Quality vs price

When it comes to certain high-end products, are you paying a premium for quality or just brand?
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A high price tag is no guarantee of quality, as we discover in our user test of moisturisers, hair dryers and men's underwear.

For years, CHOICE has been proving wrong the adage that you necessarily get what you pay for. 

In our latest investigation, we spoke with experts to get their insight on facial moisturisers, hair dryers and men’s underpants. Then we pitted a low-, medium- and high-end product from each category against each other in a user trial, which came out with some interesting results.

For more information about shopping, see Shopping and legal.

About our user trial

In all three product categories, CHOICE chose an expensive, exclusive product with interesting claims about efficacy, a mid-priced product that had similar claims, and an easily available cheap product that doesn't make big promises.

In our results, testers who gave an overall score of four or less are represented as a thumbs down, five as a sideways thumb, and six to 10 is a thumbs up.

  • Moisturisers We gave five women of varying ages three samples of moisturiser. The samples were in an unlabelled container labelled with a code. Each woman tried each moisturiser for three days in a row, applying morning and night, and then rated them.
  • Hair dryers We gave five women with different hair types three hair dryers, the brand names of which were obscured. The women then used each dryer once each instead of their usual dryer. They rated the dryers on criteria including ease of use and hair condition.
  • Men’s underwear We gave five men of differing sizes three pairs of underpants each. Where possible, brand names were removed or obscured. Each pair was worn three times each, and washed between wears. Our testers then rated the underwear on look and comfort.


Facial moisturisers generally contain three common ingredients: an emollient, which makes skin smooth and supple; humectants, which draw moisture into the skin; and occlusive agents, which act as a barrier and maintain moisture within the skin.

However, despite their similarities, moisturisers vary widely. From supermarket cheapies to department store splash-outs, the range available is mindboggling. But a good moisturiser doesn’t necessarily need to cost a fortune.

“Would you believe the best moisturiser is actually petrolatum - ‘petroleum jelly’ or ‘Vaseline’?” says cosmetic scientist and pharmacist Tina Aspres. “However, using this alone understandably does not [feel good on the skin], so modifications are made to formulations to incorporate a range of ingredients to improve skin feel, tackiness, greasiness and to suit the use it is proposed for.”

As we discovered in our blind user test, an expensive moisturiser won’t necessarily feel better on your skin than a cheapie. As long as the basics are there, it’s really a matter of finding one that feels right for your particular skin type. As you’ll see, our user test produced mixed results. 

See our Beauty and personal care section for more information about cosmetic products.

olay-moisturiserOlay Moisturising Lotion

Price: $6.75 for 75mL ($9 per 100mL); sold in supermarkets

Aspres says the Olay is a solid moisturiser that contains all the basics. Although it was the cheapest moisturiser in our user test, it delivered average results for most of our testers overall, unlike Creme de la Mer, despite being almost one hundredth of its price. All our testers described the texture of the moisturiser as thin, with some saying it felt watery. The fragrance was generally described as floral and sweet, though one tester found it medicinal. Two chose this as their favourite of the three.

What they said 

  • “My skin didn’t feel nice after using it. It came across as a cheap brand.” 
  • “Very easy to apply and felt nice on my skin.” 
  • “Nice feel, but a little bit oily by the evening.” 

CH1112_Worth_M_drlewinn_EDr Lewinn’s Private Formula Oil Free Day & Night Cream

Price: $64.95 for 56g ($115.98 per 100g)

Dr Lewinn’s claims to be formulated by a plastic surgeon who promises to “push the boundaries in anti-ageing skincare”. While four of our testers reported no impact at all on the appearance of fine lines, they did only try the cream for three days. The cream was OK as an overall moisturiser. Most testers found the fragrance of this moisturiser to be strong, and three found it unpleasant. Two chose this as their favourite.

What they said 

  • “The fragrance was too fruity for my liking – too banana-ish.”
  • “My skin felt soft and moisturised all day. I would definitely buy this!” 
  • “I felt this was too oily for my combination skin. It felt like it sat on the skin rather than soak in richly.”

la-mer-moisturiserCrème de la Mer

Price: $250 for 30mL ($833.33 per 100mL)

Crème de la Mer was supposedly originally invented by a NASA scientist horribly disfigured in an accident to heal his burned skin. One of our testers reported finding it oily; another said it was gluggy, while four described the texture as thick. The fragrance was also an issue for two testers. Only one rated this product as their favourite.

Aspres says Crème de la Mer is “nothing extraordinary. There’s no evidence whatsoever that kelp [its ‘special’ ingredient] is anti-ageing or able to heal burns. It’s just a glorified moisturiser with a very clever marketing ploy.”

What they said

  • “It felt like an old lady’s moisturiser, heavy and oily.” 
  • “While my skin did feel softer, I didn't like the feel of the moisturiser as I applied it.”
  • “I have combination skin. This moisturiser made the oily parts of my face more oily, but was good on the dry parts.”

In a class of its own

In 2005, American attorney Debra Scheufler filed a class action law suit against cosmetic companies including Estee Lauder, the manufacturer of Crème de la Mer. Scheufler argued that the creams and potions did not remove wrinkles as they promised to, and were thus guilty of false advertising and unfair competition. 

At the time, the US-based Legal Affairs magazine wrote: “Scheufler is seeking reimbursement for herself, in the amount of $500 to $1,000, and for other women and men who believe they've been defrauded by the "anti-aging" claims on cosmetics. ‘These are cosmetics, but they would have consumers think they have medical uses and benefits,’ said Howard Rubinstein, one of her lawyers”.

Scheufler’s lawsuit was eventually dismissed , and Crème de la Mer continues to make claims about its “Miracle Broth™”, “suspended within its extraordinary formula”. But perhaps the miracle in this case is that people are willing to pay $250 for a mere 30ml of the stuff.

“I am really against the unsubstantiated and overwhelming claims that cosmetic companies make – it really makes me mad because the consumer can only take on face value what and how they interpret the marketing ploy to sell the product - and cannot believe they get away with half the stuff they say!” says Aspres. “Largely, the cosmetic industry is self-regulated, so you are relying on the honesty and integrity of the company to do the right thing – but clever marketing prevails.”



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