Why I Finally Chose A High-End Moisturizer Over My Drugstore Staples

I blame Sephora’s free samples, and you guys for encouraging me to seek out those free samples.
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I blame Sephora’s free samples, and you guys for encouraging me to seek out those free samples.

I have always been loyal to drugstore products. Never mind the fact that it may mostly be because they’re all I can afford; they work for me, plain and simple. Why would I ever want to spend extra money for basically the same formula wrapped in fancy packaging?

At least, that’s always been my thinking. And I still think that, for the most part. Revlon Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stains do the same thing as Clinique Chubby Sticks. I’ve tried mascaras by Lancome and Benefit, but my favorite is still CoverGirl LashBlast Volume. The drugstore versions are often the same ingredients at a different price point, and sometimes they're even sold by the same company that makes the more expensive version. It’s all marketing.

So then why did I just buy a $38 moisturizer? 

I blame Sephora’s free samples, and you guys for encouraging me to seek out those free samples. That’s what led me to Dr. Jart+ Water Fuse Water-Sure Gel. The helpful Sephora salesperson brought it to me after I explained that my skin has always been so dry that I could never get foundation to blend in properly. I took the sample home and, unfortunately for my wallet, fell in love with it.

It was also unfortunate for all the half-used bottles of drugstore moisturizer that stayed on my shelf until my sample was all used up. Once that happened, I tried to get back to using my Eucerin lotion at night and Olay moisturizer during the day. I also received a free sample of Clinique moisturizer and gave that a whirl as well. 

In the end, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I had liked the Dr. Jart gel. I finally ordered it from Sephora and it now has the dubious honor of being the most expensive beauty product I’ve ever purchased.

Guess which one is the expensive one. Yeah. It’s the SHINY one.

Guess which one is the expensive one. Yeah. It’s the SHINY one.

I’ll explain why this moisturizer is worth it to me, but first I thought I would go in order of least expensive moisturizer that I’ve tried to the most expensive. By comparing the price, ingredients, efficacy, and overall experience (such as the feel, smell and packaging), I hope to break things down a little bit for those of you who are also confused by all the different moisturizer options out there.

Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer with SPF 15 for Sensitive Skin

A- for SPF 15, but an F for packaging.

A- for SPF 15, but an F for packaging.

Price: about $8 for 6 ounces

Ingredients: Active: 6.0% Octinoxate, 3.0% Zinc Oxide. Inactive: Water, glycerin, isohexadecane, polyacrylamide, C13-14 isoparaffin, laureth-7, cyclopentasiloxane, PEG/PPG-20/20 Dimethicone, Steareth-21, Stearyl Alcohol, Sucrose Polycotton-Seedate, Behenyl Alcohol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Cetyl Alcohol, DMDM Hydantoin, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Steareth-2, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Disodium EDTA, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Oleth-3 Phosphate.

Efficacy: It’s lightweight, absorbs well, and does a good job moisturizing. The best thing this has going for it is definitely the SPF 15 for daily sun protection. The glycerin, listed as the second ingredient, is also very moisturizing.

Overall experience: I hate the packaging. It’s opaque, so you can’t see how much product you have left, and you have to squirt it out, which means I often make a mess. It is fragranced, which it really shouldn’t be if it’s being marketed for sensitive skin, but it’s a light, pleasant fragrance at least. 

Out of all four, this is the least sticky moisturizer, which I appreciate. It’s thin and viscous and absorbs quickly without leaving behind any residue or shine (unless you apply too much), so it’s easy to apply it and go, or add makeup on top. I used this every day last summer and my face didn’t get sunburnt once.

Eucerin Intensive Repair Very Dry Skin Lotion

This one gets an F for packaging, too.

This one gets an F for packaging, too.

Price: about $10 for 5 ounces

Ingredients: Water, Mineral Oil, PEG-7 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Isohexadecane, Sodium Lactate, Urea, Glycerin, Isopropyl Palmitate, Panthenol, Microcrystalline Wax, Magnesium Sulfate, Lanolin Alcohol, Bisabolol, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone.

Efficacy: This is an incredibly thick lotion, so it definitely helps with dryness. My little sister had a flaky dry patch on her face, and after rubbing in this lotion once, it disappeared.

Overall experience: Rather unpleasant. It’s fragrance-free, so it has that going for it, and it’s supposed to be exfoliating as well as moisturizing. Unfortunately, I hate applying it. The packaging has the same problems as Olay: having to squirt it out of an opaque bottle. I put it on at night because it’s way too thick and greasy to put on during the day; even a little bit makes my face shiny and sticky. 

