Splurge vs save: Which beauty products are worth the money?

We’re guilty of spending a whopping £1,300 a year on make-up and skincare, according to a recent survey. So does expensive always mean better? Prepare to be surprised…

WireImage/JB Lacroix

Every so often, a story emerges about how much some celebrity or other spends on their beauty regime. Take Mad Men actress January Jones. She apparently keeps herself well stocked in Sisley’s Supremÿa La Nuit skin cream, to the tune of £475 for 50ml (spacenk.com).

Last year, to get Amal Clooney prepped for a single red-carpet appearance, make-up legend Charlotte Tilbury revealed that she’d used £500-worth of her eponymous collection, including the Magic Cream (£70), Full Fat Lashes Mascara (£23, charlottetilbury.com) and not one but two lipsticks.

Corbis/Stephane Cardinale

Then there’s Rihanna who, it has been reported, spends £30,000 a week on the business of looking good.

And it’s not just celebrities who can be extravagant. A study last year by Groupon revealed that, on average, in Britain we spend a huge £1,352 a year on our appearance.

As a beauty editor, one of the questions I’m asked most often is: ‘Does a prestige price tag deliver better results?’ The answer? Read on for my verdict…

Worth a splurge

Skin serum

As the product many of us rely on to bring about visible anti-ageing benefits, this is the one I get asked about most often. Serums don’t always come cheap.
‘A high-grade antioxidant serum is one of the best investments you can make in your skin’s future and it’s worth paying more for a good quality one,’ says dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams (eudelo.com).

‘Good raw ingredients can be pricey, so a cheaper serum may not contain a concentration high enough to really deliver results. Some brands even include a low-concentration “dusting” of an ingredient, just so they can mention it on the label.

Check online reviews to see what other users say about a product if you’re thinking of spending more – and never be seduced by glamorous packaging!’

Mollie Manning

Our hero

‘A favourite of mine is SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic [£135 for 30ml, skinceuticals.co.uk],’ says Dr Williams. ‘Essential for maintaining healthy, beautiful skin, vitamin C can reduce collagen-degrading enzymes, regenerate vitamin E, stimulate collagen production and help protect skin from sun and pollution damage.


A 2017 study published by statistics website Statista found that 31 per cent of women aged between 30 and 59 spend £25 or less on cleanser.

Yet due to an increasing awareness of the damaging effects of pollution, as well as a trend for ‘double cleansing’ – when two cleansers are used to remove ‘oily dirt’ and ‘watery dirt’ – this could soon change.

People are often disappointed when I advise them to stop looking for that ‘miracle’ anti-ageing product and simply upgrade their cleanser.

I would rather spend less on a basic moisturising cream, then put more towards a fantastic cleanser that’s not only effective but brings a pampering touch to the everyday business of removing make-up, general grime and pollution.

Mollie Manning

Our hero

Elemis Biotec Skin Energising Cleanser (£40 for 200ml, elemis.com) leaves my skin feeling clean and looking fresher. It even swipes away my eye make-up in seconds. Save money on make-up remover wipes by pairing Elemis Biotec Skin Energising Cleanser with a washable Makeup Revolution Pro Makeup Eraser Towel (£9.99, superdrug.com).


For years I saved money and cut corners by picking up any old shampoo and conditioner from my local pharmacy.

Then my stylist informed me that many cheaper products simply coat the hair in silicones to give the appearance of shine rather than amplifying the true health of the hair inside and out.

I switched to Kérastase, spending around five times more on each product – adding a pre-shampoo, mask and leave-in serum to my routine – and have never looked back.

By basing its products on technology that is as high performance as some skincare ranges, the brand offers solutions for all hair types and the results are transformative.

One wash without mine and I notice a return to coarseness, tangles and a general dull appearance.

Our hero

Mollie Manning

Kérastase Aura Botanica Bain Micellaire Riche (£22.10 for 250ml, kerastase.co.uk) is a deeply nourishing shampoo that mimics the technology found in cleansing micellar waters for the skin. It’s the perfect remedy for dry wintered-out hair, protects against pollution damage and is definitely a worthwhile purchase.


I speak from personal experience when I say that finding the right foundation or BB cream – in terms of shade, dewiness versus shine control, staying power versus the tendency to ‘cake’ – is a lifetime’s work.

Yet in recent years formulations have become increasingly sophisticated, with pigments that adapt ‘intuitively’ to a range of skin tones, as well as textures that suit our every need.
‘In terms of “skin make-up”, I gravitate towards more expensive brands,’ says make-up artist and founder of Votary skincare Arabella Preston (votary.co.uk).

‘High-street products have come on in leaps and bounds – for example, with the use of more yellow-base tones rather than pink – but I still find the formulas too drying and their scent synthetic.’

Our hero

Mollie Manning

‘My number one for both my skin and that of my clients is Nars Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer SPF30/PA+++ [£30, narscosmetics.co.uk],’ says Arabella. ‘This delivers UV protection in a base that allows your skin to breathe and provides decent coverage. A little goes a long way, so for me it is well worth the £30 price tag.’


The exclusive fragrance sector is growing faster than its mass-market equivalent, suggesting that when it comes to finding a new scent, we are willing to pay more.

