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We’re going to let you in on a little secret, one that both beauty editors and dermatologists have known for years. You really don’t have to spend a lot of money to find good, effective skincare. Look, that’s not to say that the pricey products of the world aren’t good—because many of them are proof positive that sometimes it is worth shelling out a bit more money. But there’s an equal, if not greater, number of amazing finds to be in the aisles of your local drugstore. Accessible, affordable, and effective? Sold.
Ahead, top derms and Byrdie editors weigh in on the best of the best drugstore skincare products.
Best Cleanser: CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser
All kinds of cleansers come and go from our daily rotation, but this one remains a staple, no matter what. Like the OG hydrating facial cleanser (a perennial favorite among derms), this one is equally as creamy and moisturizing, filled with skin-loving ceramides. The difference? This one delivers the perfect amount of foamy sudsiness, ideal for those days (or nights) when you want your complexion to feel extra clean.
Best Cleanser for Acne: Differin Daily Deep Cleanser with Benzoyl Peroxide
"My favorite acne-fighting cleanser is Differin Deep Daily Cleanser, a micronized 5% benzoyl peroxide that can deliver prescription-like results in an affordable over-the-counter product," says Melissa K. Levin, MD, of Manhattan's Entière Dermatology. "Many drugstore benzoyl peroxide-based cleansers are drying and irritating; however, this cleanser penetrates your pores to absorb excess oil while releasing gentle moisture that doesn't clog pores or dry your skin." Why? She attributes it to the concentration of the BP. “Lots of patients don't realize that the percentage of benzoyl peroxide doesn't change the efficacy of the ingredient. Whether it's 5% or 10%, it's equally effective for the treatment of acne, but the increase in percentage increases irritation. The reason benzoyl peroxide is so effective in treating acne is that it delivers oxygen into the pores, which P. acnes (the bacteria responsible for acne) hates. It's a great anti-inflammatory to reduce redness and swelling, and also has a keratolytic effect, breaking down skin cells to prevent clogging as well." Bottom line: This is great for warding off blemishes, but won’t stress out your skin.
Best Moisturizer: CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
Yep, here’s another CeraVe product. This do-it-all moisturizer is an absolute must for anyone and everyone. The rich formula is filled with skin-strengthening ceramides and hyaluronic acid, imparting tons of moisture but still without feeling greasy or heavy. Have sensitive skin? This is a great option, fragrance-free, super gentle, and boasting a recommendation from the National Eczema Association. Oh, and did we mention that it works equally well on both face and body? Because it does.
What Our Editors Say
"This is one of my stranded-on-a-desert-island products. I've tried a lot of moisturizers, but this is the best value out there. It calms my skin and works well with the exfoliants and retinol in my routine. You also can't beat the price. It's luscious, gentle, and less than $20. What more could you ask for? —Madeline Hirsh, Senior News Editor
Best Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Oil-Free Mattifying Moisturizer
Slightly pricier than some other drugstore brands (though again, still relatively inexpensive all things considered), La Roche-Posay products are recommended time and time again for their effective, ingredient-driven, and very gentle formulas. Take this moisturizer, which uses sebulyse technology to both tamp down shine and minimize the look of prominent pores. "Usually, those with oily skin deal with blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples," says Rachel Nazarian, MD, of New York's Schweiger Dermatology Group. "This pick is a great daily moisturizer that's mattifying and works well under makeup—almost like a primer. It’s non-comedogenic and safe for those who are acne-prone."
Best Moisturizer for Oily Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Water Gel
Yes, you need to use a moisturizer, even if you have oily skin. The trick is seeking out water-based gels that rely on hyaluronic acid, a lightweight ingredient that acts like a sponge, locking in hydration without ever feeling oily or greasy. (The plumping effect is just a bonus.“ "Hyaluronic acid products draw in moisture like a magnet and improves your skin's ability to stay hydrated with continued use. It will also minimize fine lines and wrinkles,” says Nazarian. FYI, there’s also a great hyaluronic acid serum in this line.
What Our Testers Say
"Despite its lightness, it seems to soak into the skin and hydrate it from the inside out." — Joline Buscemi, Product Tester
Best Vitamin C Serum: Roc Multi Correxion Revive + Glow Daily Serum
“Applying a vitamin C serum every morning is ideal. The ingredient is a potent antioxidant that helps to combat all of the free radicals from sun and pollution that our skin is exposed to every day,” says Dr. Sheila Farhang, a board-certified dermatologist in Tucson, AZ. Not to mention that vitamin C has also been shown to boost collagen production and is great for helping to fade discoloration, too. The tricky part? Not all vitamin C serums are created equal (there are many different types of vitamin C out there and how the product is formulated plays a huge role). Luckily, Farhang says this wallet-friendly pick is a great drugstore choice. Just a few drops daily help even out your skin almost instantly, and you also get those additional anti-aging benefits with continued use.
Best Scrub: Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub
"Exfoliation is key and necessary to continue the turnover of dead skin cells, even if you have dry skin," Levin says. "This features a blend of skin conditioners and a vitamin complex, so it hydrates while it exfoliates, and is entirely non-irritating, hypoallergenic, and non-comedogenic.” She adds that this makes it an especially good choice for those with sensitive skin, given that it relies on micro-fine bamboo particles to buff off dead cells, rather than potentially more irritating chemical exfoliants, such as alpha-hydroxy acids.
Best Bar: Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar Soap
In case you missed the memo, bar cleansers are back in a big way. The OG Dove Beauty Bar is great, but Nazarian says in her opinion this is the star product, an especially great choice if you have sensitive skin. “It has no perfumes and a moisturizer that helps to rebuild your delicate skin barrier while gently cleansing your skin,” she explains.
