Wrinkle Creams: Do Expensive Ones Work Better?

by Sue Chung Patient Expert

Reader: Will expensive wrinkle creams work better than cheaper ones? I'm on a limited budget but I'd still like to take good care of my skin.

It's easy to believe that an expensive product will always perform better than a cheaper one. We all expect that we get what we pay for and plunk down more money for what we think are better investments. We also tend to think that cheap prices mean poor performance.

But in the world of skin care, more money is not necessarily more. In fact, it's often less in terms of positive results for your skin. While all retail products go through some sort of markup before they reach beauty counters and store shelves, the pricey ones are getting marked up for a host of things you don't need in your fight against wrinkles.

Packaging is a big one. Ever notice how expensive creams are packaged beautifully? The boxes seem to be made of higher-quality materials, the aesthetic design of the jar (or bottle) is visually appealing, and there might even be an adorable mini-spatula to keep you from having to dip into the cream with your fingers. Despite the beautiful packaging, a pretty box won't keep your skin looking healthy.

Another thing you don't need in a skin cream is fragrance. Fragrance has been shown to be one of the most common skin irritants in cosmetics and yet plenty of pricey skincare lines continue to infuse their products with perfume. Even "unscented" is misleading, since this means the product may contain masking fragrances. Whether you know it or not, you're paying a little more for the flowery scent that makes a skin cream seem extra luxurious.

There are also plenty of pricey skin creams that promise miracles by touting "clinical studies." Unfortunately, these clinical studies are often not based on a large enough sample of the population to provide conclusive results. In addition, these studies are also often conducted by the same companies who market these ingredients in their cosmetics.

A 2006 Consumer Reports study demonstrated that despite the boasts of pricey anti-wrinkle creams, very few made a significant improvement in skin appearance. On the contrary, some of the cheaper creams actually outperformed the more expensive ones.

So the good news: You don't have to spend your monthly entertainment budget on your skin cream to hydrate and take care of your skin. The bad news: No skin cream is going to permanently eliminate your wrinkles. The best it can do is add moisture to skin and slow the formation of more wrinkles by improving the rate of cell turnover.

For an effective anti-wrinkle cream, look for retinol, alpha-hydroxy acids, or pentapeptides as an active ingredient. Retinol and AHAs are widely proven to help soften fine lines and prevent further wrinkles. RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream and Alpha Hydrox AHA Enhanced Crème are available on drugstore shelves. While pentapeptide studies are not as conclusive at this point, there is research that demonstrates it may be effective at boosting cell turnover in the skin. Olay Regenerist creams are affordably priced and contain amino-peptide complexes.

As a final note, whatever you spend on anti-wrinkle creams will be money wasted if you don't commit yourself to wearing sunscreen on a daily basis. Sun damage causes most of our wrinkles, so your anti-wrinkle cream won't be able to make much progress if you aren't protecting your skin.

Sue Chung
Meet Our Writer
Sue Chung

Sue wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Healthy Skin.