Original Article By Lisa Fogarty

When it comes to anti-aging skincare, many women have medicine cabinets bursting with moisturizers, serums, and no fewer than three types of cleansers (Micellar, oil, and charcoal, in case you're going shopping). But mention the words "laser procedure" or "non-invasive plastic surgery," and there's a chance the response will come in the form of a whispered confession: there's no way I could afford those kind of treatments.

Not long ago, dermatological skin tweaks existed almost exclusively for well-heeled women who needn't ask about prices. But times — and the clientele of plastic surgeons and dermatologists — have changed. Younger women, some on the earlier side of their 20s, are getting hip to the fact that lasers, fillers, and Botox, while they may set you back a pretty penny upfront, can actually be more cost-effective in the long run — especially if you confront a minor skin problem before he becomes a major one.

Quality products that contain retinol, hydroquinone, peptides, growth factors, and hyaluronic acid — some of the ingredients that make dermatologists swoon — will always have a place in our skincare regimens. But we spoke with experts who listed seven noninvasive treatments that are more effective than anything you can slather on in front of a mirror and, over several decades, actually cost less than all those OTC products. Keep in mind: these costs don't include the price of beauty many of us pay for regular facials, chemical peels, and other products. (Some women have revealed they spend as much as $20,000 a year on regular beauty upkeep. Sounds about right.)

Laser Hair Removal If you're still on the fence about laser hair removal because the cost seems prohibitive, remember what it feels like to have wicked razor burn at all times and the frantic dash to get to your waxer before taking a last-minute trip to the coast.

"Professional laser hair removal is a home run, especially in women with light skin and dark hair," says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. "Hair removal procedures such as waxing, threading, shaving, and depilatories all can leave the skin irritated, red, and lead to unsightly and uncomfortable ingrown hairs. While the cost of laser hair removal is more expensive in the beginning, the effect is far superior to any other procedure because the root of the hair is permanently destroyed."

You can expect to pay between $500-700 per treatment and the average patient requires 3-5 treatments, Zeichner says.

The Cost Breakdown: Assuming you fall on the less expensive end of the laser hair spectrum, you will spend about $1,500 for three treatments and your bikini line will be almost completely hair-free, possibly for a lifetime (treating your full legs would cost more). The average price you'll spend to get your bikini area waxed is about $35. If you start waxing at age 21 and get one wax treatment every three months until you are 55, you will spend $4,900 waxing your bikini line (and chances are you'll still be hitting the beach at 65 and 70, so add to the cost). Even if you fall on the more expensive side of the laser treatment, your cost will be $3,500 — $1,400 less than if you wax.

Fraxel Laser Skin resurfacing and brightening lasers are the bread and butter of the industry, with Fraxel leading the way as one of the most requested laser procedures.

"Lasers such as the Fraxel work by punching microscopic holes in the skin, creating a controlled wound and taking advantage of the skin's ability to heal itself," Zeichner says. "In the process, excess pigmentation is shed, creepy skin is improved, and texture is evened out. A single treatment can offer up to 50% improvement in the skin."

One Fraxel laser treatment costs somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000, Zeichner says. One treatment will give significant improvement, but some patients require more than one—performed every four to six weeks.

The Cost Breakdown: Ingredients that can provide a tiny fraction of the immediate effect you'll get from Fraxel include retinol, which helps improve skin texture and build collagen, and hydroquinone or soy, a classic dark spot lightener. Let's say you're a fan of drugstore favorite RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream, which costs $22.99 for 1.0 fl oz. You want to keep your skin as bright as possible, so to the mix you add Clinicians Complex 6% Skin Bleaching Cream ($70), which contains hydroquinone, kojic acid, and bearberry extract. Here's what you'll wind up spending on these products if you use them from age 21 to 55: $4,827.90 (for retinol you'll purchase every two months) and $9,800 (for hydroquinone cream that you'll purchase four times a year). That's a combined total of $14,627.90 — about $8,600 more than you'd pay if you received four Fraxel laser treatments that are almost guaranteed to make a significant difference in your skin.

PICO Genesis The Fraxel is outstanding for targeting singular dark brown spots, but up until last year, there was very little you could do to fade all of those light brown discolorations you've racked up from years of sunbathing.

"The PICO Genesis treatment uses ultra-short laser pulses to deliver a photo-mechanical shockwave that not only shatters the pigment, but stimulates remodeling in the upper layers of the skin, resulting in brighter more uniform skin tone in significantly fewer treatments," says Dr. Macrene Alexiades, owner of Dermatology and Laser Surgery Center of New York.

If you're treating one or two areas of the face with deep sun damage, the cost is $800-1,500, Alexiades says, while a full-face treatment will run you between $1,200-1,300.

The Cost Breakdown: Before tallying up the costs for effective skin lightening and brightening ingredients, it's important to note that you may never be able to completely remove deep sun damage using any product. With that said, two of the best out there include Skinceuticals C E Ferulic(a daytime serum that brightens, improves skin texture, and costs $163 for a 30ml bottle) and Paula's Choice Resist 10% Niacinamide Booster at $42 for 0.67 oz. If you purchase C E Ferulic twice a year from ages 21-55, you'll shell out $11,410 over the course of 35 years, while the niacinamide serum, purchased three times a year, will run you $4,410. Use them together and you'll spend $15,820 in total — a whopping $8,020 more than six full-face PICO Genesis treatments.

