Is Cheap Skincare Ok For Eczema? How To Care For Sensitive Skin On a Tight Budget

Marcie Mom from interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to find out more about product claims and why they’re important when choosing your skin care…particularly if you or your child have eczema.

I have to rebuild my child’s entire stash of products. Should parents on a tight budget start their child on the cheapest skincare available? Is it possible to properly care for sensitive skin on a tight budget?

A: This is a great question for anyone. It is possible to care for eczema and other sensitive skin conditions when you’re on a tight budget if you know what to look for: reputation, clinical proof, and validated safety. These 5 best practices can save you a lot while still keeping your sensitive skin well cared for:

1) Don’t Let Price Be Your Only Guide.

For sensitive skin, price — high or low — is not the best way to choose a product:

  • Cosmetic ingredients can be cheaper or costlier due to the rarity, quality, purity, and source of the ingredients. Most businesses need to be profitable in order to operate. We can therefore assume that very affordable brands are tightly controlling costs in all areas, including ingredients. This is not necessarily “bad” but cheaper ingredients can be less pure or of a lower quality than their more expensive counterparts.
  • On the other hand, expensive brands might use the same cheaper ingredients but choose to have a higher profit margin. Pricier does not mean higher quality.
  • Sensitive or complex skin conditions tend to need higher-quality, specifically-sourced (more stringent requirements for the raw material), or less popularly-used ingredients. In general, this means more expensive ingredients.
  • Some cheaper products use allergens to make them more appealing and repetitive contact with allergens over time can break down sensitive skin’s already fragile (or damaged) barrier — as “Prioritize Prevention Over Treatment” below explains, protecting the skin’s barrier is incredibly important. Some cheaper products use lots of fragrances to cover up the sometimes stronger scent of less-pure cosmetic ingredients. These products could also be dyed to make them look more attractive and stand out more in their highly competitive market. Preservatives could be heaped on in order to help a product last much, much longer without special storage conditions (which many stores really like).

In summary: For very sensitive skin conditions that require a higher quality of ingredients and stricter controls, I’d suggest ruling out the bargain basement options. Something needs to be sacrificed to make them that affordable. But I wouldn’t just reach for the most expensive products either. Instead, study the brand you’re considering well — look for legitimacy, safety, and reputation. Choose less products that might be more expensive but that are multitasking, that last longer, that you can share at home, and that are proven to work. And prioritize prevention over anything else.

2) Less is More.

A best practice in hypoallergenicity is using products with few ingredients and using just a few products in general. Perhaps your child’s hair and body shampoo is pricier than most, but you can save money but not using a body soap. Pick the few, fundamental products that your child really needs.

The basics for babies and young children could be just 3 products:

  • Hair and Body Shampoo (which you can also use to launder baby’s clothing and linens)
  • Virgin Coconut Oil for face and body moisturizing (which can be used as a conditioner, too). If you’re on a very tight budget, choose pure mineral oil or pure petroleum jelly (pure meaning allergen-free: no preservatives, scents, dyes, etc.)
  • Steroid-Free Anti-Inflammatory Balm

All our products are formulated so that you don’t need a lot to get the benefits they promise, which helps them last longer.

In summary: tight budget or not, sensitive skin needs LESS products, not more.
Just be hyper selective and maximize your minimalist collection by choosing…

2) Multitasking Ingredients and Products.

The right skincare formulation can meet multiple needs. As the list above shows, an ultra-gentle product can be an excellent hair and body shampoo, and even be used for laundry.

Virgin coconut oil (VCO) is a master multitasker. It’s a phenomenal daily moisturizer that doubles as a hair conditioner and triples as an anti-inflammatory for flares. VCO is a natural antimicrobial — it needs no preservation and is broken down by lipases of friendly skin bacteria into monoglycerides with antiseptic properties — so that it also helps control microbial invasions that can occur in cracked skin. And you can use it as a facial cleanser, makeup remover, on food, and more (check out these 12 uses of virgin coconut oil for mom and baby).

Also, share your care! Pretty much all our products are meant to be shared between parents and kids, siblings, and partners.

In summary: Don’t buy into marketing categorization that would have you believe that you need “male” or “female” products. Most extremely gentle formulations can be shared (ask the manufacturer and your doctor to be sure, especially with products for children). And if you select wisely, the few products and ingredients that you do use will give you as many uses and benefits as a cabinet full of creams and ointments.

