How Brands Trick You into Buying High Priced Anti-Aging Products

In 2001, high-end American cosmetics brand La Mer launched their signature moisturizer, Crème de la Mer at $310 for just two ounces. For reference, two ounces is the same size as a single wedge of lunchbox-favorite Laughing Cow cheese.

La Mer justified the steep price with science, claiming that Crème de la Mer’s formula of fermented sea kelp was originally developed by NASA physicist Max Huber to treat his severe chemical burns. [1]

At the time, consumers were shocked. The price of Crème de la Mer made waves and hit headlines, as shoppers concerned with anti-aging care were firmly divided into haves and have-nots.

Nearly a decade and a half later, a new wave of anti-aging products is making the price of Crème de la Mer look positively cheap.

For example, if you're a fan of the original, you can now treat yourself to La Mer Serum, which rings in at an astounding $320 for just one ounce. Instead, maybe you'd like to smother your skin with Inhibit Tensolift by Spanish skincare giants, Natura Bisse—a bargain at just over $600.

Or perhaps Chanel Precision Sublimage Serum Essential Regenerating Cream? At $220 per ounce, Chanel's most expensive cream contains Planifolia PFA, “an ultra-pure, ultra-powerful ingredient created through an exclusive purification technique developed by Chanel.”

Don’t comprehend? Let us clarify.

That ultra-powerful ingredient, the “unique plant” and “potent fruit” is vanilla, from the antioxidant-rich Vanilla Planifolia orchid. Chanel claims that it is “unearthed from the farthest reaches of Madagascar”—otherwise known as vanilla's primary growing region. [2]

Vanilla, huh? Since we’re pretty sure you didn’t splurge over two hundred dollars for the bottle in your kitchen cupboard, it begs the question: 

What’s Driving Up Prices of Anti-Aging Products?

What's behind this new generation of high-priced anti-aging products and why has it become almost commonplace for brands to charge nearly three-figure sums for creams and moisturizers?

Legions of companies, big and small, are lining up to supply a 70 million-member strong market of baby boomers who are heading into what used to be called retirement age. These brands are eager to capitalize on the new “forever young” mindset through anti-aging creams.

Season after season, year after year, cosmetics brands reveal a never-ending parade of new anti-aging miracle products—never mentioning what was less effective or not-as-revolutionary about your last purchase.

The profits add up to a potential bonanza as shoppers of all ages now seek to keep dreaded signs of aging at bay.

The market research firm Global Industry Analysts projects that a youthful appearance-seeking consumer base has pushed the U.S. market for anti-aging products from about $80 billion to more than $114 billion this year.

And it’s little wonder! For those who don't want to submit to the knife or the needle, splurging on a cream that promises the same results as several shots of Botox seems entirely reasonable.

But, are we just lucky enough to be the first generation that benefits from cutting-edge technologies and rare, potent ingredients (which come at a price, of course) or are we simply getting conned?

The Allure of Credentials

“Promise them an unlined face, and you can sell them anything.”

–Dr. N.V. Perricone, “The Skin Game With New Wrinkles” [3]

You’ve probably heard of anti-aging expert, Nicholas Perricone, M.D., the author of nine health-focused books, including three #1 New York Times bestsellers: “The Wrinkle Cure,” “The Perricone Prescription,” and most recently, “Forever Young.”

A university professor and licensed dermatologist, Dr. Perricone’s popularity has spawned an entire empire consisting of cosmeceuticals.

However, Dr. Perricone is hardly the first physician to lend their voice—and credentials—to wow shoppers and validate exorbitant prices.

Within the anti-aging industry, a physician's endorsement is extremely alluring. Why? Because it makes consumers think there’s validity to the company’s claims, even though these products usually end up not being significantly different than other skincare products, with or without a doctor’s endorsement.

Dr. Perricone’s statement insinuates the gullibility of shoppers. But unfortunately, there’s a certain ring of truth to it. Consumers desperate for an anti-aging cure in a cream continue to run into the waiting arms of marketers who pander to our fears, insecurities, and flaws, whether real or imagined.

Discerning What’s Substantiated from What’s Just Plain Bogus

Dr. Perricone has come under scrutiny, as people have begun to wonder whether he's nothing more than a wolf in sheep's clothing, eager to separate shoppers from their hard-earned money with marketing that’s more expertly engineered than his actual products. But, he won’t be the last practitioner marketers use to peddle their anti-aging wares.

Here’s What Is Certain

Despite what cosmetics companies will tell you, there are no firming or tightening products with proven results that are even remotely similar to what you get from medical procedures such as dermal fillers, lasers, or cosmetic surgery.

To help you resist the urge to spend your hard-earned money on products with exaggerated claims, it’s important to learn the role elastin plays in aging skin.

Elastin is the support fiber in the body that allows skin to “bounce” back into place. Think of elastin like the springs in a mattress—the stuffing between the springs would be collagen, along with other elements of the body, such as fat, cartilage, muscle, and so on.

When elastin is damaged, the skin begins to sag. Just like when mattress springs get old and damaged, the mattress begins to sag. This sagging, especially when combined with sun damage, can cause crepe paper-like skin.

While we’re younger, skin continues to make lots of elastin. But older skin? Not so much, until elastin production finally slows to zero. In fact, it’s almost impossible for adult skin to make more elastin, even with medical procedures.

Even though anti-aging products may contain collagen or elastin, the molecular sizes of both collagen and elastin are way too large to penetrate the skin's surface. This means that even if you were to smother your skin in collagen or elastin, it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. It simply can’t fuse with the collagen and elastin in your skin to help rebuild or reinforce those structures.

Bottom Line on Anti-Aging Advertising

Many consumers are still happy to pay for access to endorsement-backed products, despite their high prices. Remember that promises to “reduce the appearance of” something like brown spots, wrinkles, or redness will do just what it says—reduce the appearance, and not necessarily the underlying condition.

Instead, your best bet for maintaining a youthful appearance is to stay hydrated, don’t smoke, and avoid sun exposure.

But what if you want to give your youth a little boost?

Building more collagen is the key! Although applied collagen doesn’t help crepey skin bounce back, it does help support skin so that sagging is less apparent. You can help skin make lots of collagen with skin-care products that contain potent antioxidants and skin-repairing ingredients.

Also, sunscreen rated SPF 25 or greater is non-negotiable. Because sun damage destroys elastin and collagen, daily sun protection is critical. But, how many of us remember to apply sunscreen to our necks as well as to our faces each and every day? … Exactly.

Finally, the daily use of an exfoliant containing salicylic acid (BHA) or glycolic acid (AHA) can really help. Along with exfoliating for smoother skin, there is also a good amount of research showing these ingredients build more collagen and, to some extent, can help firm the skin. You don't need to use both; one or the other is fine, or, if you like, you can alternate.


  1. Wiki: La Mer (Cosmetics)
  3. The Skin Game, With New Wrinkles

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.

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