Ever wondered if that expensive toothpaste is helping to clean your teeth better than a budget version? Do the 21p painkillers work as well as the £2 ones? We ask experts what they think.
Ever wondered if that expensive toothpaste is helping to clean your teeth better than a budget version? Or are you just paying for the packaging? Do the 21p painkillers work as well as the £2 ones? How about sun cream?
The price difference can be pennies or even pounds, so we ask the experts what you should be saving – and spending – your money on when it comes to some of the most commonly used health products.
All prices correct at time of writing. Prices and products mentioned are for illustration only and not endorsed by goodtoknow. You should always speak to a medical professional before taking any health products.
With manual toothbrushes costing anything from 35p to over £4 and toothpastes from 25p to £5, what do you get when you pay more? Dentist Shameek Popat from Rosebank Dental Practice says it’s more important to spend money on the toothbrush than the toothpaste. Brushing removes the food debris and the plaque that accumulates. Most toothpastes help with that, but it’s important that they have fluoride in it and not be too abrasive.
When choosing a toothbrush, Dr Popat says, ‘Brushing is more effective with multi-tufted, small-headed toothbrushes with soft to medium nylon filaments and a comfortable handle. Electric toothbrushes with brush heads that rotate first in one direction and then the other (oscillate/rotate) are more effective at removing plaque than manual toothbrushes too. You should also replace toothbrushes when bristles show signs of wear, generally every 3 months.’
He adds, ‘In my opinion, the technique of brushing and how long you spend is more important. The most expensive toothbrush and toothpaste will not help if you don’t. Interdental cleaning with floss or interdental brushes is also important.’
However, there may be times when you need a different, perhaps more expensive, toothpaste. As fellow Rosebank dentist Dr Shaunak Popat adds, ‘Some patients are prescribed higher fluoride concentration toothpastes while others may have issues with sensitivity or staining. It’s not one paste for all and it may be a case of preferring one flavour over another.’
You can also check the abrasiveness of a toothpaste, which is known as the RDA level or Radioactive (or Relative) Dentin Abrasiveness. It measures the erosive effect on the tooth’s delicate surface – the higher the number, the more abrasive it is. According to the American Dental Association (ADA) , daily-use toothpastes should be 70 or less. It’s not always on the packaging but it will be on the manufacturer’s website.
Multi-vitamins and supplements are big business and the price difference be significant. As an example, Asda sell their own Asda-branded 70 multi-vitamins for £1 and on the same shelf, you may find Multibionta Multibionta Vitality Complete Multivitamins (26-pack) for £5. So what’s the difference and should you pay more? We ask registered nutritionist Dr Carina Norris for her views.
‘Supermarkets produce huge amounts of supplements, so they can afford to keep prices low. This can make them good value if you want something basic,’ she says. ‘However, if you need something more specialised, you might be better off with one of the more specialist supplement companies, who invest a lot into researching the best possible combinations and formulations of nutrients.
‘As an example, if you’re taking an iron supplement, iron sulphate is the most common and found in most of the cheaper supplements. But it’s not particularly well absorbed and can cause constipation. Iron is more easily absorbed, and with fewer side effects, in its citrate, glutamate, succinate and bisglycinate forms. For these, you’ll generally have to go for a more specialist, and more expensive, brand.’
Check with your doctor what sort of vitamins or supplements you need. The basic level may suit you fine but they’re a waste of money if you actually need something more specific.
If you go to Tesco, you’ll see their own brand Paracetamol (500mg) at 21p for 16 caplets or tablets – that’s 1.3p a tablet. You’ll also find packes which cost around 20p a tablet and sometimes the active ingredients are the same. So when should you pay extra – if at all?
Consultant medical information pharmacist Nargis Ara says the cheap options often do the job just as well. ‘If it’s a plain and simple headache, there’s really no difference between the basic painkillers.’
‘The difference lies in something called the excipients. These aren’t active ingredients, rather they’re added to the formula to bulk up the tablet to make it usable. Manufacturers may use lactose or magnesium sterate as a lubricant or bulking agent. These excipients can vary so you might find you prefer a particular type. Otherwise, 500mg of paracetamol is the same whatever you buy.’
However, there are time you may want to spend more. ‘When there is a slight difference is if they make a claim such as fast-acting or long-lasting. It means they will have added certain ingredients. Drug companies cannot make a claim unless they have proved it in product quality tests before it hits the shelves.’
If you’ve got a sore throat or a cough, you’ll find a mind-boggling array of lozenges, sprays and syrups. From a basic linctus to an all-singing, all-dancing super-syrup, it can be hard to know what to buy.
When it comes to coughs, consultant medical information pharmacist Nargis Ara says the most important thing is to know what sort of cough you have. ‘A dry, tickly cough at the back of throat that tends to be non-productive, is usually viral, leftover from the flu perhaps. In this case, you can’t treat it as it’s working its way out of the system so a linctus to soothe it is fine. There’s no real difference between linctuses, other than texture or flavour so buy what you like. It should resolve itself.’
‘If you’ve got a chesty cough where you’re producing phlegm and sputum when you cough, it’s best not to self-diagnose. With this cough, you need a cough expectorant i.e. something which loosens the phlegm. You need to get rid of it so you don’t want anything which stops you from coughing. It’s best to speak to the pharmacist if you’re unsure which type of cough you have. The only time you’d buy a suppressant is if you have the dry tickly cough without any underlying problems.’
‘When it comes to sore throats, some sweets, lozenges and sprays have a numbing effect via a local anesthetic while others just lubricate and sooth using glycerin,’ she says. ‘These make it more tolerable but don’t get rid of the pain. The actual price doesn’t make a difference but these ingredients will. If the product makes a claim such as fast-acting or it contains anti-inflammatories, that will cost more. As most generic products offer basic ingredients, it’s the branded ones with the extras so it may be worth paying more.’
