5 First-Class Moisturizers That Are Actually Worth the Money

5 First-Class Moisturizers That Are Actually Worth the Money featured image
Photo Credits: Courtesy of brands

On a recent, unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon, a good friend called me to complain. She wasn’t phoning to voice her grievances over the New York dating scene or even her overly demanding, high-powered job, though. Instead, the first thing she uttered when I answered the call was, “Oh my god. I just spent like $500 at Sephora.”

My friend went on to explain that her big purchase wasn’t on the newest foundation or the perfect shade of red lipstick but was instead on a small handful of luxe moisturizers. As we attempted to justify her expenditures, chatting about the importance of investing in our skin, she couldn’t help but wonder if the costly creams were actually worth their hefty price tags or if she was really just paying for the pretty packaging and stellar marketing.

As the skin-care industry becomes more and more saturated, it seems as though there’s an endless stream of products available to consumers. But with so many new options behind beauty counters, on drugstore shelves, and on retailer websites, it can seem more difficult than ever to determine which creams are actually worth the money and which are simply the result of good advertising and a beautiful box.

Despite the crowdedness of the marketplace, however, there are some high-priced moisturizers that have continuously thrived, and it’s largely due to their superior ingredients, cutting-edge technology, and yes, even cult-like exclusivity. Read on to find out which luxe creams are worth the investment, and some similar options that won’t leave you—or your wallet—panicking.

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Augustinus Bader The Rich Cream ($265)

In the nearly two years since its launch, Augustinus Bader’s signature moisturizer, aptly named The Rich Cream, has seen more success than perhaps any beauty product before it. Alexa Chung, Margot Robbie, and Ashley Graham are all fans, and Victoria Beckham loves the brand so much that she even collaborated with Bader to create a serum for her eponymous beauty line. The Rich Cream, developed by Dr. Bader, a German stem cell and biomedical scientist, is said to promises to reduce signs of aging and skin damage, leaving skin “restored, regenerated, and glowing with health.” The key to the moisturizer’s magic is TFC-8, Dr. Bader’s proprietary Trigger Factor Complex that is essentially a blend of more than 40 amino acids, vitamins, and synthesized molecules. The complex helps activate the skin’s stem cells, pushing them into healing mode to promote everyday turnover and furthermore soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, even tone and texture, and hydrate the skin. Starting at $265 for a 50ml bottle, The Rich Cream is far from cheap, but its benefits are well worth the large price tag.

For a more affordable alternative, try the Josie Maran Whipped Argan Oil Face Butter ($42). Among the lightweight moisturizer’s selling points is its use of argan oil, a replenishing ingredient also found in Augustinus Bader’s Rich Cream that helps protect skin from free radicals.

Photo Credits: Augustinus Bader
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Crème de la Mer ($335)

The legendary cream is known as one of the priciest and most coveted in the world, but it’s also the only moisturizer to have such a heavily contested origin story and creator. The tale goes that Max Huber, an aerospace physicist, created the elixir after 12 years of experimenting with Macrocystis pyrifera, a type of kelp that he believed would help heal the wounds he suffered from a lab explosion during the 1950s. His concoction proved so effective that it erased all evidence of his burns, and he began selling it under the name Crème de la Mer in 1965. Following his 1991 death, Estée Lauder purchased the brand from Huber’s daughter and transformed it into the acclaimed skin-care brand that’s now a department store mainstay. In the decades since, this creation story has been increasingly challenged, and some claim that Huber never even existed, but the one thing that’s remained throughout the controversy is the praise and adoration surrounding Crème de la Mer. The holy grail moisturizer is formulated from marine ingredients that have been subjected to a fermentation process and therefore possess a cell-renewing ability, and users swear by its miracle-like results. Starting at $90 for a tiny, 0.5oz jar, Crème de la Mer is known for costing a pretty penny, but A-listers and regular folk alike continue to drop hundreds of dollars on its magic. 

