In Bustle’s series How Much I Spent, women get honest about how much they're investing in a particular aspect of their lives, and why. For Bustle's beauty issue, Advice Haul, we asked 21 women with different budgets and skin types to break down exactly how much money skin care costs them each month — and to reveal the one product in their regimen they love the most.
With countless options out there to choose from, figuring out the best skin care products for you can definitely feel a little challenging — and, depending on what you're buying, expensive. Do you have to break the bank and get the most pricey options, or will you get the same (or even better) results with less expensive skin care products? Everyone's routine (and budget) will vary, but there are a few things that experts say are good to keep in mind when picking out your products.
To make sure you're getting high-quality, effective beauty products, it's important to first look at the ingredients label of what you're buying. “When it comes to cheap products, you’re likely to be dealing with fillers and additives which could be avoided with more expensive products,” Adina Mahalli, hair and skin care expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. “Conversely, you could be paying a fortune for a less-than-desirable formula, so you’re essentially just paying extra for fancy packaging and a brand name.”
“You just have to know what you’re looking for so that you don’t spend $100 on the exact same formula you could get for $7.”
So which ingredients are actually worth spending a little extra money on? “Pure essential oils, patented technologies, and rare ingredients are obviously going to cost more — and give you a better product in return — than their drugstore alternatives,” Mahalli says. “You just have to know what you’re looking for so that you don’t spend $100 on the exact same formula you could get for $7.”
Also keep in mind that your skin care regimen doesn't have to include a million different products in order to work, either. “In the absence of acne, I find it best to keep the regimen simple and consistent," Dr. Janet Prystowsky, dermatologic surgeon in practice at Citywide Dermatology in Midtown Manhattan, tells Bustle. "For instance, using a mild beauty bar like Dove is all you need to clean your face.” To remove makeup, she likes POND’s Cold Cream, and she also suggests using a moisturizer with SPF under your makeup in the morning.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to build a skin care plan that's right for you. Below, 21 women share their routine and their favorite go-to skin care products, as well as how much they estimate they spend per month. Of course, one product may work well for one person, but not another — and that's OK. If you need some skin care inspo, look no further.
1. Christine, 30, Brooklyn, New York: $2.50
“I work as a writer and artist in Brooklyn. I spend well under $30 on skin care a year ($2.50 a month). I use face wash, toner, moisturizer, sunscreen, makeup remover, and petroleum jelly from my local dollar store, Family Dollar. I’ll use olive oil as moisturizer from time to time if I have some sitting around at home, too.
My favorite product is Huggies Natural Care Wipes ($1), which I use as makeup remover. Sometimes, I’ll buy the off-brand; right now, I’m using Kidgets (also $1), and they’re fine. I sincerely believe that lifestyle — staying hydrated, eating well, getting enough sleep, limiting sun exposure, and minimizing stress — has a greater impact on my skin than products do. Plus, there’s genetics. I’m 30, but routinely get pegged for being in my mid-20s. My parents are both mistaken for being a decade younger than they are, too.”
2. Kari, 31, Orlando, Florida: $60
“My skin care routine costs about $60 a month. My favorite is a travel pack of skin care products from Sephora ($25, once per month), the LANEIGE Hydrating Trial Kit. It comes with face wash, toner, and moisturizer that lasts me the entire month. I like to buy the small size so I can bring it with me if I travel, or if I decide to change products, I can do so without wasting a big investment in expensive, full-size bottles. I also purchased a $250 LED face light therapy device (from LightStim) that I use a few times per week. I buy the accompanying face serum that costs $80, and lasts about three months. I occasionally use sunscreen (Suntegrity Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen & Primer, SPF 30), which is $45 and lasts me about six months.”
3. Liz, 38, Chicago, Illinois: $41
“I average $41 a month: I spend $32 every two months at CVS for CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion with Sunscreen (SPF 30) and CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream; $5.79 every three months at CVS for a Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar; and $69 every three months at Ulta for StriVectin Intensive Eye Concentrate (my splurge!). Among these, I love the Cetaphil cleansing bar. I tried about a million cleansers for my super-sensitive skin, and it’s the only thing that doesn’t dry me out (especially here in Chicago where the winter sucks the moisture out of my face). I also love that it’s a bar — super easy for travel and the gym (and cheap)!”
