Cosmetics guru saves face


Talk about a heavy reputation.  'Someone once referred to me as 'the Ralph Nader of rouge,'' says Paula Begoun, author of the best-selling consumer's bible 'Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me.'

In Portland recently to flog the release of the book's sixth edition, Begoun has rocked cosmetic counters worldwide with her straight-shooting appraisal of virtually every cosmetic and skin care product on the market. Begoun and her team of researchers have analyzed more than 35,000 products in the updated tome, essentially leaving no jar unturned.

'My goal is to show that expensive doesn't necessarily mean better,' explains Begoun, who's become a trusted resource in the confusing world of the cosmetics industry, which rakes in an obscene $45 billion annually. 'I also want people to question the marketing hype,' she adds. 'Just because a company makes a claim doesn't mean it's true.'

Line by line, product by product, Begoun calls 'em as she sees 'em. A happy face, neutral face or sad face symbol also accompanies each brief opinion, providing a helpful shorthand for readers.

Begoun particularly relishes pulling back the proverbial curtain on exorbitantly priced lines such as Creme de la Mer, whose moisturizer sells for $140 for 1.7 ounces: 'This is a good moisturizer, though the price is just bizarre. É The inclusion of lime and eucalyptus extracts are also potentially irritating for all skin types,' she says.

A frequent guest on 'Oprah,' 'The Today Show' and '20/20.' Begoun says Creme de la Mer's sky-high price points are particularly ironic in light of the fact that it's owned by EstŽe Lauder, which also makes Clinique products.

'Does it make sense that both lines make the same claims Ñ for wildly different costs?' she asks. 'If a $30 Clinique product promises the same thing as a $150 la Mer product, why not just buy the Clinique?'

Perhaps for the same reason that consumers buy eye creams, toners and other pie-in-the-sky products: Most of us still believe that you get what you pay for.

Get over it, Begoun says.

'Eye creams are a joke,' she says. 'There's no difference between an eye cream and a moisturizer, except that eye cream comes in a smaller package and costs twice as much. They also don't contain a sunscreen.'

According to the makeup artist-turned-consumer watchdog, sunscreen is the foundation of a good skin care ritual.

'It's the most important ingredient in any daytime skin care product,' she says. 'Look for a product that has an SPF of 15 or higher and also offers protection against UVA rays, which are the ones that do the most damage to the skin. Then apply it liberally Ñ 365 days of the year.'

When the sun goes down, Begoun suggests cleansing with a gentle nonsoap cleanser like Cetaphil. She is anti-soap: 'You wouldn't wash your hair with it, would you?'

Finally, apply a moisturizer that includes both antioxidant, which discourages the molecular breakdown of cells, and anti-inflammatory agents, two important new advancements in skin care research.

When pressed to provide names of dependable skin care line, Begoun notes that she does like the the new L'Oreal products with retinol (which increases cell turnover), and Olay's Total Effects products. Clinique's new moisturizers, such as Total Turnaround Visible Skin Renewer, also earn Begoun's praise.

'But forget the old Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion,' she says. 'The only thing dramatic about it is how dated the formulation is.'

When asked what she perceives to deliver the most bang for the buck in the quest for eternal youth, the 50-ish Begoun laughs and taps her smooth brow, 'Nothing works better than Botox!'

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