The more something costs, the better it is, right?

We often feel like a higher price tag means higher quality, but that’s not always true. Most expensive does NOT equal most effective.

In the cosmetic world, it’s easy to believe the more a product costs, the better it’ll be. But price isn’t what determines how good or effective a product is. The most expensive products aren’t always best for your skin. And even if it is a wonderful product, it still may not be the right product for you.

So how do you know if the extra dollars are worth it?

The most conclusive option is to try both levels of product. Buy the $200 product and the $50 product that claims to do the same thing. Use one on the left side of your face/body and the other on your right, and compare the results.

Or try the simple option — just take a trip down memory lane. Do you have a graveyard drawer where failed products have come to rest? Open that drawer and you’ll soon realize that most pricey products aren’t much different than their less expensive alternatives.

It is possible to build a high-quality cosmetic regimen on a budget. You just need to know what to buy, what to skip, and what ingredients are key.

4 Essentials for Every Cosmetic Regimen

Every basic cosmetic regimen should include four steps: cleansing, toning, moisturizing, and applying sunscreen. Here’s what you need to know to choose the best product for each.

1. Cleanser

Every effective skin regimen begins with clean skin. Before you apply anything else, start with a clean face.

What cleanser works best? Well, that depends on your skin type. Find one that’s specifically designed to treat skin like yours, whether oily, sensitive, dry, or combination.

Before you buy, look at the ingredients. The simpler the better. Don’t be swayed by a “natural” label — natural doesn’t mean it’s good for your skin (poison ivy is natural too!). And avoid lots of chemicals. What you put on your skin enters into your system.

Choose something with fewer ingredients. Then try it. The real test is how your skin reacts to a particular product. If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend USANA products. USANA spends years researching each product before they release it. They have a brand new skincare line that now incorporates some newer technologies.

It’s what I use and what I recommend to my patients.

2. Toner

Toner brings your skin to the correct pH level and closes your pores. Men can even use it in place of an aftershave (without the sting!).

Apply toner with your hands so you don’t waste any of it. We want those good ingredients in our skin, not soaked up in a cotton ball.

Choose a gentle toner that’s more than straight rubbing alcohol. You don’t want to use a product that’s too hard on your skin.

3. Moisturizer

Moisturizers help protect your skin. It keeps your skin from drying out, cracking, and flaking while protecting it from harmful toxins in the environment.

Apply moisturizer morning and night, head to toe! Moisturizer isn’t just for your face. Any area of the skin can become dry… which often means itchy. Regularly applying moisturizer helps make your entire body more comfortable.

Moisturizers take many shapes — lotions, foams, creams, and ointments. The dryer your skin, the heavier the product you’ll need. If your skin is relatively dry, forget the lotions and opt for a cream. If you have a severe dryness or eczema, try an ointment like Aquaphor. It’s greasy but will seal in the moisture for even extremely dry skin.

If you have oily skin, try a light lotion. It will add moisture without adding the oil that often comes with heavier products.

4. Sunscreen

No skincare regimen is complete without sunscreen. Choose a product with zinc — it’s an actual block against the sun. So when the sun hits your skin, it just reflects off.

Apply the sunscreen wherever your skin shows. In the summer, that means you’ll apply more. In the winter, you still need sunscreen — you’ll just apply it to fewer places. The sun is the number one cause of skin cancer and the number one reason for premature aging. A regular sunscreen regimen goes a long way in preventing both.

I recommend EltaMD as a daily sunscreen. It won’t give your skin a pasty white hue and even comes tinted if you need it to cover acne or brown spots. You can buy it online or purchase it in our offices.

Start With the Basics

Great skincare doesn’t have to be expensive. If you don’t want to break your budget, stick to these four essential steps. Find a cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and sunscreen that work for your skin and your wallet.

It’s okay to skip the enhancers. Eye creams, serums, and separate day and night moisturizers aren’t a necessity for your daily skincare. Sure, there are some great enhancing products tailored to specific skin problems, but they’re not absolutely necessary as long as you’re doing the four basic steps.

If you decide you’re ready to spend a little more, consider what specific skin problems you have. You may want to add an anti-aging serum as you get older. Or you may want a bleaching cream if you have brown spots from prior sun damage.

But if you start with these four staples, you’re not just scraping by. This is a great skincare regimen that can keep your skin looking and feeling healthy for years.