bit of a bummer of a question for you, but it could help out a lot of people these days. Unfortunately, I lost my job last week. I’m literally scraping the bottom of the barrel, or jar that is, of my Hope in a Jar. I simply cannot justify spending the money on more. What do you recommend for the most inexpensive skin care?

Oh, man. Dude. I’m sorry. I lost a job a couple months or so after 9/11, and it sucked. SUCKED. I got so panicky about money I remember microwaving the last swallow of lukewarm coffee and making tuna fish sandwiches with the end pieces of bread just so I could spring for the NICE resume paper. Everything worked out after a few scary months, and interestingly enough, one of the big reasons I started writing online in the first place was because I wished I had a blog to talk about my experiences at the unemployment office. And now here I am, bossing people around on the Internet. I hope things work out for you in a similar fashion.
I’m sure I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: I’ve yet to find an inexpensive skincare option better than Cetaphil. It wasn’t the miracle product for me that it is for other people (I mean, obviously not, or I’d still be using it — though I use it on my babies’ skin constantly), but despite trying dozens and dozens of drugstore brands and products, Cetaphil proved to be about as good as it got.
They make an actual moisturizer, but I think it’s too much for oily or combination skin (though it IS non-comedogenic). If your skin gets severely dry and tight, it’s great. Otherwise, the gentle cleanser can actually be left on skin and double as a light moisturizer as long as your skin isn’t desperately dry (the “without water” application directions are also great if you suspect your water is irritating or drying out your skin). The version for oily skin is pretty good as well, though I personally preferred to alternate face washings with the original gentle cleanser (around $12 for a 16-ounce bottle) and a Neutrogena facial bar ($5.99 for a pack of three!), with the Cetaphil filling in for a moisturizer. If you find you need more moisture than that, upgrade to the Cetaphil moisturizing cream, or amp up your skincare regimen with some homemade remedies, like avocado or oatmeal or vitamin E capsules.
(I have not tried Cetaphil’s sunscreen/moisturizer combos, though I plan to. Particularly this one, with SPF 50! Hot damn, there’s nothing getting through that.)
Whatever you do, don’t get tempted by tiny “low-priced” versions of your pre-unemployment favorites. While a $38 moisturizer is an obvious luxury now, Hope in a Jar has a $15 size that I swear, can momentarily trick your brain into thinking that oh! Hey! I can do $15! Right? I know I like it, I’ll just use a tiny bit some days, like before job interviews! It’s the perfect compromise! And then you realize that you just paid $15 for HALF AN OUNCE, and applying that math to the larger two-ounce size, a $38 jar would cost $60, and the $60 four-ounce jar would cost $120 and you are a big fat instant gratification sucker.


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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  • Alpha Mom

    Alpha Mom

    April 2, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Amy speaks the truth. I remember years ago (before Philosophy even existed maybe) that some magazine (maybe Allure) gave one dermatologist $1,000 and another derm $100 and said GO buy a skincare routine.
    Both came back with Cetaphil.

  • Erin

    April 2, 2009 at 11:29 am

    I really love Cetaphil products. You can also find them at Costco for a significant discount!

  • Pam

    April 2, 2009 at 11:53 am

    there’s also a QVC site for jumbo size Philosophy products at pretty cheap (okay, cheaper, at least) prices:
    (sorry, not clicky)

  • Jess

    April 2, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I have to say that despite knowing that ProActive is exactly what my skin needs at this point in my life, I am constantly looking for cheaper alternatives that don’t require taking my eye makeup off and THEN washing my face (yes, lazy). Plus ProActive doesn’t give me that wonderful feeling of lathering up my face that I actually CRAVE…but i digress….
    In my quest I have tried Cetaphil and have to say that while I wasn’t super impressed because it wasn’t some kind of crazy miracle, it didn’t do anything negative for my skin either. It was…fine. I am mildly acne prone so after a while i noticed that my skin wasn’t as good as it was with ProActive so I went back (like I always do! damn you proactive!!!!) but if I was in a money pinch I would definitely try it. I have tried the Cetaphil moisturizer with SPF and it’s not my favorite. (I actually love OIl of Olay moisturizer). Left me slightly greasy, but maybe I bought the wrong version….I’m always doing that sort of thing.
    Another one to consider is St. Ives Olive Oil cleanser. I just recently bought this in between ProActive purchases and actually really liked it. I now use it as a cleanser for my chest and back in the shower and think it’s way better than bar soap.