4. Kelly, 53, New York City, New York: $150
“I spend about $150 a month. About every three months, I get Erasa XEP30 – Extreme Line Lifting and Rejuvenation Concentrate. It is better than Botox [and] comes in a bottle, no injections required. It’s $75 every month at TJ Maxx because they have a ridiculous selection of skin care products — and I also indulge my love for Korean skin care masks (face, hands, feet), moisturizing and cleansing skin care oils (rosehip and coconut), and I spend $20 every month on collagen tablets (NeoCell Super Collagen +C).”
5. Janett, 25, Tempe, Arizona: $39
“My favorite skin care product is definitely Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash ($9, once a month). I also use: Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes Night Calming ($8, twice a month); Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash ($7, every four months); Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control Triple-Action Toner ($7, every four months); Neutrogena Oil-Free Daily Facial Moisturizer ($7, every four months); Sun Bum Sunscreen Face Stick SPF 30 ($8, every three months); Murad Renewing Eye Cream ($82, once); and Burt’s Bees Lip Balm ($5, whenever I lose them). In total, I spend about $39 a month (not including the Murad Renewing Eye Cream, which I just purchased once).”
"If it gets the dirt off of me and leaves my skin feeling great and even, then I’m all in."
6. Nicole, 26, Marion, Illinois: $13-$20
“Honestly, I probably spend about $40 every two to three months on my skin care routine, with the occasional extra $10 here and there for a specific moisturizer. I have combination skin, and have found that the best thing I can do is make my own sugar scrub using essential oils (lemon, peppermint, and grapefruit are the perfect blend for me) and vitamin E oil. If I use this nightly, my skin remains pretty even and clears up rather quickly. If I’m having a bad breakout, I may use Equate Dual Power Oil-Free Face Moisturizer. It has an acne-fighting agent in it and also has to be my favorite brand of a singular product. But, I usually can get by with my scrub pretty easily. Honestly, I’m only out three bottles of essential oils, one bottle of vitamin E, one bottle of carrier oil, and a few cups of sugar. I can usually get almost everything but the grapefruit oil from Walmart. I work in automotive, so if it gets the dirt off of me and leaves my skin feeling great and even, then I’m all in.”
7. Tammy, 40-50, Yorba Linda, California: $12-$18
“I spend about $35 every two to three months and buy CeraVe products from Target or Walmart. I’ve been using these products for years and have been asked many times what I use, and am often complimented on my skin. I even used these through my recent cancer treatments! I use CeraVe AM and PM moisturizing lotions and CeraVe hydrating wash, with the lotions being my favorite.”
8. Ariyana, 28, Los Angeles, California: $150
“I spend approximately $150 a month: $38 for my daily face wash, Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser; $28 for my three-times-a-week cleanser from NIOD; and I use a weekly mask from Joanna Vargas, Forever Glow Mask, that’s $75. Sometimes, I splurge on moisturizer, Crème de La Mer, for $85. But I love the Dr. Jart Cicapair Tiger Grass Re.Pair Serum. It’s super moisturizing, and I go through a bottle every two months.”
9. Kelly, 41, Norfolk, Connecticut: $13
“I have a fairly simple skin care routine and spend about $13 a month. I wash my face at night with Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Peppermint Soap ($16 for 32 ounces, which I buy around four times a year). In the morning, I massage onto my face a mixture of castor oil, raspberry seed oil, and carrot seed oil. I buy the oils from Amazon twice a year; they are each around $15. My favorite is the castor oil by Banyan Botanicals! It can also be used as a cleanser at the end of the day if I need an extra moisturizer. Rub it all over your face (weird at first, but I now love how it feels), then soak a washcloth with hot water, and wipe it off. But what I love most about the castor oil is how fresh my face looks after I’ve rubbed it in. I feel like I’m glowing!”
10. Kate, 33, Los Angeles, California: $8
“My go-to (and favorite!) facial product is Eucerin’s Redness Relief Day Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 15 (about $9). I have rosacea, so it’s perfect to wear under my foundation. It’s also green, so when you first put it on, you wonder how your face won’t look green, too, but it does work in making my face less pink. [...] One bottle lasts me a few months (I try not to wear lotion or makeup every day!), and then the foundation I use is by Revlon and I probably buy a couple bottles a year (for around $20 total). Other than that, I just use Dove bar soap (about $2 per bar, maybe once a month), so my skin care regimen is pretty simple and cost-effective (around $8 per month)!”