It’s not great to wear at night either though, because then I climb into bed with a face that feels like I slathered Elmer’s glue on it. It’s a real bummer when that stuff gets on your silk pillowcase. I think this stuff should be reserved for dry skin emergencies only.

Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion+

For reference, this tube fits neatly in my hand.

For reference, this tube fits neatly in my hand.

Price: $14.50 for 1.7 ounces or $26 for 4.2 ounces at Sephora

Ingredients: Water, Mineral Oil, Glycerin, Petrolatum, Steric Acid, Glyceryl Sterate, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Oil, Urea, Lanolin Alchohol, Triethanolamne, Hordeum Vulgare (Barley) Extract/Extriat D’Orage, Cucumis Savitus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Helanthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seedcake, Propylene Glycol, Dicaprate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Trisodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Yellow 6 (CI 15985), Yellow 5 (C1 19140), Red 33 (C1 17200)

Efficacy: Very moisturizing. Apparently they recently updated the formula for the first time in 45 years (hence the +), and from what I can tell without having tried the older version, it’s an improvement. They added glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and urea--all of which are known for their water-binding, moisturizing properties. They also got rid of the parabens in the old formula.

Overall experience: Pretty good, but nothing special. I can’t really complain because I got a free one-ounce sample… but I’m going to anyway because there’s nothing I like more than complaining about free stuff. 

The good news is that it’s fragrance-free and the packaging is good: the bottle is clear enough to see how much I have left, and the full-sized bottle comes with a pump! The bad news is that I dislike applying it because when I rub it in, there’s a white film that appears--sort of like a soapy lather. This bothers me a bit, but luckily it disappears quickly once the moisturizer is absorbed. 

This is for dry skin, and does leave my skin slightly shiny; I would suggest the gel version for those with oily skin.

Dr. Jart+ Water Fuse Water-Sure Gel

kelly_drjart moisturizer.JPG

Price: $38 for 1.7 ounces at Sephora

Ingredients: Water, Propanediol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Glycereth-26, PEG/PPG-17/6 Copolymer, Glycerin, Cyclopentasiloxane, Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, Trehalose, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Fructan, Equisetum Arvense Extract, Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Fruit Extract…. The next eight ingredients are also fruit/leaf/seed extracts or oils, but I’m sure they are only included in very small amounts and are simply there to make the product seem fancier and therefore more worth your money. The important ingredients are the hyaluronic acid and glycerin; these are both humectants, which hydrate the skin by drawing water molecules out of the air. Rio explains this much better than I do.

Efficacy: It makes my skin feel incredibly soft and silky right away, more so than any of the other three moisturizers.

Overall experience: Obviously pretty darn good to make me spend that much money on it--and that was without the nice packaging. 

Now that I have the full size, I can say that the packaging is awesome. It’s a glass jar that’s so beautiful I feel like I should find a place of honor for it in my bedroom. I’m amused by the little spatula that comes with it for application. I mean, it’s definitely a good idea so you don’t have to stick your germy fingers into the jar, but… they don’t give you any storage for the spatula. If I leave it lying around it’ll get dirty or lost. In the end, I stuck it in a little plastic cap left over from an argan oil bottle or something.

I’m a genius! Tiny things are so cute!

I’m a genius! Tiny things are so cute!

A big downside is that it is distinctly fragranced; it smells like a light perfume. It’s not unpleasant (in fact I would say the opposite), but if you’re very sensitive to fragrance, this won’t be for you. 

It is absorbed by the skin very quickly and only leaves a slight sheen behind for a short time. It doesn’t feel tacky like the Eucerin lotion. Best of all, you only need the tiniest bit. I’m relieved to know that this will surely last me for months, unlike my ounce of Clinique which is halfway gone after only two weeks of use.

All of these formulas have water and glycerin as two of their most prominent ingredients; the details vary, but in the end they all do a decent job of moisturizing. 

The best moisturizer, however, is the one that you actually put on your face every day because you enjoy using it. I like sitting in my silk robe at night, applying my expensive moisturizer with its dumb little spatula, feeling like a fancy, rich lady. It smells nice and feels amazing on my skin, which makes it feel like a treat instead of a chore.

This is the exact face that I make whenever I apply this gel.

This is the exact face that I make whenever I apply this gel.

So don’t feel the need to buy higher-end products just because of the marketing or the hype; but don’t feel guilty if, like me, you find a product outside of the drugstore that you really love. After all, shouldn’t beauty feel less like necessary upkeep and more like a luxurious experience--at least every once in a while?

Now, obviously, you have to tell me your favorite moisturizer (high-end or drugstore), as well as the most expensive beauty product you’ve ever purchased.