3) Prioritize Prevention Over Treatment.

Prevention is powerful. In eczema and allergic skin, the top thing to care for is the skin’s barrier layer. If you are guided by nothing else, be guided by this:

No allergens, ever, and moisture-moisture-moisture.

In different forms of eczemas, it is the skin’s outermost barrier layer that we need to pay attention to the most.

  • Genetic innate barrier dysfunction initiates atopic dermatitis: in eczema, the skin’s barrier layer has an innate dysfunction and needs extra care to protect…this is where to focus.
  • An allergic or irritant reaction breaks down the barrier in contact dermatitis. This is why it is so important to avoid allergens and irritants as much as possible.
  • Food around the mouth area can physically act on the barrier to cause problems. Food and skin (and even pet) allergies are not the same. If food allergies are also an issue, see an allergist, get a prick test, and perhaps try an elimination diet with your doctor’s guidance. But for skin, a patch test is much more reliable, as is the avoidance of contact allergens. For skin with atopic dermatitis (eczema), the role of food isn’t so much its ingestion but its contact with the skin. For example, lemon, lime, and citrus are top contact allergens and while someone who patch tested positive to them might be able to eat them just fine, the skin around the mouth might experience a reaction.
  • Secondarily, bacteria/opportunistic microbes cause a cross-damaged barrier layer in all types of eczemas. As the skin dries, cracks appear which are inviting to microbes. This can cause secondary infections which can worsen the dryness and itching. A skin-safe, non-allergenic antimicrobial like monolaurin would be ideal.

In summary: The few products that you do use should be hyper-focused on keeping the skin’s barrier as intact as possible. Choose the least irritating but most moisturizing and partially occluding products you can find without scents, preservatives, antibiotics, dyes and other common contact allergens. Again: focus on allergen avoidance in everything, from skincare to clothing, laundry, hair care, everything. Browse through Allergen-Not An Allergen to check what some common contact allergens are, or use our products with the highest Validated Hypoallergenic Rating (VH-Number) which are free of all published contact allergens. You can also drop us a private message on or Facebook with your patch test results and we’ll customize recommendations for you based on your allergens and possible cross reactants.

4) Spend a Bit More Where It’s Really Worth It.

A patch test isn’t cheap but knowing precisely which contact allergens you need to avoid will save you so (so) much money and time and reactions. It’s worth it. Save-up-for-it worth it. Check with your doctor and insurance to see if financial assistance is available for patch testing because it is just that valuable.

Safer, more specialized, high-quality products might be more expensive up front but save you lots over time. Using cheaper products with allergens could eventually trigger a reaction that requires more expensive recuperative care.

Topical steroids are inexpensive and deliver dramatic results…at first. But with continued use, they can thin the skin and become less effective. This can increase the dependence on topical steroids, increase the amount needed for relief, and cause additional health problems that can be more difficult and expensive to correct (including hospitalization during the rebound effect).

Our non-steroidal anti-inflammatories Boo-Boo Balm and Red Better Calm-The-Heck-Down Balm are more expensive than steroid ointments but they don’t cause serious health problems and you only need a little at a time. Unlike steroids, they do not have increasing tolerances so you don’t need more and more of them to get the same results. Especially when combined with proper prevention, they prevent flare-ups so effectively that you need them even less often. Importantly, in case an emergency occurs and a steroid is needed, it would be limited to once or twice in a year, which is much better for your health.

In summary: If you are highly selective about the few, multitasking products that you choose, you might be able to afford better-quality, safer products for your sensitive skin and still end up spending the same or less than buying a shopping cart full of cheaper formulations that could cause harm (and increased costs) in the long run.

We have an allergen-free collection of multitasking Mom & Baby care that can help. This post on a regimen for kids with eczema is a great read, as is Top Recommendations For Patients With Eczema. And don’t forget to follow your doctor’s advice!

This article was originally published in as one of a multi-part series focused on understanding and using products for sensitive skinInspired by her daughter Marcie who had eczema from two weeks old, Mei (aka MarcieMom) started with the mission to turn eczema blues to bliss. In this series of interviews, MarcieMom interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to learn more about product claims when choosing products to care for skin with eczema.



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