Buying Makeup and Skincare

Chances are that you have a completely different makeup and skincare routine than your friends, and even your family. Between so many products, brands, speciality products, price points, who has it right at the end of the day?

Many Purchasing Decisions are Automatic

In our consumerist world, we all make an enormous number of automatic purchasing decisions on a daily basis starting with the coffee and bagels you have in the morning. Routine isn’t lazy or awful. If we deliberated on every decision, we would quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer mass of trivial choices that we face every day. Those of us who truly do deliberate over everything from what to eat at the food court to which sock to wear, find it a struggle, and sometimes this is debilitating enough that they seek therapy. If you’re like most, you purchase the brands that your parents bought - without any thought. These sorts of near-unconscious decisions happen without thinking about it. This is indeed, the marketer’s holy grail - to make the purchase an automatic unthinking heuristic. We don’t always default to heuristics or habit; most people agonize over big purchases like cars and houses, and rightly so. On the other hand, generally we automate purchases that are:

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • The difference between products is trivial (but still existent)1
  • Perceived to be low impact at least individually

Most household items come to mind: Toilet paper brand, or toothpaste brand, or soda pop - these are things where most of us default to the familiar. Generally, we decide that these decisions don’t matter, and then we stick to a default2. Unfortunately, many of us also throw skincare products and cosmetics/makeup into this automatic decision since on first glance, they seem to check off all the boxes of decisions that we should automate.

Cosmetic products first seem a lot like these other purchases - coke vs pepsi, colgate vs crest - in that they are trivial, inexpensive, repetitive, and yet somehow invoke a tribal instinct to prefer one over another. There are reasons why skincare products shouldn’t be treated this way.

1. Your Skin is Unique

Marketers will tell you to use their skincare product to be like the Hollywood star that’s on the commercial, just like the Pepsi commercials. However, there are actual factors unique to your skin that makes it different from your colleague’s skin. If you have oily and acne prone skin, your skin’s needs are very different from what your colleague with eczema needs. Your baseline skincare needs should be centered around your skin type.

2. The Product Really Does Matter

Is Coke substantially different from Pepsi? This might draw some heated debate, but outside of the realm of personal preference, it doesn’t matter.

With skincare, there really are differences in product quality. There are also differences in price points, as well as differences in what the product does. It also doesn’t mean that expensive is better. These all point to: Your purchasing decisions do matter both for your skin and your wallet.

3. Your Skin Changes as does your Priorities

The needs of your skin change over time. What your skin needs in your teens (relief from acne!) is often very different from what your skin needs at 40 (moisture). While it is pragmatic to have a routine that you generally stick to, unlike toothpaste, your skincare routine is unlikely to serve you properly for life.

Don’t be afraid to revisit your routine if it no longer serves you well. Are you experiencing skin trouble? Do you just want a new look, or a change in your life? Are you revising your skin care budget? Do you just want to test one routine versus another to see what works better for you? These are all good reasons to consider a change in your routine. If you notice that something has changed for you, and your products are either not working the way that it used to, or your skin is having a negative reaction, you need to assess what’s going on. It may just be an unrelated issue, or an overall change in your skin (for example, skin gradually tends to become drier with age and you will tend to require stronger moisturizers). If it is an allergic reaction, you need to see an allergist or a dermatologist and find out what’s causing the irritation. Remember that adults aren’t immune from first time allergies3.

Lastly, Don’t Neglect the Basics

Unfortunately, many of us opt to not purchase any product - and this is completely reasonable for some items, like mascaras, but not so much for others. The basic necessities of beauty care come down to cleansing, moisturizing, and sun protection. These are the 3 pillars of skincare, and yet, a lot of people neglect one or more areas. Unfortunately, there are many people who have much more complicated routines, who, neglect sunscreen or only use it during camping season. If your routine doesn’t have these basics covered, get to it!

At some point, we all build up a skincare routine. There’s nothing wrong with that, but your skin is worth taking good care of, so do your research, and experiment until you have a routine that really works for you. These are repeat decisions, so don’t settle or compromise for a product that merely works. Don’t forget that your skin changes over time, so be willing to adapt your routine as necessary.


1People selling bottled water, are concerned that there is little brand loyalty to...water. It’s actually quite telling that marketers are surprised at this.
2Even in trivial purchases, we are often irrational in never thinking about changing routines. If you never consider buying an alternative soda that’s cheaper, the upside is really small (you avoid having the one-time bad experience) but the downside is potentially big if you’re wrong and it turns out that you are just as happy with the cheaper soda or no soda at all (it costs you more on every purchase, repeatedly).
3People are often surprised by this. It’s not uncommon for a person to suddenly become allergic to something that they used to be exposed to regularly, or for a person to lose their allergy to something.