The Best Drugstore Skincare Buys, According To Dermatologists
Believe it or not, drugstore beauty products have come a long way in the last decade. With everything from cleansers to sunscreens and even some amazing anti-aging treatments, you can now build a skincare routine that is not only affordable but also just as effective as the costlier options.
Take CVS, for example, whose ever-growing beauty selection focuses on healthy skincare through partnerships with the likes of SkinSAFE and encourages shoppers to elevate their routines with a mix of some of the market’s buzziest ingredients. Or Target, who just launched a “shop-in-shop” concept with Ulta, which will allow customers to discover new brands.
But before you go and get overwhelmed by the new and improved beauty aisles, we asked a few dermatologists to share their favorite drugstore skincare products (spoiler: they use more they you would assume), as well as some tips for building an affordable routine that actually delivers real results. Read on to learn how to shop like a pro.
Building Your Drugstore Skincare Routine
Dr. Raechele Cochran Gathers, MD, a dermatologist in Detroit, MI, and founder MDhairmixtress.com assures us that you can absolutely build a great skincare routine with drugstore products. “It’s important to recognize that you don’t always have to spend a lot of money to get safe and effective skincare products,” she says. “Many drugstore brands contain the exact same active ingredients as the pricier luxury brands.”
Pro tip: Start with the basics. “Every skincare regimen should include a gentle cleanser, vitamin C serum, skin-type specific moisturizer, sunscreen, and a topical retinoid or retinol, all of which you can find at your local drugstore,” explains Dr. DiAnne Davis, a dermatologist in Dallas, TX. “Start by adding in one product at a time to ensure your skin can tolerate it before buying another.”
On that note, Dr. Gathers adds that building a base of affordable skincare will help you budget for any holy-grail luxury products like serums, masks or treatments you want to keep in the mix — though you can certainly find those at the drugstore, too. Below, you will find a list of dermatologist-approved drugstore skincare products that work.
Dermatologist-Approved Drugstore Skincare Products
“This physical sunscreen with zinc oxide, which offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection, is ideal for those looking for a non-chemical sunblock,” says Dr. Gathers. “It’s oil- and fragrance-free, and it’s formulated to be non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog your pores.” Also nice: The lightweight liquid leaves behind no chalky cast and has a weightless feel that layers well with other products and makeup.
“There are a number of reasons this moisturizer is one of my favorites; it’s lightweight and easily absorbs into skin all while hydrating and repairing the barrier,” says Dr. Gathers. “I find that it moisturizes my skin, without leaving it super-shiny or greasy-feeling.” Formulated with essential ceramides, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and strengthening niacinamide, she adds that it also helps with any areas of inflammation she may notice after having worn a medical mask all day.
“Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps your skin ward off damage from pollution and the sun,” says Dr. Gathers. “It also brightens the complexion and helps reduce dark spots and other signs of aging.” She likes this serum, which combines a high concentration of vitamin C (15%) with hyaluronic acid to brighten and plump the skin.
If you’ve been wanting to try a prescription-strength retinoid treatment, this over-the-counter option is a good place to start. Dr. Gathers explains that it “can be very effective for treating acne, clearing blackheads, and improving the skin texture and tone.” However, she suggests starting gradually as retinoids can be irritating and drying.
Dr. Davis is a huge fan of Mele Skincare, which was created with black and brown skin in mind. “One of the things I love most about Mele Skincare is that they have developed two sunscreens that blend in flawlessly with any skin tone, which is important for people of color to increase their compliance with applying SPF everyday.” The brand’s multitasking moisturizer provides long-lasting hydration while also protecting against sun damage and preventing the formation of dark spots, she adds.
Dr. Davis also likes the No Shade Oil Sunscreen SPF 30 ($29; target.com).
Retinol has long been the gold standard when it comes to treating signs of aging, and while there are many great options available, this wallet-friendly pick packs a serious punch. The fast-absorbing serum is formulated with a time-released retinol that stays active for 12 hours to speed up cell turnover and stimulate collagen production. Plus, it contains soothing ashwagandha and hydrating squalane to prevent irritation so that it’s gentle enough for daily use. The result? Super fast results.
Dr. Gathers says that while this is marketed toward dry skin, all skin types can benefit from the quick-absorbing gel moisturizer. “It is packed with hyaluronic acid, which helps draw moisture into the skin to keep it plump, radiant, and hydrated.”
“Vanicream is one of my favorite brands for sensitive or eczema-prone skin.” Dr. Gathers says. “This rich moisturizing cream is ideal for soothing dry or irritated skin, and it’s also wonderful for use after bathing.” While it goes on thick, the non-comedogenic cream spreads easily and absorbs without leaving a greasy feel. The formula is also free of dyes, fragrane, lanolin, formaldehydes, and parabens.
La Roche-Posay is another drugstore skincare brand you don’t want to pass up, says Dr. Davis. One of her personal favorites is the Lipikar Balm, a face and body moisturizer that contains prebiotic thermal water, shea butter, and glycerin to replenish the skin’s essential lipids and balance its microbiome for instant relief from dryness and/or irritation.
All of the derms we spoke to recommend a gentle face wash, and it doesn’t get much gentler than this. The soap-free, non-foaming cleanser uses micellar technology to capture and lift away dirt, oil, and makeup without irritating or stripping the skin of essential moisture. “I use the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser every day, because it gives me the effective clean I’m looking for without drying out my skin,” says Dr. Tiffany Libby, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. “I also love that you can use it on wet or dry skin — just pump a small amount onto a cotton round and use that to gently wipe away makeup and oil.”
If you’re looking for a face wash for acne-prone skin, look no further. This cleanser comes highly recommended by derms and can be used to treat both face and body blemishes. “It contains 4 percent benzoyl peroxide to kill the bacteria associated with acne,” says Dr. Gather. “It also reduces inflammation on the skin and helps clear dead skin cells that may be clogging your pores.” She also points out that while benzoyl peroxide products can be drying, this is formulated with humectants and emollients for a more gentle cleanse.
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