Best Retinoid: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum
“Retinoids have long been considered the gold standard when it comes to anti-aging,” says Farhang. They increase collagen production (translation: fewer wrinkles) while also speeding up skin cell turnover (translation: smoother, more even, glowier complexion), she explains. There are lots of great retinoids to be found at the drugstore, but she says Neutrogena makes some of her favorite affordable options. This pick uses a unique form of retinol that works super fast—we’re talking visible results after just one week kind of fast. Plus, it contains hyaluronic acid in the mix, a great way to not only add hydration to the skin to further help smooth away the look of fine lines but also to counteract some of the potentially drying and irritating side effects that can come with retinol use.
Best Acne Treatment: Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment
The active ingredient in this treatment, also a retinoid, was once only available by prescription, making the fact that there’s now an over-the-counter option all the more noteworthy. As mentioned, retinoids help normalize cell turnover, a major win when it comes to keeping pores clear and unclogged. Plus, their skin evening effects are also a great choice for anyone trying to fade marks from leftover blemishes. All you have to do is use a pea-sized amount of this guy all over your face nightly. Give it some time to do its thing—ideally about 12 weeks—but with continued use, it can drastically help clear up your skin.
What Our Editors Say
“When I get the occasional hormonal breakout, this acne-zapping gel is my go-to. It dries out pimples faster than anything I've tried and because of the adapalene (which decreases swelling and inflammation), I'm not left with scarring afterward. It's magic." —Lindsey Metrus, Editorial Project Director
“I've been using Differin since I was a teenager, and it keeps my skin regularly. I've heard dermatologists describe retinoid as like "toothpaste for your skin"—a product that keeps your cells turning over, banishing acne as quickly as it comes. Whenever I stop using Differin, sometimes to try other fancy exfoliators, I experience irritation and oiliness, and I remember the true hero of my skincare routine." —Kathryn Vandervalk, Editorial & Strategy Director
Best Anti-Aging Treatment: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream
Retinoids are great for anti-aging, but they come with the potential for some pretty irksome side effects, such as irritation and redness. That’s where peptides come up huge, the building blocks of the proteins in our skin and another proven anti-aging ingredient that can help smooth lines and wrinkles. They’re the star of the show in this top-selling formula, which also includes niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants for a one-stop youth-boosting shop.
What Our VPs Say
"I've been to the labs, talked to the scientists, and this formula is by far one of the most sophisticated, study-backed formulas you'll ever find on a drugstore shelf." —Leah Wyar, VP
Best SPF: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Tinted Sunscreen For Face SPF 50
Sunscreen is a daily non-negotiable (duh), and Farhang says this is one of her favorites. It checks all of the criteria that she says are important to seek out—broad-spectrum protection of at least SPF 30 and non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores. The featherweight feel and texture melts beautifully into the skin without ever feeling greasy or tacky, while the universal tint helps counteract any of the chalky cast that can sometimes come with other mineral sunscreens. To that point, because this is mineral-based, it’s great for anyone with sensitive or acne-prone skin.
Best Eye Cream: RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream
You can definitely use retinol around your eyes—after all, it is one of the best wrinkle-fighting ingredients there is—but it’s imperative to make sure you’re doing so via a dedicated eye cream. (The skin in this area is the thinnest on the body, upping the likelihood of winding up with irritation.) This one, a classic derm favorite, fits the bill. Dermatologist-tested, it not only smooths crows’ feet but also depuffs and combats dark circles, too. Yes, please.
The drugstore is a veritable treasure trove of great skincare products, and it’s hard to go wrong. That being said, there are some standouts. When it comes to basics, the CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser (view at Dermstore) is a must-try, foamy yet non-stripping, as is the La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Tinted Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50 (view at Ulta) sunscreen, a lightweight formula that won’t clog pores and also has a subtle tint. (It’s also a good idea to layer the vitamin C-based Roc Multi Correxion Revive + Glow Daily Serum (view at Ulta) under your daily sunscreen for an extra boost of antioxidant production.) To up your anti-aging game, retinoids are the gold standard; the Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum (view at Ulta) is one top choice. Or, if you’re looking for a non-retinol option, the peptide-based Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream is a great alternative to help smooth fine lines and wrinkles.
What to Look for in a Drugstore Skincare Product
Consider Skin Type
Just as when shopping for any skincare, consider your particular skin type and needs. There are plenty of choices among any and every product category, and they’re usually labeled as such.
If a product touts a particular active ingredient, such as retinol or vitamin C, do a quick scan of the ingredient label to make sure that that ingredient is as far up on the list as possible. This is the easiest way to ensure you’re actually getting a legit amount of it in the product.
What drugstore skincare brands are dermatologist recommended?
There definitely are a few tried-and-true drugstore brands that are suggested by derms time after time. The fact that there are many repeats on this list of products is proof positive. Some of the big names include Cerave, La Roche-Posay, Neutorgean, and Olay.
Are drugstore skincare products effective?
In short, yes. Many of the products at the drugstore come from major brands that have plenty of money and resources to conduct lots of research and development to find the most effective ingredients and formulas.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. A devout drugstore shopper, many of the staples in her skincare routine are drugstore buys.
Meet the Expert
Melissa K. Levin is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Entière Dermatology in New York City.
Rachel Nazarian is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in New York City. She’s also a faculty member at Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Department of Dermatology.
Sheila Farhang is a board-certified dermatologist at Avant Dermatology + Aesthetics in Tucson, Arizona. She’s also a double fellowship-trained cosmetic surgeon and MOHS skin cancer surgeon.