Are Pricey Cosmetics Better Than the Cheaper Brands?

The average American uses nine different personal care products a day, and Americans spend billions every year on things like shampoos, lotions and shaving creams.

You can buy these products -- and there are a staggering number of them -- at drug stores or at high-end department stores, all of them promising shinier hair, smoother skin or a closer shave. But the price difference can be astounding.

Are the pricey products that much better than the cheaper, mass-market brands? "Good Morning America" consumer correspondent Elisabeth Leamy conducted her own research, with mini-opinion polls and laboratory testing, to find out if you really do get what you pay for.

Shaving Cream Test

"GMA" asked five men to shave with product "A" on the left side of their face and product "B" on the right. We didn't tell them that one shaving cream cost $5 and the other $27.

What did the test subjects say?

"'B' was a little silkier, smoother," said Jarrett, one of the test subjects. "It had a fresher feeling on my face."

Three out of the five testers liked product "B" better. And guess what? "B" was the $5 shaving cream.

Jarrett's wife, Lillian, agreed to check it out.

"This side here is smoother, softer," she said of the "B" side.

The mystery products were Neutrogena shaving cream costing $5, and a container of l'Occitane shaving cream of the same size costing $27.

The shaving creams were analyzed at Technical Laboratories, where scientists said the cheaper shaving cream contained more effective buffers for preventing skin irritation.

"Whoever made the Neutrogena actually put a lot of thought into the formulation," said Alyson Galderisi, president of the lab. "They used some natural emulsifiers which are olive derived. It made the skin very pliable, very easy to shave."

On to the Salon

Next, the staff at Gloria Cabrera Salon and Spa in New York shampooed test subjects' hair with product "A" on one side of the head and product "B" on the other, followed by a blow dry.

The staff liked both shampoos -- even though one cost $4 for 13.5 ounces, and the other $44 dollars for about 7 ounces.

"I really couldn't tell the difference as far as the price," said Patrick Allen, one of the stylists.

Olivia Baldo, the hair washer at the salon, said she didn't feel much of a difference either.

"I wouldn't care which one I would use," she said.

And which shampoo did the test subjects prefer?

Nine of the women preferred the $44 shampoo, which was Louise Galvin. Four women liked the $4 shampoo, made by Pantene. And one of the women said she couldn't tell the difference.

Dermatologist Dr. Darrell Rigel said the woman who saw no difference was on to something.

"In most of these products, the active ingredients are the same or they are cousins of each other, so they are not that much different in what happens," Rigel said. "What you are paying for with the more expensive products is the packaging, the marketing, and the fragrance and the feel."

The lab experts preferred the Pantene. Their test confirmed it contained dymethicone, an active ingredient that helps it lather well and smoothes hair cuticles.

Buying Hope?

Finally, "GMA" tested unmarked hand lotions outside the show's Times Square studios -- with a $3.50 lotion in one bottle and a $70 one in another bottle.

Time and again, random subjects said they liked "B," saying it felt smoother. Some said "A" felt too sticky.

Three-quarters of the testers preferred product "B" and said it rubbed in more easily. Their choice? The 10-ounce bottle of Jergens lotion for $3.50.

In this case, the lab experts disagreed. They liked product "A," which was La Mer lotion at $70 for 3.4 ounces.

"The longevity of the moisture I received from the Jergens was much more short-term than that received from the La Mer product," said Galderisi.

But Rigel said beauty is often in the mind of the consumer.

"When people buy the more expensive cosmetic, often what happens is what they are really buying is hope," he said. "Because they are hoping they will look better."

Companies Respond

Louise Galvin, maker of the $44 shampoo, said what makes the shampoo different is that it has fewer chemicals, which really helps over the long haul.

Pantene, whose shampoo was preferred by only four women in the "GMA" test, said its goal is to make a salon-quality shampoo that is affordable.

L'Occitane, whose shaving cream was preferred by fewer testers than the Neutrogena product, said its product is meant to be used with a shaving brush, which helps lift up the whiskers.

ABC News consumer correspondent Elisabeth Leamy originally reported this story for "Good Morning America Weekend Edition."

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