The question is whether we’re merely seduced by a designer price tag and extravagant packaging or whether the quality of the bottle’s contents reflects what we’re forking out for.

‘A truly great fragrance is a combination of manmade molecules and the finest natural ingredients,’ says Michael Donovan, founder of Roullier White perfumery.

‘While the latter are what give a scent its richness and intensity – like a painting with vivid colours – they are expensive. That said, there are less costly natural ingredients, such as citrus and lavender, which can be used to create a perfume of great quality for less money.’

Our hero

Mollie Manning

Au Delà Narcisse by Bruno Fazzolari (£100 for 30ml EDP, roullierwhite.com). ‘The rare and exquisite extraction of narcissus is clear and fresh, supported by heavy doses of highest quality absolutes of Egyptian jasmine and French orange flower,’ says Michael. ‘This is a timeless yet modern classic.’

Best to save


Back in 2013, a funny thing happened: the once average nail sector suddenly boomed. Nail art as a trend exploded on social media and soon nail lacquer was outselling the ever-popular lipstick.

I’m as seduced by the gorgeousness of a deluxe-brand bottle as the next girl. But after years of testing nail polishes from designers right down to those from high-street pharmacies, I’ve come to realise that – fancy bottle aside – expensive doesn’t always mean longer-lasting in terms of colour choice and durability.

Our hero

Mollie Manning

Jeremy Scott’s SS18 runway show proves that when it comes to nail shades, bubble-gum pink is back. Maybelline Color Show polish in Bubblicious not only ticks that box, but also comes in at a purse-friendly £3.99 (boots.com).


With the likes of Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé and Katy Perry sporting luxuriant (often false) lashes, our desire to make our own longer, curlier and thicker using mascara has also increased.

Pick a top brand and you could find yourself paying around £25. Yet in terms of ease of application and budge-proof endurance, I’ve always preferred some of the cheaper options.

Our hero

Mollie Manning

When women started raving about Essence Lash Princess False Effect Mascara (£3.30, wilko.com) on web-rating site Reddit, it soon went viral. And if you want to channel the spidery lash lengths seen at the Dior and Cushnie et Ochs SS18 shows, I couldn’t agree with its fans more – plus the mascara is yours for a decidedly unprincely sum.


According to Mintel, UK sales of colour cosmetics rose by around seven per cent in 2016, and as almost half of all women wear lipstick, lip products played no small part in the rise.

The packaging, application and overall presentation of an upmarket brand are undeniably seductive and worth the treat now and then, but we don’t have to always shell out.

In my view, lip colours are made to come off: we use our lips to eat, drink and kiss. We buy different shades to suit our mood or occasion and frequently reapply throughout the day or evening.

Happily, in terms of colour range, payoff, texture and a variety of finishes, the high street punches well above its weight in this category.

Our hero

Mollie Manning

Creamy, comfortable and available in fabulous colours from nudes to statement shades, Topshop Lips in Shoal, Falling Fast, Partition and Boardroom (£8 each, topshop.com) are my go-to lipsticks – and they cost a third of the price of some designer brands.


The catwalks and red carpets of the world churn out elaborate and polished up-dos year after year.
But in my experience, women mainly want efficient styling products that they can use on a daily basis to gain a greater sense of control over thick, frizzy, limp, dry or greasy hair.

I have to admit that I am not one for blow-drying, tonging or straightening my hair. So I deferred to the judgment of Sue Peart, the immaculately groomed former editor of this very magazine.

Our hero

Mollie Manning

‘I’m lucky to have very thick hair,’ says Sue, ‘but it needs a lot of help to keep it in place and stop it flopping down over my forehead. I use hairspray twice a day – before I leave the house and again in the evening if I’m going out. I’ve tried a number of expensive products, but discovered Boots own brand when I was at the airport once and realised that I had nothing to control my holiday hair. I’ve never looked back. I’m not keen on the smell of hairspray, so Boots Essentials Firm Hold Unperfumed [£1.99 for 450ml, boots.com] is my hot tip.’


The market research experts at Mintel have discovered that we spend less on body products than we do on those for our face.

Yet while shower gels and bath foams tend to be less expensive, reach for a luxury-brand body product and you could find yourself paying upwards of £50.

In my opinion, we don’t have to spend more to stay smooth-skinned and line-free from the neck down.

‘In terms of body products, an effective exfoliator is my choice for smoothing the skin, ridding it of dry, scaly bits and improving circulation,’ says facial therapist Abigail James (abigailjames.com), whose clients include model Arizona Muse and wellbeing goddess Melissa Hemsley.

‘The skin on the body can tolerate a coarser texture of product than the face, so often an element of sugar or salt is enough to give an adequate and effective scrubbing action. To get this, you needn’t splash out on anything too expensive.’

Our hero

Mollie Manning

Yes To Coconut Polishing Body Scrub (£7.99 for 280g, hollandandbarrett.com) sloughs away scales and leaves skin smooth again. Finish with Nivea Rose & Argan Oil Body Lotion (£5.99 for 400ml, superdrug.com).

Feature by Bella Blissett