Why Do Anti-Aging Products Cost So Much?

The fountain of youth doesn’t come cheap -- all it takes is a trip to Sephora or the cosmetics counter at your local department store to see the extortionate costs of anti-aging products. Quelling crow’s feet can cost you hundreds of dollars, and combating wrinkles is likely to send you to the poorhouse. Meanwhile, many similar products are available at the drugstore for a fraction of the price, which naturally makes you wonder: Why do some anti-aging products cost so much? Is it a racket? Or are you actually able to buy youth (hence justifying the crazy price tag)?

No one’s pretending that agelessness and beauty come cheap. Look no further than the Kardashians, who aren’t exactly modest about the amount of money that goes into the procedures and creams they use to keep their complexions flawless. Of course, if you believe in natural beauty and aren’t as terrified of aging as the cosmetics industry constantly tells you to be, then anti-aging products probably seem like a total scam. But if you’re looking for a youthful glow, is the price tag really worth it? What exactly is it that makes the products you’re buying so damn exxy?

They’re sometimes packed with rare ingredients

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credit: Barney's

Some anti-aging products are expensive because they’re packed with active ingredients, rather than cheap filler material. For instance, 3LAB’s Anti-Aging Cream, which costs a whopping $675, includes, according to Marc Cornell, Sr. Scientist of Research and Innovation for 3LAB, “a proprietary, patent-pending blend of bio-based marine actives appropriately named Marine Repair Complex (MRC),” which accounts for 20% of the product’s make-up. The compound is “produced by a microorganism which lives and thrives in the extreme weather of Antarctica,” Cornell says, which takes a lot of effort to extract. Your run-of-the mill $30 drugstore creams just don’t have these kinds of active ingredients. Whether you need these ingredients or not is a different story, but if you’re looking for unique materials and maximum effort, those are going to come with a mighty price tag.

But do those ingredients really do anything?

Sure, the active ingredients in pricey anti-aging creams are impressive. Things like sea kelp, caviar, and peptides are rare and costly to procure, but unfortunately, it’s unclear whether or not a lot of expensive creams actually do anything different to a drugstore brand. The FDA doesn’t have particularly stringent requirements for approving cosmetics (as opposed to medications, which are more tightly regulated), so anti-aging products only need to “improve the appearance of wrinkles” rather than erasing them, as some products claim to do. And of course, if you take good care of your skin and are vigilant with washing, exfoliating, toning and moisturizing, your skin will have a better appearance than if you didn’t. But you can achieve optimum skin care with cheaper products too, so we’re really on the fence as to the real-life benefit of expensive products.

Some ingredients really do work, and they aren't that expensive

american psycho
credit: Lionsgate

According to Dr. Elizabeth Hale, a New York University Medical Center Dermatologist, there are some ingredients that do work to have a visible impact on the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and discoloration. Anti-oxidants like vitamin C and E can be beneficial in anti-aging products, as well as retinol (vitamin A). These are widely available in drugstores or cheaper brands, which means you don’t actually have to buy the $400 retinol based night cream. You can buy brands like Indeed Laboratories (their Retinol Reface costs $19.99) and Roc (their Eye Cream costs $15.41) which are just as good as more expensive products. Hale advises that these products have plenty of scientific evidence to prove their effectiveness in improving elasticity and plumpness in the skin.

So then why do some creams cost a fortune?

For all the “rare” ingredients, many expensive products actually cost every little to make, so the markup is purely to do with branding. Perry Romanowski, author and beauty expert, says it’s all marketing. Romanowski says some products cost $2 to make, but are sold at retail for over $300, and that “the price of cosmetics is related to the image of the brand.” What you’re really paying for is the brand’s marketing, including the models and Hollywood icons they pay to spruik their products -- which doesn’t come cheap. Romanowski’s philosophy is to never buy any beauty product that costs over $25, as many cheap creams have the same ingredients, or will have the same effect, as their more expensive counterparts.

So what if you don't want to buy any creams, ever?

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credit: NBC

Sunscreen is the one thing that is proven to actively STOP the aging process. Basically, you can have all the expensive, fancy creams in the world, but they won’t mean anything unless you’re applying a sunscreen of at least 15 plus every day.