Dermatologists Share How They Spend Their Money on Skin Care

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Researchers have found that the joy of anticipating an experience is often greater than the joy of the experience itself (check out "If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right" in the Journal of Consumer Psychology). It’s not the buying, but the deliberating, doing the homework, and then finally, finally, taking the leap and acquiring just the right thing. And one that you can afford. Debt and money insecurity can last longer than even the most shelf-stable creams.

According to one recent survey of more than 2,000 Americans, nearly half of respondents cited personal finance as their top cause of stress and worry (followed by relationships and then work). Which is why it’s also important to remember that beauty is so much more than products and physical appearance. It’s a way of seeing the world, of connecting with others, of presenting the self you want to be and accepting the self you are. And that means padding and protecting (or opening) a savings account and, if it interests you, treating yourself every so often to affordable beauty indulgences. Did you hear the "affordable" part?

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Because despite what you may have heard from people selling beauty products, a face cream is never an "investment." It depreciates as soon as you break that seal. So isn’t it nice to know that it’s not the face cream that really matters, anyway? It’s the period before that: the shopping, not the buying. And that, dear friends, is free.

Curious to find out how dermatologists spend their money on skin care? Below, find three dermatologists, three budgets, and three complete routines for your browsing pleasure.

Laurel Naversen Geraghty: A dermatologist in Medford, Oregon (and — fun fact! — a former ishonest editor)

Budget: $50

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If I’m breaking a routine down to bare bones, number one is a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen. Don’t bother with that step and everything else is pointless — it’ll be one step forward, two steps back. CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 feels light on the skin, doesn’t clog my pores, and rubs in within seconds. It’s a nice two-in-one moisturizer-and-SPF step.

My number-two most important thing is a topical retinoid. Retinoids are backed by decades of research proving that they improve skin texture in myriad ways. I know it’s going to help with fine lines and tone while boosting cell turnover so I’m not getting buildup of dead, dry skin. Retinoids can be a little irritating, but La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment has a creamy base that makes it easier for me to tolerate without redness or peeling. I only need a small amount — about the size of a pea — for my whole face every night.

In the mornings, I like to apply vitamin C under sunscreen. It combats free- radical damage and can help to even out skin tone, but it’s also one of those ingredients that’s like a touchy friend who could get set off at any moment: If vitamin C hits light, heat, or is exposed to air, it breaks down and becomes worthless. The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% comes in a protective container.

I can use a luxurious $75 cleanser or I can use a cleanser that costs a dollar, and the difference is minimal in my skin — as long as it’s clean and not irritated. Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar is super gentle. It cleanses effectively without drying me out.

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Total: $53.86

Alyx Rosen Aigen: Assistant professor of Mohs and cosmetic surgery at the University of Miami

Budget: $150

I always like to know what cleansers my patients are using, because that step definitely affects how other products are being absorbed by their skin. It’s really important to have a great gentle cleanser, like VMV Hypoallergenics Moisture Rich Creammmy Cleansing Milk for Dry Skin, in your cabinet at all times. This formula is fragrance- and dye-free and also really effective at removing makeup. It doesn’t foam or lather a ton, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an effective cleanser. I’m also never going to be without an antioxidant. Isdin Flavo-C Ultraglican Ampoules combine an amazing antioxidant, vitamin C, with hyaluronic acid, which helps plump lines and gives you a little bit of glow for during the day — honestly, it feels like you’re putting silk on your face. If I can get more antioxidant protection in my sunscreen, even better. Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield SPF 50 has antioxidants that work in conjunction with the sunscreen factor to really eat up free radicals and help prevent DNA damage. I’m very fair, and the universal tint works for me.

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Then a retinoid. If you have acne, a retinoid is going to help. Differin Gel Adapalene 0.1% Acne Treatment is something you can buy at the drugstore without worrying about insurance or a copay. I’ve used eye creams that most people love, and they’ve given me allergic contact dermatitis. But Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream Eye is lightweight and fragrance-free, which is great for my sensitive eye area. The hyaluronic acid helps with fine lines.

For travel, I like Dickinson’s Original Witch Hazel Daily Refreshingly Clean Cleansing Cloths. Witch hazel has anti-inflammatory properties (if you have kids, they’re also great for cleaning up nicks and cuts). They have aloe too, so they hydrate.

Total: $144.48

Monica Boen: A dermatologist in San Diego

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Budget: $500

I think sunscreen is worth the investment. It’s hard to convince people to put one on every day, so you want a formula you really like, and EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 is the best. It’s a physical blocker, with a little bit more protection against UVA light, but it’s not chalky. It goes on clear and smoothly.

SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF has really well-studied and powerful antioxidants — vitamin C and ferulic acid. It helps to neutralize free radicals and treat discoloration. It’s not very oily, so it’s a good choice if you’re acne-prone.

Even though you’re using it for a short period of time, a cleanser definitely matters — one that’s too harsh can really damage your skin. I like a liquid that’s not too foamy, like SkinMedica Facial Cleanser. It’s gentle and doesn’t cause inflammation.

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I’d also splurge on SkinMedica Retinol Complex 0.5. Retinols can be tricky because they’re definitely prone to drying out the skin. But this one contains a few more moisturizing ingredients, like niacinamide, that help make it a little less irritating.

There are so many great high-end moisturizers, but CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion has the ceramides you need to help protect the skin barrier. It also has hyaluronic acid. And it’s fragrance-free. Starting with a really basic moisturizer and adding to your routine from there creates less irritation for the skin. I also love Colorescience Total Eye Restore Regimen; it’s a little kit that includes a soothing eye mask, a hydrating concentrate, and mineral sunscreen for the undereyes. The lower eyelid has very thin skin, so it’s important to protect it from UV damage. And the rollerball applicator for the concentrate feels so relaxing.

Total: $495.99

— AS TOLD TO DIANNA MAZZONE

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