I have just turned 30, so I have decided it is time to buy a proper facial moisturiser.
How much should I spend?
Molly, by email
Despite being, as discussed in previous weeks, something of a makeup numpty, I am a complete moisturiser junkie. This is for the simple reason that I suffer from skin so dry it started cracking on my legs when I was a mere nine years old. So I quickly sussed by the time I was a teenager that decent moisturiser was, for me, a necessity, unless I wanted to look like Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? by the time I was 20.
I have worked through quite a few in my time and the fruits of my labour are as follows: not all expensive moisturisers are good (or even halfway decent), and some cheap moisturisers are pretty good, especially from the Boots No 7 range and, a little more pricily, Olay's Regenerist line.
However. 'Tis my sad lot in life to impart only the truth, no matter how painful it may be, no matter how many outraged outbursts it may provoke from keyboard-happy commenters. But the honest to God truth is, the best moisturisers tend to be at the more expensive end of the spectrum.
Put down your pitchforks, Guardian readers, I beg of you. For a start, sometimes the truth is displeasing but it remains the iron-clad truth. And secondly, but more importantly, pitchfork scratches are just a nightmare for one's complexion.
Vaishaly, SK-II, Elemis and REN make my favourite facial skincare ranges, proffering moisturisers that turn my zombie-like face into something downright Mona Lisa-esque. Any time I wear any of these ranges – and personally, I find Vaishaly and SK-II best for day and Elemis and REN best for night, but it's all subjective – small children stop running away in fear and instead animals skip all around me and clean my apartment, like a scene out of Enchanted. More important than looks, though, my skin just feels better – not tight and scratchy, making me feel like I have stretched a pair of nylon tights over my face, but as though I am walking around inside a dewy, velvet snood. And, just to clarify, that's a good thing.
However, these moisturisers are all jolly expensive. Ren isn't too bad but SK-II, in particular, demands a price that will make the blood drain out of your face so quickly you will need at least three tubs of moisturiser to re-plump up your deflated complexion.
Of course these prices are ridiculous and of course you would be well within your rights to feel that these beauty companies prennent le piss, as we fashion people say. All I can say in their defence is that all of these brands make moisturisers that are so good you honestly only need the tiniest of amounts – even if you have skin like rice paper, like mine – so they last for absolute ages. My tub of Elemis moisturiser, for example – which I use every day – has lasted me a full year, which is not something I can say about the various Olay moisturisers I have used in my time. So, financially, while I am not going to try to claim it works out, it's not quite as bad as it initially looks.
Having said all that, I am increasingly coming round to the idea that moisturiser doesn't matter quite as much as something else: serums. These are a relatively new discovery of mine and are fast becoming something of a love affair. If a good moisturiser makes my skin feel like it is in a dewy velvet snood, a good serum makes it feel like it is nestling on a feathery, air-filled pillow. If you have a good serum, you do not need to spend too much on a moisturiser. However, good serums are still expensive, so don't get too excited.
Far and away the best serum in the world is Estée Lauder's Advanced Night Repair, which is expensive but seriously skin-changing. This stuff fills in lines you thought you should just shruggingly accept. For those with dehydrated skin like mine, whack on Clarins' Blue Orchard Oil before going to bed, beneath your night cream. And though it's not actually a serum, a slick of Origins' A Perfect World moisturiser underneath your normal day cream will improve any moisturiser.
So there we are. Yes, skincare can be expensive, but this is one area where I really do think quality makes a difference (unlike with makeup, say, where I remain convinced that you can largely get away with the cheap stuff). No, it's not essential and no, of course not everyone can afford to spend such silly amounts on a non-essential, but a good moisturiser will make you feel comfortable in your skin all day. So, if you can afford it, that is as close as luxury comes to being essential.
• Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email email@example.com.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010