If you watched the BBC documentary The Truth About Looking Good fronted by investigative journalist and self-confessed beauty addict Cherry Healey last night, you may have been surprised, and heartened, to find that as far as moisturiser goes, you might not need to spend more than a fiver.
The BBC investigation conducted with the University of Sheffield tasked 25 volunteers with testing three top-selling high street moisturisers across different price ranges. The volunteers, all of whom had healthy skin, were split into three groups: one group tried the Nivea Soft Moisturiser Cream £4.29 (200ml), another the Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturising Lotion , £18 (50mls) and the third Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentre Nourishing Moisturiser , £20 for 75mls.
The volunteers' skin was tested before and after using the various creams for three weeks to see which had the greatest effect the condition of their skin. The Nivea and the Clinique products performed the best on hydration, while the Embryolisse showed no improvement with the volunteers. None of the volunteers showed a measurable improvement in their skin's barrier or appearance.
The hydration test measured levels of humectants (found in ingredients such as glycerin) which help skin retain moisture. On that basis, creams with glycerin higher up the ingredients list were likely to be more moisturising, the volunteers were told.
So what are we to make of this? Is it ever worth spending more when Nivea Soft scores on performance and price? The cream has legions of fans and has been a budget moisturiser favourite at Get The Gloss over the years. We sang its praises in our edit of best moisturisers for dry skin. Supper club supremo and presenter Laura Jackson told us it was her top budget beauty buy (“Cheap and effective” she said). Meghan Markle meanwhile is a fan of Nivea moisturiser, favouring Nivea Q10 Firming Body Lotion - another budget option at £4.20 for 400ml.
But one small-sample test, as the BBC investigation was, is not the whole story of course. What we put on our skin is a highly personal decision. I was smothered in Nivea as a child by my mum who had extremely dry skin herself and didn’t want my sister and me to suffer the same fate. And while I love its nostalgic, clean scent, when it comes to my own children, I choose products that don’t contain mineral oil (as all three products in the BBC test do) or parabens, options which weren’t widely available when I was growing up.
My colleague Judy, our Sensitive Skin columnist , can’t go near products with fragrance, which rules out the Nivea and Embryolisse. Of the three, the Clinique works well for her skin as she writes in her review here, though again the mineral oil base is a disappointment. She also recommends the Skin Matters app by top facialist Joanne Evans as a guide to ingredients and to work out whether they suit your skin.
If you’re vegan, or doing Veganuary, there will be a host of common ingredients such as lanolin (in Nivea) you’ll be screening for (here's some guidance on vegan and non-vegan beauty ingredients ).
As for Embryolisse, it may not have performed well in this particular test, but if multi-tasking were under scrutiny, it would win as a three-in-one product - it's a primer and makeup remover as well as a moisturiser.
A spokesman for the brand challenged the BBC's findings, telling Mailonline, "The Sheffield study was conducted on nine people with no data to suggest these volunteers have abstained from using a moisturiser to maintain their healthy skin to date.
"We strongly challenge the whole validity of any test measuring 'long-term' effects of hydration products over just three weeks as hydrating your skin in your 20s and 30s may not be visually different or more hydrated three weeks after application of a moisturiser, however, it will help your skin over time and be healthier in your 40s and 50s when the ageing process starts to accelerate.”
So, as with everything, it depends, but if you’re looking for water retention powers and that reassuring nostalgic scent for less than the price of your lunch, then good old Nivea can’t be beaten.