Buying face cream

I originally wrote this as a Facebook post three years ago. It was a friend’s comment on this post that led me to start this blog, so I thought I would share it. I also just went through this process again a few weeks ago, and all my thoughts are still topical.


It’s that time that comes around every few months – time to buy a new face cream. I suppose the main part of the story is that I’m about as brand fickle as you can get. I rarely buy the same cream twice, and the cream I buy depends on my mood, the time of day, the season, whether I’m feeling like flashing some cash or being economical. And what kind of receptacle is my cream contained in – glass jar, plastic bottle, pump applicator?

Before heading out to make my purchase, I had almost decided to buy a premium branded product. You know, the kind that you have to go to a white coated salesperson to buy. (BTW – don’t let the white coats fool you, they aren’t real scientists. I doubt most of them have even graduated from the Ponds Institute.)

But when I looked the product up online to see the price, I had that sad feeling of “what a lot of money for such a little product”. And do you know what that product mostly is? Water. The main ingredient in most face creams is water. All that money for some artfully packaged water. (So already I was entering into the “don’t want to spend a lot of money” mode.)

In the store, there are of course two whole shelves full of creams promising various kinds of things – “reduce fine lines”, “improve elasticity”, “laser renewal”… I don’t need to go on, you know the kinds of things that face creams promise. They offer all kinds of miracle ingredients that will make you look younger, remove your blotches, even out your skin tone. They are small tubs of dreams. But they are also small tubs of lies.

I remember years ago in another lifetime as an undergraduate student of marketing, I did a project on the marketing of skin creams. I wanted to know how it could be that as a student with very little money, I found myself handing over most of my money to buy beautifully packaged and expertly sold skin creams.

I distinctly remember reading a study on face creams that said the main thing a skin cream should provide is sun protection. If your cream has SPF, that’s all you need. The same study said that your grandma (or maybe your great-grandma) probably had better skin than you because chances are in those days she wore a hat when she was outdoors to keep the sun off her face; and avoiding the sun is the best anti-aging technique of them all. Nevertheless, looking at a shelf full of creams I found a surprising number that offered no SPF indication at all. Maybe these creams are targeting the women who have the time (or enthusiasm) in the mornings to put on separate moisturisers and sunscreens. I certainly don’t.

In the end, I went with Olay. It offers SPF 15 which is OK for this sun-starved country. Apparently it will make my skin look younger and healthier, maintain moisture and help to hydrate but I figure that diet, stress, getting enough sleep and exercise and drinking enough water can also have an impact on my skin to that effect as much as any cream. It offers 40% more vitamins but I can probably get enough vitamins from eating properly (and sometimes when I eat I do get food on my face so perhaps I can absorb something that way).

The main thing is I have a day cream with SPF. And I don’t have to go back to the aisle of dreams for another 3-4 months.