Some people spend pots of money on pots of lotion. Decca Aitkenhead asks whether it's worth it
Advanced skin care has never come cheap. Mysterious-sounding liposomes, AHAs and nano-sphere complexes have, until lately, been the rare preserve of those willing to spend a small mortgage on their skin. With a tiny pot of eye cream from a stylish department store costing up to pounds 80, you could spend a king's ransom on an entire skin-care regime that ran the gamut from cleanser and toner to nutritious night cream

But the humble supermarket is now to give precious shelf space to upmarket lotions and potions. And, claim Asda et al, the only difference between their miracle creams and the more glamorous competition, is their miraculously low prices.

The cheaper ranges boast the same magic ingredients, such as liposomes, that promise age-defying properties. They are also stylishly packaged, because the supermarkets have realised that, for many, the thrill of chic indulgence is as important as any dermatologically proven pay-off.

But do these cut-price products deliver on either count - either as anti- ageing, skin transforming wonder creams or as lavish luxuries?

"They really are no worse and no better than the expensive creams," says the consultant dermatologist Ian White. "Ultimately, they are all the same. Moisturisers may smooth out tiny wrinkles, but `age-defying' means nothing."

We tried out products from both ends of the market. Three exclusive skin- care addicts tested a supermarket range for a week, while an old-fashioned soap-and-water candidate experimented with an ultra-chic brand. Here are the results.

Shane MacRory, actor and DJ, 25, from Bradford, tested Tesco Active Balance and Active Response ranges of day and night moisturisers (both 50ml, pounds 3.45), cleanser and toner (both 200ml, pounds 2.99).

"You really couldn't tell that the products were cheaper. It did show that when you spend a lot of money on these things, you are spending it on the name. Moisturiser is just moisturiser.

"I quite liked some of the packaging. The little boxes were clever, but when you got inside, the pots looked like something out of a Christmas cracker. The bottles of cleanser and toner were quite respectable, though. I'd say it was just as good as the stuff I normally buy, but I'd be embarrassed if anyone saw those pots in my bathroom."

Terry King, entrepreneur, 26, from Manchester, tested the Essential Asda range of replenishing night cream, (50ml, pounds 2.99), active daily moisturiser (50ml, pounds 2.49), foaming facial wash, moisturising beauty fluid and fresh skin tonic (all 200ml, pounds 1.99).

"Well, the Asda label put me right off straight away. The temptation is obviously to buy the stuff, scoop out the contents and put it in an expensive jar. The packaging was absolutely appalling. It really wasn't something that would sit comfortably on my bathroom shelf.

"The night moisturiser was horribly greasy. You'd need pores the size of mushrooms, or to have spent a week in the Sahara, before you'd use it. And the consistency of the day cream was far too runny. You should be able to run your finger along the top and get a fine film. This was gloop. I'd never buy any of this."

Sophie Johnson, 24, government affairs consultant, from London, tested the Marks & Spencer Face Formula range of night cream (50ml, pounds 5), dual cleansing milk (150ml, pounds 4) and toner (150ml, pounds 7).

"The cream was a bit like your granny's cold cream, to be honest - a bit gloopy, and cold and white. But it was basically fine. And the packaging was fine - not particularly exciting, but I wasn't embarrassed by it.

"You really couldn't have guessed that the stuff was inexpensive, even if it had come in upmarket pots. It did the job. I think I might try and be cheap and cheerful in the future. But realistically, I'm one of those mugs who spends pounds 80 on something when I know in my heart of hearts that it's exactly the same as the M&S stuff. You just get bored."

Suzannah Mills, 33, designer, from Brighton, tested the Lancaster Skin Therapy range of Vital Oxygen Supply face cream (30ml, pounds 39.00), Oxygen Mask (50ml, pounds 23.50), Oxygen For Eyes (15ml, pounds 22), cleanser and toner (both pounds 13, 500ml).

"I've always been deeply sceptical of this kind of thing. It seemed such a con. So I was completely unprepared for how nice the products would feel. Heavenly. My skin feels entirely different. It's much softer and clearer, and the sensation when I put on the cream is lovely. My eyes look much less puffy, too.

"All the pseudo-scientific stuff on the blurb made me laugh, but I admit a bit of it probably sank in and made me more willing to believe in the product. The packaging was opulent, seductive. Now I've actually used the products, I really don't think I could give them up."