Don't bet the farm on a $60 cream.

Paula Begoun wants to be the Ralph Nader of the beauty business.Her straight talk about what cosmetics can and can't do has penetrated the blare of magazine and advertising hype. Her early book, "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me," helped to put the high-hopes-in-a-jar in perspective. And her credibility has survived, albeit slightly diluted, since she jumped into the fray with her own cosmetics line in 1996. With that in mind, consider her most recent paperback book, "The Beauty Bible" (Beginning Press, $16.95). As the name implies, it is meant to be a reference book, covering everything from eczema to alpha hydroxy creams, neck lifts and makeup colors.

Her voice is skeptical and generally negative, and the book is a sleeper as a bedtime read. It is not literature. There are few laughs. And much of what she says is controversial. But with the fast pace of medical and cosmetics developments, the book is a helpful guide (and money saver) - along with your own dermatologist's counsel. The chapter on problem-solving is probably worth the price alone.

Among her convictions:

- The value of vitamin C, topically applied to the skin in such substances as Cellex-C, is overblown.

- Cosmetics with natural ingredients are not necessarily any more beneficial than other products.

- Dry skin and wrinkles are not related. Moisturizing the skin will make the skin look better, but it will not prevent wrinkles.

- Most wrinkling and premature aging is due to sun exposure, not damage from antioxidants.

- It's old-fashioned to think the face should be so powdered there is no shine.

- No one should dye her eyelashes and eyebrows.