  • Sara

    April 2, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I really, really love Oil of Olay. It is light, does the job, and costs around $6.99 for a bottle that lasts me months. However, I don’t like the sensentive skin formula, even though my skin is touchy. So now I only buy the regular.
    For a face wash, I use a combo wash/toner by Clean N’ Clear that is around $5.00. My skin looks great. Or I could just be blessed with good skin, whatever.

  • Liz

    April 2, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Hope in a Jar is moisturizer, right? Two words: Olay Complete. Some more words: CVS’ store brand copy of Olay feels like buttah. Although I don’t think that one’s a copy of Olay Complete; I think it’s a copy of another kind of Olay moisturizer. Whatever it is, it’s buttah. I would seriously compare the texture to Hope in a Jar.

  • Ashley

    April 2, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    I have seen several dermatologists over the years and every single one has recommended Cetaphil. I also use it on my kiddo.

  • Tracy H

    April 2, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    I know Amy isn’t a big fan of Olay due to some of the unidentifiable “stuff” in the product, but I am a big fan. Their face washes are great and I use the Olay Regenerist line of moisturizers. The Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum feels like silk on your skin. And dare I say I have even used the generic store brands of Olay from CVS and other drugstores and have been perfectly happy with them as well! But I usually find good on-line deals on Olay from Amazon. Good Luck!

  • Lori

    April 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    I loved Cetaphil before I got hooked on Philosophy (thanks, Amy) and want to let you know that the store brand version of Cetaphil works equally as well, cleanser-wise. My teenagers concur (although they would LOVE to get their paws on my Purity).
    Good luck with your skincare and your job search.
    And thank you, too, Amy, for not going all Skin-Care Gestapo on Emily.

  • Emily

    April 2, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Thank you everyone! Right now I am finishing off an old (I don’t want to think about how old) bottle of Aveeno moisturizer, but I will give the Cetaphil a try when that is gone. Perhaps the SPF 50 moisturizer since my Neutrogena Ultra Sheer is also getting low…this NorCal sun is helping keep my spirits up, along with all your help!

  • lolismum

    April 3, 2009 at 10:01 am

    I was never a fan of cetaphil. Again, it does not hurt the skin, but I thought it was a little too mild for a good cleansing or moisturizing. I just went to the dermatologist for some chronic rashes I have. I also have a combination skin, prone to blackheads. The dermatologist recommended CeraVe. Love love love it. Great, gentle, effective cleanser. Available at almost all drugstores, incredibly reasonably priced. I have tried everything from $5 drugstore brands to $100 fancy stuff. CeraVe rocks.

  • Steph

    April 4, 2009 at 5:10 am

    I mix a little baking soda in with the Cetaphil when cleansing my skin. I feel like it really strips the make-up off, and my skin feels so soft. I use Olay’s night cream every evening – great product! I use L’Oreal de-crease during the day, but too thick so I would not recommend.

  • Jae

    April 6, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    I love Cetaphil products. They’re the only things that don’t make my face all freaky outty.
    I tried the new Cetaphil SPF 50 lotion and I LOVE IT! It feels great, not greasy, make-up goes on well after it (though I only wear powder, not foundation so I’m not sure how it’ll do with that). The only caveat is the sunscreen smell but that seemed to go away after a while.

  • Becca

    April 6, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    I feel all crazy for saying this…..but I simply love the White Dove Bar of soap. I use it in the shower, at the gym and to wash my face at night. Smells great, perfect for my combo skin……no irritations. And….about as cheap as you can get.
    On my home spa nights….I blend oatmeal, honey and egg whites (microwaved enough to kill bacteria) and treat myself to a body scrub (including face) that leaves me feeling smooth and pampered.
    Before I had kids I used Olay and clinique stuff…but cannot justify the purchase with five kids in the house, now. Besides….I like feeling thrifty as I loudly blend my home-made body scrub.

  • Demi

    April 7, 2009 at 9:41 am

    I love Lubriderm Daily Moisture (fragrance free). I used to use Clinique, but ran out of my regular moisturizer & had some of the fragrance free stuff left over from my tattoo. I ended up loving the Lubriderm so much that I never went back to Cliniqe.