Exilis Ultra Another relatively new laser on the scene, the Exilis Ultra is a technology that uses radio frequency and ultrasound energy to simultaneously tighten skin, saysDr. Debra Jaliman, a NYC board-certified dermatologist and the author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. Elixis Ultra can be used everywhere from stubborn jowls to abs and thighs. It only takes a few treatments, there's no downtime, and Jaliman says it's incredibly effective.

The Cost Breakdown: Exilis Ultra costs about $1,500 per treatment for the lower face, Jaliman says, and it can take anywhere from two to four treatments depending on how much the skin is sagged. Things can get tricky when trying to compare skin-tightening lasers with topical products or devices because few, if any, can deliver the same powerful results. The amazing Estée Lauder Perfectionist [CP+R] Wrinkle Lifting/Firming Serum ($68 for 1 fl oz) and NuFACE Trinity Facial Toning Device($292) enjoy stellar reviews and are worth incorporating into any anti-aging skincare regimen. If you rely on them to do the job of a laser, you can expect to spend $7,140 on the Estée Lauder serum over 35 years and, assuming you replace the toning device at least once, $585 on two NuFACE devices, for a total cost of $7,724, or $1,724 more than four treatments of Exilis Ultra (which will cost you a total of $6,000). Just for fun, we'll throw this stat out there, too: the average cost of a facelift is $6,652, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

The Venus Legacy Laser is another skin-tightening laser that is used to contour the face and body, firm sagging skin, and — here's what makes it especially golden — reduce cellulite. Using pulses of magnetic or radio frequency energy, the laser heats deep within the skin tissue to encourage collagen and elastin renewal. It's gentle, painless, and one of the best introductory lasers you should consider in your 20s and 30s, says Dr. Neil Sadick at Sadick Dermatology, who is the clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. A combination of a collagen stimulator like Venus plus fillers like Voluma are best to tackle early aging skin concerns and pick up the slack when creams and serums are limited in what they can do, Sadick says.

The Cost Breakdown: The cost per Venus Legacy laser treatment varies depending on where on your body you'll use it and your age (the longer you wait, the more treatments you'll likely need). Expect to pay anywhere from $1,200-3,000 or more and to return for four to eight sessions to treat stubborn areas like buttocks, thighs, and abs. If you faithfully use Nerium Firming Body Contour Cream ($90) every day for 35 years and go through about four tubes each year, you'll spend $12,600. That's $600 more than the $12,000 you'd pay for eight Venus treatments (at $1,500 a pop).

Fillers like Voluma, Juvederm, and Volbella have become so popular for their ability to make us look instantly fresh and more youthful that women of all ages have embraced the needle.

"Voluma filler can actually prevent sagging since it gives volume to the face," Jaliman says. "For example, on the cheekbones it can give volume and lift the face to avoid sagging and it actually lasts about a year. Volbella is great for enhancing the lips and improving fine lines around the mouth. Kybella is good for dissolving fat under the chin."

The average price for one Juvederm Voluma XC syringe is $750-1,100 and some doctors offer reduced prices if you purchase more than one syringe. On average, two syringes are used, but the product can last as long as 18 months to two years.

The Cost Breakdown: Of course, no cream can actually increase your skin's volume, but those containing hyaluronic acid can temporarily plump fine lines and wrinkles. If you start usingL'Oréal Revitalift Volume Filler Cream ($24.99 for 1.7 fl oz) when you're 21 and purchase it four times a year for 35 years, you will end up spending $3,499. If you spring for Voluma treatments every two years from the time you are 35, you will spend roughly $19,800, assuming you can score two syringes for $1,800. Clearly that's a lot more, which forces you to decide whether the quick, guaranteed result of Voluma, along with the possibility that it could prevent sagging, is worth the extra cost.

Botox or Dysport When you start to see signs of aging, neuromodulators (like Botox and Dysport) can be used as a preventative treatment to reduce the number of fine lines and wrinkles on your forehead, glabella (11 lines), and around your eyes, says Dr. Jill Waibel, a board certified dermatologist and the medical director and owner of Miami Dermatology & Laser Institute.

"The age that is recommended to begin to look into having these injectables can vary — the moment you begin to see wrinkles, commonly in your mid-20s to your early 30s, is when you should seek to have the treatment," Waibel says.

The Cost Breakdown: Botox typically costs between $300-600, depending on the areas you want to treat and the deepness of your wrinkles, and the effects lasts about three to four months. Skincare products are just starting to chip away at Botox-like technology, with topical peptides that slow muscle contractions. The La Prairie Line Interception Power Duo is a wrinkle-relaxing day and night cream (it's $350 for three month's worth), and it's hailed as the next best thing to Botox. So assuming you restock your supply regularly for 35 years, you will wind up spending $49,000. If you start Botox at age 30 and receive two treatments a year at $400 each, you'll spend $20,000 by age 55.

On the one hand, the cream contains SPF and ingredients that are beneficial to skin. On the other, Botox delivers immediate and astonishing results. In this case, it's a toss-up between paying more for instant gratification and possible anti-aging prevention (so far, no tests have concluded Botox can prevent aging) or being patient to see if a product can deliver over the long haul.