I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

As a consumer today, you are faced with SO many options! You can purchase skincare from a department store, a specialty store (such as Sephora), your Dermatologist’s office, from your favorite Aesthetician at a spa, the Drugstore, or even from an old high school friend who is selling the latest direct sales skincare and posting before and after’s on Facebook!

Which to choose, why, and what are you getting for your money? I’m here to spell it all out for you so you can decide for yourself as an informed consumer!

 Drugstore/Grocery Store/Large Chain Store (Target, Wal-Mart) Brands

These products are some of the most heavily marketed brands out there. You see ads for Oil of Olay, St. Ives Apricot Scrub (cringe!), Aveeno and Neutrogena in almost every magazine that you open!


  • They are relatively inexpensive for skincare. A bottle of Olay beauty fluid as your Moisturizer won’t cost you more than $10.
  • If you don’t have any skin issues to correct and aren’t looking for an active anti-aging regimen, they are fine.
  • Body care products and a few cleansers are typically recommended by Dermatologists such as Aquaphor, Cera Ve and Cetaphil, Eucerin as well as Aveeno Oatmeal Bath for Eczema are sold here.
  • The products are accessible. You can walk into any corner drugstore and pretty much find what you are looking for.


  • Drugstore brands do not contain a lot of active ingredients. Active ingredients create visible changes in the skin, because they are heavily tested for their efficacy. That means that if you have skin conditions to correct or if you want to have an effective anti-aging regimen, you won’t find the proper products in a drugstore. Even drugstore brand retinols are typically not a high enough percentage to truly create changes in the skin (with the exception of Differin Gel, which has just become available as a nonprescription)
  • Most drugstore brands contain a lot of inexpensive ingredients that aren’t all that great for your facial skin, as they may be too emollient and clog your pores, or be known irritants that can cause a reaction. Some examples include Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, heavy Fragrances, and Dyes. (Petrolatum is a common ingredient in body care products recommended by Derms for eczema but may possibly be too emollient for your face!)
  • While drugstores employ sales associates that sometimes specialize in the skincare and makeup department, most of them are not Licensed Aestheticians and do not have a deep understanding of skincare or ingredients as Aestheticians do. It isn’t necessary that they do, as the lines that drugstores carry won’t make significant changes in the skin anyway.
  • If you see a professional skincare (or haircare!) line on the shelves, stay away. These are part of a 23 billion dollar “Divergent Market” or Gray Market in which company reps sell their cast-offs at a deep discount to the retailer. These products may be expired, compromised, and may not even be the real thing inside! Agencies are currently working to make this illegal practice a thing of the past. The same goes for Amazon- Buyer Beware!

My summary: Drugstore brands are a standard quality, and typically don’t offer a lot of active ingredients to truly improve the skin or skin conditions. They are inexpensive. If you are looking for basic facial skin maintenance (cleansing and moisturizing) they are  fine. For correctives (acne, aggressive anti-aging), look elsewhere. A drugstore is a great place for purchasing body care products that your dermatologist recommends if you have an inflammatory skin condition such as eczema or excessively dry skin. 

Specialty Store Brands (such as Sephora and Ulta)


  • These products are the next level up from drugstore brands. They do contain some active ingredients as well as higher quality ingredients. “Higher quality” ingredients means that the ingredients have been studied and proven for their efficacy and are more expensive for the manufacturer to produce in large quantities.
  • It appeals to those who are a little more beauty and product savvy who want to invest more than $10 on their moisturizer.
  • The products are almost as accessible as drugstore products, as these stores are everywhere nationwide.
  • Often, but not always, these stores employ Licensed Aestheticians who may be actually performing treatments on the premises (such as Ulta) and they DO have a deep understanding of skincare and product ingredients, which is important since the products on the shelves can change the skin.
  • Some of the professional lines that your Aesthetician may work with (such as Tata Harper or Peter Thomas Roth) are available for you to purchase if you can’t get down to the spa.
  • Specialty stores such as Aveda, The Body Shop and L’Occitane have their own unique skincare lines with attributes you can’t find elsewhere (for example, vegan skincare at The Body Shop)
  • They have a vast selection of makeup, fragrance and body products as well which makes for a very fun shopping experience (and you may walk out with more than just a tube of lipgloss and a moisturizer! Ha!)


  • Most of the product lines are professional lines, (or once were and their rights were sold for a hefty price tag!) Part of the cost of the product is that branding price tag and not necessarily what’s inside the bottle.
  • It can be difficult to sift out what truly is quality and what is not in a store carrying multiple brands. For example- is Caudalie better than Fresh? Do you choose based on the packaging and the presentation and the smell rather than having educational materials available about the ingredients and how the products work? (in other words is the sale to you based on the Marketing?)
  • Unless the Licensed Aesthetician working at the store actually analyzes your skin, she may not be recommending the appropriate products. (See my post on a thorough and proper skin analysis!)
  • Some of the professional lines that your Aesthetician may work with and carry at her spa are sold here. Which means she makes the recommendation with her time and expertise at her spa but then doesn’t know what you are buying at Sephora. As a loyal client, this can create a conflict that is two fold. The first is, the salesperson may tell you something different from your Aesthetician and may steer you in a direction that your skin therapist doesn’t want you to go in (too many cooks in the kitchen!)- the second is now you have a product that won’t be used sitting in your “product graveyard” under the sink once you go back to your Aesthetician and find out it wasn’t right for you!  Better to have that money to go towards another pampering treatment or a better product! Most of these stores will accept returns on open products, but what a hassle!

My summary: If you know that what you are getting is high quality, effective and appropriate for your skin, these brands are definitely a great option. Not all of them under the roof are created equal, however, and due to marketing it can be tricky to find out which ones are worth the price tag and which ones are making you pay for their marketing! Ask your salesperson if she is a Licensed Aesthetician, or consult your Aesthetician on a product you might want to try- she can give you the full scoop and help you decide if it’s worth it!

The lines I DO like from Sephora and Ulta are Caudalie, Peter Thomas Roth, Carol’s Daughter, Fresh, Boscia, and Dermalogica. 

Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow!!!

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