Though most will tell you there’s no substitute to La Mer’s famous moisturizer, there are several very good alternatives that won’t cost you an arm and a leg every time you reach open your medicine cabinet. Tatcha’s Dewy Skin Cream ($68) promises the same antioxidant-packed hydration and dewy, healthy glow. The sustainably made moisturizer features Japanese purple rice, a blend of Okinawa algae and hyaluronic acid to help replenish skin’s moisture. If it’s the ocean-based nutrients you’re after, try the Replenishing Deep Sea Moisturizer ($82) from One Ocean Beauty. The cream is lightweight but offers all-day hydration with its marine actives from the Antarctic, which help skin retain moisture even in extreme cold, and nutrient-rich algae extract, which sooth inflammation and stimulate collagen production.

Photo Credits: La Mer
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Tata Harper Crème Riche ($195)

Tata Harper has been making waves in the skincare industry for a few years now, both because of the brand’s one-hundred-percent natural and sustainable formulations and its impressive product range. But there’s one offering that seems to have surpassed all others in its sheer ability to captivate the beauty market at large, and that’s Harper’s Crème Riche Velvet Moisturizing Cream. The brand’s thickest, most nourishing moisturizer took several years to formulate, and it contains over 45 all-natural actives that deliver hydration, plumping, and radiance. Crème Riche features a proprietary Sugar Carbohydrate Complex that contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides and is identical to the moisturizing factor naturally found in skin, so the ingredient increases hydration tenfold. The Tata Harper cream, which debuted in 2018, isn’t cheap at $195 for 50ml, but users claim to see its benefits after just one use.

For ceramide-rich hydration that won’t break the bank, try millennial-favorite Drunk Elephant’s Lala Retro Whipped Moisturizer. The $60 cream boasts a blend of six rare African oils that nourish and rejuvenate skin, and added ceramides soothe and maintain moisture balance whilst protecting skin from water loss. The whipped moisturizer has a buttery consistency but a small molecular weight that allows it to penetrate skin more deeply than most and deliver hydration to the core.

Photo Credits: Tata Harper
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Clé de Peau La Crème ($550)

Easily one of the most expensive moisturizers out there, Japanese brand Clé de Peau’s La Crème is the ultimate indulgence. With its eighth iteration launched in January, the newly reformulated cream was developed through a precise process that combines more than 60 ingredients in over 100 steps. La Crème features the highest potency of Clé de Peau’s signature Skin-Empowering Illuminator Complex, alongside CeraFerment Extract and green tea extract, which together visibly tighten and brighten skin while reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pores. Even the moisturizer’s jewel-like packaging is inspired by the radiating magic of its contents, ensuring that the experience of using La Crème is uber luxurious, even before you apply the rich formulation to your skin. The famed night cream starts at a whopping $550 for a 30ml container, but users consistently notice an increase in firmness and radiance after just a few applications and a reduction in wrinkles and sagging skin after a few months.

While there might not be another moisturizer that quite lives up to La Crème’s indulgence, Masque Vivant from French favorite Biologique Recherche similarly features fermented ingredients that help regulate and purify the skin. Though technically more of a mask than a moisturizer, the $64 Masque Vivant contains yeast extract, sulfur, lactic acid, and cucumber and witch hazel extracts, all of which serve to sooth and hydrate the skin during the 15-minute application, leaving your complexion brightened and refreshed. 

Photo Credits: Clé de Peau
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Lancôme Absolue L’Extrait Cream Elixir ($370)

Lancôme’s most extravagant moisturizer, the Absolue L’Extrait Cream Elixir is the result of Fermogenesis, a state-of-the-art biotechnological process that extracts cells from the brand’s signature rose. The native cells, of which there are up to two million in each jar, are regenerative and clinically proven to firm skin, increase elasticity, and deliver more radiance, and users notice results after just a handful of uses. Absolue L’Extrait Cream Elixir has a thick, whipped texture and features an intoxicating rose-tinged scent, and the creamy concoction, which took Lancôme 10 years to perfect, is entirely environmentally friendly. Fans of the moisturizer love how quickly the cream absorbs into the skin and the immediate glow it delivers, both of which make the $370 option well worth a slight dent to the wallet.

The Lancôme Rose is, of course, only found in the brand’s products, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other varieties of the flower out there that make for excellent skincare options. For a more affordable option that has just as much rosy goodness, try Herbivore’s Pink Cloud Rosewater Moisture Crème. The $48 moisturizer is made from rosewater, aloe water, and white tea extract to moisturize, soothe, and reduce redness, and its lightweight consistency leaves a perfectly dewy finish.

Photo Credits: Lancôme

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