13 Best Drugstore Skincare Products, According to a Dermatologist
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Your skin and wallet will thank you.
The sprawling aisles of a drugstore are home to all the goods we need to maintain healthy and effective beauty routines. It's the safe haven we run to when we need a deep conditioner for parched strands, or a quick and easy press-on set for a special occasion. However, don't sleep on the power of drugstore skin care. Neutrogena, Aveeno, CeraVe—any of these names ring a bell?
One of the biggest myths in skin care is that you have to shell out hundreds of dollars to treat your skin concerns, but drugstore products can be just as effective as the expensive name-brand ones. According to Dr. Lian Mack, NYC board-certified dermatologist and founder of Glamderm, the main deciding factor when shopping for drugstore skin care is the ingredient list. “Look for products that are fragrance- and paraben-free and contain ingredients like ceramides to help restore the skin barrier to minimize dryness and irritation. Check if the label states whether or not the product is dermatologist tested,” she advises.
Luckily, we did some of the hard work for you. After perusing customer feedback and consulting a dermatologist, we compiled a list of the 13 best drugstore skin care products your money can buy.
Thanks to Aveeno, those with irritated, sensitive skin have a soothing balm to, as the name suggests, calm and restore the skin. The salve is made with oats and feverfew, a plant packed with antioxidants, that reverses dullness, dryness, and redness.
Key ingredients: Oat, feverfew
Size: 1.7 fl oz
Amazon rating: 4.5/5 stars
An Amazon reviewer said: “I've been struggling with finding a perfect moisturizer for my mature face. And this Aveeno is the bomb! Solved my problem, doesn't leave ickies on your pillowcase and absorbs well. I'm ordering the 2 pack soon!”
Slugging is the skin care craze that helps lock in moisture and soothe skin, perfect for those with acid-heavy routines. You can find Aquaphor's cult-favorite ointment on the vanities of beauty obsessives, thanks to its affordability. Plus, a little goes a long way so you'll have this jar for forever.
Key ingredient: Petrolatum
Size: 14 fl oz
Amazon rating: 4.8/5 stars
An Amazon reviewer said: “I love the feel of this, it made my face calm down and heal nicely from a recent microneedling session.”
We've all been let down by sunscreen before, whether it left behind a pasty white cast or exposed itself in droplets of sweat running down your face. This Sun Bum bestseller is one you can trust. It's reef-safe, water-resistant, and prevents sunburns.
Key ingredient: Vitamin e
Size: 8 oz
Amazon rating: 4.8/5 stats
An ELLE Editor says: “Sun care is essential to my skin care routine—so I try a lot of the best sunscreens. Sun Bum is one of my favorites and this formula is a staple amongst my friend group. I prefer the SPF 50 spray version—it also leaves a little golden glow, so I never mind reapplying. This is not just one of the best drugstore sunscreen brands—it's one of the best, period. The formula has a wonderful scent and is not sticky.” — Danielle James, Beauty Director ELLE.com
While many celebrities are creating their own lines, Sarah Jessica Parker is the Optimist in Residence for RoC and likes how the products work with her skin. Retinol is a surefire way to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles that emerge with age. Retinol is a tricky yet powerful ingredient that requires loads of hydration to ward off the dryness it can cause. Packed in this tube are nourishing ingredients like squalane and shea butter to serve as a balm.
Key ingredients: Retinol, squalane, shea butter
Size: 1 fl oz
Amazon rating: 4.4/5 stars
An Amazon reviewer said: “Love this stuff! I am older and have deep wrinkles. It doesn't magically remove them but it definitely helps soften them. Good stuff!”
If your skin is in dire need of a refresh, the Toleraine Hydrating Gentle Cleanser feels like a car wash for your face. The hydration comes courtesy of niacinamide, ceramides, and prebiotic thermal water to wash away all traces of dirt, oil, and makeup without leaving your skin feeling stripped.
Key ingredients: Niacinamide, thermal water, ceramides
Size: 13.52 fl oz
Amazon rating: 4.6/5 stars
An Amazon reviewer said: “I've purchased this item several times and I'm not planning to stop using it anytime soon. It's great for everyday use for my sensitive skin.”
Similar to the feeling you get after guzzling ice-cold water on a hot day, Neutrogena's Hydro Boost moisturizer is a thirst-quencher for your face. Glycerin and hyaluronic acid work together to hydrate parched skin and keep it plumped and fresh throughout the day.
Key ingredients: Glycerin, hyaluronic acid
Size: 1.7 fl oz
Amazon rating: 4.6/5 stars
An ELLE editor said: “This moisturizer feels so good on your skin and absorbs quickly. It leaves your skin looking hydrated and plump. It's affordable and effective. When I'm in Trinidad and suffering in the heat, I like to place it in the fridge for an additional cooling effect to my morning routine. It's great for skin of all ages and I gift this to people who are new (or resistant) to a skin care routine.” — Danielle James, Beauty Director ELLE.com
Skin prep is the key to a great makeup look. Pixi's Glow Tonic sloughs away dead skin and brightens scars using five percent glycolic acid.
Key ingredient: Glycolic acid
Size: 3.4 fl oz
Ulta rating: 4.2/5 stars
An Ulta reviewer said: “My skin care routine would be nothing without this toner. Helped drastically with scarring on my face from years of shaving. I now get laser treatments, so this in combination with laser is bye bye ingrowns and scarring 😭😭. I hope they never change the formula.”