11. Kerissa, 30, Dana Point, California: $56
“I love my Dermalogica face wash (it was $80 for the large bottle that has lasted over six months). I’m also an avid SPF applier — I buy the Neutrogena Helioplex Broad Spectrum SPF 55 from CVS for about $10 every four to five months. But I would have to say Curology is my favorite, simply because I’ve seen the most results with it. (As a lifestyle blogger, I want to make sure I look my best!) I had tried so so many products, just short of seeing an in-person dermatologist, so I am very happy with the progress thus far and the price point! Curology is a digital dermatologist I use for my hyperpigmentation. I send in photos of my face and they prescribe me a custom formula to treat my skin. It has since shrunk my pores and has decreased visibility on my dark spots. This is a monthly subscription I pay $39.99 for — love it so far. All in all, I average $56 a month.”
12. Chloe, 25, San Diego, California: $13-$45
“For daily moisturizer, I use Clinique’s Superdefense SPF 20 Age Defense Moisturizer Combination Oily to Oily ($48), Simple’s Kind to Skin Replenishing Moisturizer ($10), or rosehip oil (around $5), depending on what I’m doing that day. I’ll restock every three to six months, so probably spend $80 to $150 a year. For foundation, I use Tarte's Double Duty Powder from Ulta, Fenty’s Foundation for spot coverage or all over if I’m going to an event. I don’t use it that often, so probably like $100 a year. For everyday makeup, I use It Cosmetics CC Cream, but I also just switched to Lancome’s tinted moisturizer. I restock about every two to five months, so $80 to $200 a year. For facewash/makeup remover, I use Philosophy’s Purity or PanOxyl face wash for acne. I switch between these every other day-ish. Purity, I buy bulk, so it’s about $50 a year, and PanOxyl, I buy every two to three months; it’s around $10, so around $40 a year. I love the Philosophy Purity cleanser most because it removes makeup, can be used on my face and body, is made with natural ingredients, and smells lovely.”
13. Jane, 34, Los Angeles, California: $5
“I love Alba Botanica Smoothing Jasmine & Vitamin E Hawaiian Moisture Cream. Not only does it smell like fresh jasmine — so it’s like having moisturizer and aromatherapy in one — but it’s light, too. (I hate how thick some moisturizers are!) It’s also fairly inexpensive (about $12)! A win-win! For soap, I use Neutrogena’s bar soap ($3 a bar), which I buy once a month. And I don’t wear makeup, so I save money that way! Per month, I probably shell out $5!”
"Skin care is something I never compromise on in quality or price because it is just that important."
14. Natalie, 29, New York City, New York: $89
“My breakdown is: $18 on Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser (every three months), $10 on micellar water, any drugstore brand (every four months), $105 on Sunday Riley Good Genes (every nine months), $10 on Heritage Store rosewater spray toner (every six months), $38 on BELIF The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb (every one to two months; I go through that stuff so fast!), $45 on Aesop Parsley Seed Cleansing Mask (once a year), and $155 at the Silver Mirror Facial Bar in NYC (every four months). So, after adding it all up — taking into account how often I buy these products a year — I spend about $1,070 total on my skin care each year (approximately $89 a month). Of them all, the BELIF moisturizer is definitely my favorite and the product I would least like to go without.”