Most parents will find they go through a lot of antiseptic cream, but are some brands more effective than others? In Boots, Savlon Antiseptic Skin Healing Cream (100g) costs £3.75 while Boots’ own Pharmaceuticals Antiseptic Cream (100g) costs 96p less at £2.79.
Nargis Ara, a consultant medical information pharmacist, explains what they do. ‘Antiseptic creams do two things. They prevent infection so there will be an anti-bacterial ingredient in the cream. However, others may contain a local anesthetic so they can also treat the pain. This type both prevents infection and also acts as a mild painkiller. You should compare the different products to see what they do but if you’re after something just to prevent infection, a standard antiseptic cream will do the job.’
The price of contact lens solution can vary greatly. One of the cheapest on the market is Asda’s own brand solution which costs £4.95 for a 360ml bottle while a 300ml-bottle of Bausch & Lomb Biotrue Multi-Purpose Contact Lens Solution costs £9.59 in Boots, almost double the price. So what do you go for?
We spoke to a qualified optometrist who says, ‘Some contact lens solutions work very well and compliment certain types or brands of contact lenses. It can also depend on the contact lens wearer.
‘As an example, I’d recommend Biotrue solution for a younger patient wearing Acuvue Oasys lenses as the solution is gentler yet still more active on cleaning than other solutions so it’s ideal for a younger patient. As another example, I’d advise against using Walmart MPS (Renu M+) solution with Proclear lenses because a study found that the front of the eye is more compromised with that solution with that type of lens.’
‘I would always check with your optometrist/contact lens optician as to whether what you are using to clean and store your lenses is suitable for you.’
What this means is that cheaper contact lens solutions may be absolutely fine for your needs/lenses. Or it could mean that because of the type of lenses you wear or your lifestyle, you may be advised to choose another solution.
Eye drops are not just used by contact lens users but also for dry eyes and to perk you up if you’re feeling tired. But there’s a vast price difference from Tesco’s Eye Brightener (10ml) for £2 to around £4 for Optrex Eyedew Dazzling Eye Drops (10ml). Then there are allergy eye drops and ones for hayfever and dry eyes.
We spoke to a qualified optometrist who says, ‘It really does depend with eye drops. There are several different eye drops and sprays on the market and they specifically target a certain part of the tear layer which means one type of eye drop will be better for a certain type of dry eye condition than another. When it comes to your eyes, it is best to ask your optometrist what condition you have and which drops will be more effective.’
‘However, as a general rule, I would not, as an optometrist, recommend any eye drops for brightening/sparkling eyes, branded or not. Most of these drops are little more than purified water with a bit of borax thrown in – so in other words they do nothing. The only drops we recommend are ones specific to certain dry eye conditions (of which there are many). Often, these are branded as there aren’t generic ones for these conditions.’
Spending more on a sun cream doesn’t necessarily mean better protection for you and your family, as proven by Which? when they tested a range of sun creams that claimed to be SPF 30. The results of the best and worst sun creams where shocking, with three well-known brands failing the tests.
We asked Hermione Lawson from the British Skin Foundation whether price should determine the type of suncream you buy.
‘Any sunscreen sold in the UK is subject to strict EU laws which ensure it is safe to use. Its stated SPF and UVA protection is proven before the product is approved,’ she says. ‘When a choosing a sunscreen, the most important thing is the SPF number and UVA rating. The British Skin Foundation recommend using a high SPF of at least 30 and a high UVA rating or four or five stars, often called a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen.’
‘Different brands may offer varying products in terms of formulation or specifically formulate products suitable for sensitive or allergy prone skin. It’s important you find a sunscreen that suits your skin type and you enjoy using, as you’re unlikely to apply it generously or regularly enough otherwise.
So, unless you’ve got sensitive or allergy prone skin it may be worth checking the supermarket asiles for a cheaper suncream alternative this summer!
The price difference between women’s sanitary products can be enormous. Asda sell 32 non-applicator tampons for £1 yet you can also pay £3.60 for 32 Regular Lil-Lets Tampons. Some are easier to insert due to a more silky applicator while some brands offer more choice of size of tampon.
According to a qualified GP, ‘As a rule, tampon quality doesn’t vary much from brand to brand. However, it is an area which is very much down to personal preference, comfort and ease. For most women, applicators versus non applicators is the main deciding factor.’
When it comes to sanitary towels, it’s slightly different. ‘There is little difference between brands when it comes to quality. Again, comfort and absorbency is the main issue so you should try out different ones in all price bands to see what suits you. However, some of the more well-known brands tend to use more scents and perfume these days and this can cause problems with recurrent thrush or dermatitis. For women with skin irritation,I’d advise unscented ones – and they happen to be cheaper too.’
Walk into Boots and you can find a 10-pack of Single Blade Sensitive Disposable Razors for 89p, about double that for a smaller pack of twin-blade razors or £6.49 for a Wilkinson Sword Intuition Pomegranate Razor which lathers, shaves and moisturises in one. You can also buy special shaving gels, foams and creams – but how do they differ to using your usual shower gel or soap?
According to a qualified GP, ‘Some razors contain more added products such as moisturisers and some of these can be an irritant. The razor itself is down to personal preference, from the grip to the way it shaves and how your own hair growth and skin react. I’d say it’s more important to look after your skin by shaving properly and moisturise afterwards than worry about the type of razor.’
She adds, ‘It’s a similar story with shaving gels. There are more and more chemicals added for silkier skin and these can often irritate. With more people suffering from eczema and allergies these days, I advise more people to go back to basics and use Aveeno cream or aqueous cream as a soap substitute.’