Veronica, 24, saw her first wrinkle at age 22–and completely freaked out.

ramen noodles(Photo: Getty Images)

“I started using all these anti-aging products,” she says. “I was obsessed. I’d pay $80 for a tiny jar of cream and do it again a month later because it wasn’t working fast enough.” A sophomore at Santa Barbara City College at the time, she used every bit of spare cash on her habit.

She’s not alone. “I spend about $100 a month on La Mer Lip balm,” confesses Kamil, 34, of Brooklyn, “and I have since I was in my twenties. I like plump lips, and I think I actually look younger and sexier when I use it. I keep one at work, in my purse, at home, and in my car. I can afford it now, but when I was in law school, I had to eat lots of ramen in order to have it.”

What’s going on? Why are women willing to skimp on groceries (and, you know, rent) to pay for luxe skin care? “It’s a status symbol,” says Ellen Marmur, vice chair of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “Just as some people need the latest iPhone, there is a group of women who have to have the new anti-aging products. In the past the topic of anti-aging would have been taboo; now it’s turned into a fashionable thing.” And the reasons may go deeper than a desire for chicness. Women become more likely to splurge on looks-enhancing beauty products during a recession, according to a recent study from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.

Whatever the reason, women are spending a lot of money on a lot of products. According to a recent Mintel U.S. study, 36 percent of respondents making between $25,000 and $50,000 use anti-aging serums and/or antiwrinkle eye creams at least a few times a week. “I have women in their twenties coming to me with a list of 14 products they use,” says Dr. Marmur. “What’s happening is they are self-prescribing,” and overspending as a result, she says.

Granted, there are some great products out there (La Mer is one). But 14 at a shot? Do. Not. Go. There. And for God’s sake, please don’t eat ramen. No one’s puffy eyes need all that sodium! Instead, follow this wallet-friendly action plan and invest in what really works at every age.