15. Melissa, 23, Los Angeles, California: $28
“Skin care is something I never compromise on in quality or price because it is just that important. However, at about $28 a month, I don’t need to break the bank to have great skin! I’ve always found that less is more, and I have four holy grail products that I use to keep my dry/combination skin feeling hydrated, clean, and glowing — and my wallet happy! I use: Bliss Fab Foaming 2 in 1 Cleanser ($12; one bottle lasts me three or four months); witch hazel toner ($7; one bottle lasts me two or three months); Hora Skin Care Serum with CBD ($54; one ounce lasts up to eight months — I’m still working on mine); and LUSH "Don’t Look at Me" Fresh Face Mask ($14; lasts about eight applications in two to three weeks). My favorite is the serum, because it has anti-aging benefits and acts as a moisturizer — it’s perfect for both day and night. I can also use it as a primer before makeup! And it’s travel-friendly. I spend about $14 a month regularly replacing my face mask, but can hold off on purchasing the other products because they last significantly longer. ”
16. Morgan, 27, Charlotte, North Carolina: $67
“I spend about $30 a month on my favorite cleanser by This Works, Light Time Cleanse & Glow. I also spend $40 every month and a half on my favorite moisturizer, Ahava’s Essential Day Moisturizer. I also use Neutrogena Oil-Free Makeup Wipes at night, which cost around $7 every 20 days (20 in a pack). Among these, the cleanser is definitely my favorite! I love all of the products by This Works.”
17. Samantha, 25, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: $17
“I estimate that I spend $200 on my skin care routine products in a year, or $17 per month. I spend $50 a year on Dr. Spiller Special Peeling Milk for 6.7 ounces; I buy Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser (16 ounces) every three months, which costs $30; and I purchase Nivea Toner Alcohol-Free (200 mililiters) every other month, which costs $40. My favorite product to use is LUSH Cosmetics’ Bunny Moon Jelly Face Mask, which retails for $13.95 for 2.1 ounces. I buy this product every other month and like to use it twice a week for glowing skin.”
18. Amy, 22, New York City, New York: $83
“I spend approximately $1,000 on skin care annually. I use a mix of drugstore and high-end products in my skin care routine. For face wash, I have been using Neutrogena's grapefruit face wash since high school (it has yet to let me down), which retails for about $8, and I purchase it about every other month. Since I discovered the L’Oreal Clay Face Masks, they have been an all-time favorite. They are usually around $12 and I would say I purchase four a year.
As for my high-end products, ever since I have moved to NYC, my skin has been so dry, especially around my eyes. So for my serum, moisturizer, and eye cream, I have turned to physician-dispensed Skinbetter Science products, which have helped tremendously! I use the Even Tone Correcting Serum ($140), the Hydration Boosting Cream ($80), and the Instant Effect Gel EYE ($85). All of these products have done wonders for my skin, keeping it moisturized and reducing the hyperpigmentation. I usually purchase these items every four months.”
"The one thing I won’t scrimp on is good SPF 50 sunscreen — it was the only part of my beauty routine for about 10 years and it’s not going anywhere!"
19. Lea, 31, London, England: £50 ($64.73)
“I have just started spending money on skin care in the last year, after I turned 30. I’m still experimenting with products — but I tend to use a cleanser, retinol, and oil at night, and just vitamin C and sunscreen in the morning (I should probably wash my face again … but I don’t). I don’t really know how much it works out to per month, but I’d say every three months, I probably spend £150-ish stocking up, so maybe £50 per month? I’m not necessarily dedicated to spending a lot of money, but the one thing I won’t scrimp on is good SPF 50 sunscreen — it was the only part of my beauty routine for about 10 years and it’s not going anywhere!”
20. Ashley, 34, Boston, Massachusetts: $35
"I spend approximately $35 a month. I buy Cetaphil from Costco (on sale $15; once a year) and then a few Korean products I love from Peach & Lily: Mizon All-In-One Snail Repair Cream ($13-$19, depending) and Mizon Peptide ($35; price varies by sales; twice a year), Pixi’s Glow Tonic ($15; two-to-three times a year), and Murad Serum and Water Moisturizer ($140; about twice a year). My favorite is the snail cream — it truly changes your skin tone and texture.”
21. Jennifer, 42, Chicago, Illinois: $50
“I love Juice Beauty products from Whole Foods (which you can get on Ulta or Amazon, too). Not only are they organic, but they also feel amazing on your skin, especially the antioxidant moisturizer. I also use a serum, primer, CC cream, and Burt’s Bees Cleansing Cloths. I purchase the cleansing cloths monthly and the other items last about four months, so based on that frame, the cost per month is approximately $50.”
As you can see, what women spend on their skin care routine varies a lot, though there was a common theme above: It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money if you don't want it to. No matter what your budget is, it's possible to find a product — and a regimen — you'll love.