Breakouts are no match for this gentle, benzoyl peroxide-based cleanser. Featuring four percent BP, this cleanser helps clear existing acne and prevents new ones from emerging with consistent, daily use.
Key ingredient: Benzoyl peroxide
Size: 5 fl oz
Amazon rating: 4.6/5 stars
An Amazon reviewer said: “I've been looking for the right acne remedy for years. The Foaming Cream Cleanser works for me. Love it!”
A no-fuss, gentle cleanser is an absolute must in all skincare routines. Cetaphil's bestselling face wash delivers on its claims—it cleanses, hydrates, and restores—while leaving your skin in better shape than before, thanks to a nourishing cocktail of vitamins, glycerin, and niacinamide.
Key ingredients: Glycerin, vitamin B5 (panthenol), niacinamide
Size: 20 fl oz
Amazon rating: 4.6/5 stars
Our expert says: “This product has a cult following, and has been available for a number of years. It works well for all skin types and is free of fragrance and parabens. Works well to cleanse without stripping and helps to repair skin barrier with hydration.” — Dr. Lian Mack
Coat your skin in Bio-Oil's silky smooth body lotion, which wards off dryness and reveals hydrated, radiant skin using a formula that's packed with jojoba oil, shea oil, rosehip oil, and hyaluronic acid.
Key ingredients: Jojoba, rosehip, shea oil, and hyaluronic acid
Size: 5.9 fl oz
Amazon rating: 4.3/5 stars
Our expert says: “This product is super hydrating, but with an ultralight consistency. Packed with shea oil, it is readily absorbed and hydrates the skin almost instantaneously. I love this product because it is super hydrating with a high absorption rate.” — Dr. Mack
Provence Beauty's gel-to-foam cleanser is a great cleanser when you need a one-and-done solution to remove your makeup, dirt, and oil at the end of the day. The fruity concoction hosts apple extract, orange blossom, watermelon extract, and more to give your skin the love it deserves.
Key ingredients: Apple extract, watermelon extract, willowbark
Size: 8 fl oz
Ulta rating: 3.9/5 stars
Our expert says: “Provence Beauty is also a great drug store find. It works to cleanse the skin gently without stripping and works well for all skin types. The apple extract naturally exfoliates dead skin cells to reveal a brighter, more even complexion. The watermelon extract hydrates skin, while the orange blossom tones and moisturizes. Lastly, willowbark, unclogs pores and soothes skin.”
If you have incredibly dry skin, then Vanicream Moisturizing Cream is the solution for you. The thick formula includes petrolatum (petroleum jelly) and sorbitol—to draw and seal moisture into your skin. This formula works well with those that have sensitive skin, suffer from eczema, or need relief from inflammation. Pro tip: ensure your skin is slightly damp when applying this cream.
Key ingredients: Petrolatum, sorbitol, cetearyl alcohol
Size: 1 lb
Amazon rating: 4.6/5 stars
Our expert says: I love this entire line for sensitive-skinned patients. I often recommend it to patients who suffer from eczema or various skin conditions that impact the functionality of the skin barrier. These products are also free of dyes, synthetic fragrances, and parabens. For individuals with a known gluten allergy, they are gluten-free. They contain ceramides which are building blocks for the epidermal layer. Some retailers allow these products to be purchased using an FSA or HSA card.”
CeraVe has your AM and PM routines sorted with this simple set that comes with sun protection for the daytime and a lightweight moisturizer for nighttime nourishment.
Key ingredients: Ceramides, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid
Size: 3 fl oz
Amazon rating: 4.6./5 stars
Our expert says: “I am a firm believer that you do not need to break the bank for moisturizers and cleansers. There are so many effective options available over the counter. I love Cerave AM and PM for my patients. Both formulations are affordable. The AM formulation contains SPF 30, as well as ceramides to help maintain the integrity of the skin barrier. Cerave PM is a non-comedogenic (non-white head, non-blackhead forming) moisturizer that couples well with a nighttime retinol or prescription-strength retinoid.”
You don't need to break the bank to build an effective skin care routine. According to Dr. Lian Mack, drugstore products can be just as effective as expensive ones. “In my opinion, drugstore moisturizers and cleansers are on par with the more expensive brands. When spending top dollar on skin care, I typically recommend spending more on serums like vitamin C, because not all products are created equally,” she explains.
While you can get most of your skin care from drugstores, Dr. Mack suggests avoiding serums with active ingredients. “Most drugstore brands containing active ingredients do not have a high enough concentration to make them truly effective. Moreover, they typically do not contain the most effective and stable molecule needed to see results. This definitely holds true for vitamin C,” she says. “When looking for a serum with anti-aging properties, consider passing on the drugstore products.”
Dr. Lian Mack, NYC-based dermatologist and founder of Glamderm Gramercy NYC and Scarsdale
Nerisha Penrose is the Beauty Commerce Editor at ELLE.com. Since joining ELLE.com in 2017, she has interviewed countless skincare professionals and has personally tested the latest and greatest products across makeup, skincare, and hair care.
As a leading publisher of fashion, lifestyle, and beauty content, ELLE.com is committed to highlighting the best products in various categories by personally testing the latest and most innovative products, interviewing countless experts, and vetting customer-loved items. For this piece, an ELLE.com editor poured over a dozen of reviews and consulted an expert to find the best-rated drugstore skin care products.
Nerisha is the beauty commerce editor at ELLE.com, covering all things beauty (and fashion and music). She has a penchant for sneakers and nude lip glosses, and spends way too much time re-watching 90s sitcoms.
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