Age-defying claims are stock-in-trade for the beauty business. Lotions and potions promising to “regenerate”, “rejuvenate” or “revitalise” your skin number in the thousands. More extravagant than the claims are the eye-watering costs of some of these products.

But our test of nine moisturising creams found price doesn’t guarantee superior results.

What we found

The cheapest product, a $13 pot of Nivea Pure & Natural Moisturising Day Cream, outperformed the most expensive, luxury-priced La Mer - the Moisturising Gel Cream, which retails for $520.

None of the nine creams were standout performers but most did a reasonable job. Testing measured the moisturising efficacy of the creams after four weeks of daily use. Eight products delivered good results, providing performance on a par with the standard cream used in the test as a control (see Moisturising efficacy).

The $520 La Mer gel cream couldn’t match the performance of the control and delivered only average results.

Miracle ingredients?

The main ingredients in most moisturising creams are water, oils and humectants. Their job is to help hydrate the skin and slow moisture loss. Oils have been used as skin moisturisers for centuries and are still a mainstay of home-made creams.

Oily ingredients in off-the-shelf creams range from products derived from mineral oils such as petrolatum (petroleum jelly) to plant-based oils. Common humectants include glycerin. Humectants are chemicals used to increase the capacity of the skin’s outer layer to hold water.

To boost consumer appeal, many products carry claims they’re “hypoallergenic” or “dermatologically tested”. But there’s no standard definition of these claims and they don’t mean much. Products carrying the claims can also contain potential allergens.

The ingredients list for Nivea Pure & Natural Moisturising Day Cream, labelled as “dermatologically approved”, includes several common fragrances recognised as allergens. These fragrances include linalool, limonene, citronellol and geraniol.

Similarly, L’Oréal Triple Active Day cream stated it was “tested under dermatological control” but also contained these scents.

Because of their potential to cause allergic reactions, the fragrances must be listed on the product label if they’re present in concentrations above 0.001 percent.

Other ingredients, such as preservatives, can also cause allergic reactions in some people. Preservatives are used in moisturisers to prolong shelf life – typically three years – and prevent bacterial contamination.

Phenoxyethanol was the most common preservative we found, used in eight of the nine creams. When it’s used in moisturisers and other cosmetics, it can’t be more than one percent of the finished product.

If you have sensitive skin or want to avoid certain chemicals, your best bet is checking the ingredients list. Moisturisers are regulated by the Cosmetic Products Group Standard. The standard requires products to display an ingredients list, a batch code and contact details for the manufacturer or supplier.

The ingredients list also indicates how much of an ingredient may be present, useful when the product boasts it contains some beneficial plant or other extract. Ingredients used in concentrations of one percent or more have to be listed by volume in descending order. If the ingredient is near the bottom of the list, there may not be much of it in the cream.

Full test results