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Skincare experts on what distinguishes a drugstore from a luxury serum: Ingredients, formulations, and tech to identify

Skincare experts on what distinguishes a drugstore from a luxury serum: Ingredients, formulations, and tech to identify

Money matters

Text: Emily Heng


Image: Instagram | @lamer

Guilty as we might be of frittering our hard-earned moolah on a motley of makeup, it doesn't quite beat our willingness to splurge on skincare. It is a sentiment further emphasised in recent times thanks to many a changing mindset, as skincare is viewed as a form of self-care and personal investment. Consider how paying for a $500 eyeshadow palette induces raised eyebrows, but barely a shrug if that expense is dropped on a serum (*cough* La Mer).

To be fair, serums have always been on the pricier end of the skincare spectrum — even when cosmetics ruled the roost, and complexion offerings played second fiddle. Beauty brands would cite its potent nature and ability to target specific concerns to justify high prices; the world's most expensive anti-ageing serum from JK7 clock in at US$1,800 a pop. While we're inclined to believe that this is due to a combination of first-rate technology and a high concentration of active ingredients, it does bring to mind the question: how are cult labels such as The Ordinary and The Inkey List able to deliver serums at budget prices? What type of formulations are truly worth your hard-earned cash? And how much should you really be paying for a good serum? We get the lowdown on the serum 'sitch, below.

You're spending more... because of the unique technological advancements used.

Think patented, one-of-a-kind technology such as with Dr. Barbara Sturm. The renowned German aesthetics doctor's proprietary line of skincare utilises the body's proteins to systematically counter ageing. Dr. Lancer, on the other hand, employs the 'Lancer Method', which invigorates skin with gentle inflammation to stimulate the body's self-protective response, thus eradicating free radicals and various other skin-nasties gently.


You're spending more... because of quality active ingredients.

There are a few ingredients that could affect a serum's price. According to Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of The Beauty Brains blog, niacinamide, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid often contribute to a heftier price tag. Take Elizabeth Arden's Advanced Ceramide Capsules, for one, which comes with an enhanced complex of ceramides that reinforces the integrity of your skin's moisture barrier — they will set you back $169 for 90 capsules. Dr Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology in New York City also points out in an interview with HuffPost that heparan sulfate is another potentially price-raising ingredient.


You're spending more... because of physical packaging and fragrance

Serums are often housed in bottles with airless pumps, which are known to be costlier to manufacture. Whether a glass or plastic flacon is used matters. Fragrance plays a part too. Price will fluctuate according to these categories: signature brand fragrance or a commonplace scent offering such as vanilla, berries, and the like. Skin & Co's Truffle Therapy Serum contains high concentrations of Black Winter Truffle that will have your moneymaker smelling like the insides of P.S. Café on Truffle Thursday.


You're spending more... but should you?

Ultimately, it boils down to personal choice. Fundamentally, all serums use the same class of ingredients, such as humectants, moisturisers, and emollients. While luxurious offerings might utilise rare or higher-quality ingredients than their mass cousins, they're not necessarily better for your complexion. Consider what you're really looking for and prioritise in a serum — whether it is product efficacy, social consciousness, or even expertise (translation: dermatologist-developed products), and take it from there. Good luck and Godspeed.

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