Val Monroe
Photo: Patrik Andersson
Where to Spend—and Save!—Your Money When It Comes to Your Looks
Thrifty readers often ask: "What's worth spending a little extra money for, beauty-wise, and where can I save?" Here's what I'm happy to lay out my own hard-earned cash for, and what I can live without.

WORTH A FEW EXTRA BUCKS

1. Foundation. Though you can get a great foundation in a drugstore, if you find it hard to make the right color match, a department store (and a slightly higher price) is the way to go. You'll be able to try on different shades and then walk out to the street to see how they look in natural light. Bring a small mirror, and be prepared to be shocked by the amount of down on your face. I tell you this from experience.

2. Tweezer and eyelash curler. A good tweezer has just the right amount of tension between its prongs so that you get a clean grip, and a sharp, well-defined tip, says makeup artist Emily Kate Warren. (Our hands-down favorite: Tweezerman Slant, $20; the company also offers free sharpening.) I treat my good tweezers like my favorite pair of earrings: I always know where they are. A good eyelash curler (like the Shu Uemura, $19) has firm curling pads with rounded edges to crimp lashes at a soft angle and is just the right shape so that it won't pinch your delicate eye-area skin.

3. Laser treatments for hyperpigmentation. Creams containing hydroquinone can, over time, fade age spots caused by sun damage and even out the complexion, but the Q-switched lasers (ruby, Nd: YAG, and alexandrite) and the Fraxel dual laser work more quickly and effectively, says Roy Geronemus, MD, clinical professor of dermatology, New York University Medical Center. If seeing spots really darkens your days, these laser treatments will lighten them. One to three treatments are usually necessary, at $400 to $700 per session for Q-switched lasers, and $750 to $1,500 for the Fraxel dual.

4. Prescription retinoids. If I'm going to use a night cream, I want to know it works. Prescription retinoids contain retinoic acid, the vitamin A derivative that improves skin texture and increases cell turnover and collagen production. Over-the-counter products contain retinol, which must be broken down into retinoic acid in order to be effective, and it's generally hard to tell how much breakdown occurs—and consequently how effective the product is, says Debra Luftman, MD, a Beverly Hills dermatologist. (If your skin is very sensitive, though, a retinol product might be your better bet.)

NEXT: Items to save your money on
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.

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