Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Good skincare doesn't have to be expensive skincare—and while so many products on the market suggest otherwise, it's the truth. In fact, some of our favorite tools are under $20 and the highest-rated sunscreen on the market is offered at Walgreens. We use a $6 product for glowing skin (trust, it's blinding). Drugstore face masks are actually incredible. Essentially, there are drugstore products with effectiveness on par with prestige, and all you need is an expert to suggest the right one.
So we did just that. Over email, dozens of dermatologists listed their favorite drugstore products and offered explanations as to why they work. To say the least, the calibre of skincare offered at such affordable prices is shocking. Let's get started, shall we?
Below, find the best drugstore skincare products for your cleansing, moisturizing, and wrinkle-reducing needs.
"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."
"Also," Levin continues, "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."
Though it's on the pricier side of the drugstore spectrum, La Roche-Posay products are one of the most recommended brands tenfold. They just work really well. This one contains sebulyse technology to neutralize shine and visibly tighten your 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 noncomedogenic and safe for those who are acne-prone."
Packaged in handy wipe form, Dickinson's towelettes will tone your pores, remove excess oil and shine, balance the production of oil in your skin, protect against breakouts, and soothe your skin throughout the day. They're an all-in-one skin savior when you just can't anymore (see: trying to commute in the humid weather or cleansing your face when you're running late). "These contain witch hazel, which is a natural astringent," says Dendy Engelman, MD, a surgeon at New York's Medical Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. "They help refine pores, remove excess oil, soothe irritation, and maintain your skin's natural balance."
This lightweight water gel quenches and continuously hydrates skin from the moment you pat it on. It contains hyaluronic acid and olive extract to plump up your skin, and it even works like a sponge to lock moisture in, so your skin stays smooth and supple without an oily or greasy feel. "Typically, this is for someone with tight, sometimes dull-looking skin," notes Nazarian. "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 (which can be enhanced in dry skin)."
You can use this multipurpose cream for just about any skin ailment. It's great for eczema, psoriasis, ichthyosis, winter itch, and dry skin. In fact, it can be used as a night cream, for massages, and as a daily moisturizing cream for your face, hands, and body as well. "It's a super-inexpensive product and comes in an easy-to-use pump," says Nazarian. "It's one of the best things for dry skin. It has ceramides, moisturizing emollients, and doesn't have perfumes, masking fragrances, or parabens. It's absolutely wonderful. I usually recommend people apply it after the shower daily." Dr. Ted Lain, of Austin's Sanova Dermatology in Austin, TX, adds, "It's great to use products with humectants such as glycerin and lactic acid to increase hydration in your skin and fatty acids to seal in the hydration."
"Exfoliation is key and necessary in order to continue the turnover of dead skin cells, even when it comes to dry skin," Levin says. "It features a blend of skin conditioners and a vitamin complex, so it's hydrating while it exfoliates, and entirely non-irritating, hypoallergenic, and noncomedogenic. I recommend incorporating an alpha-hydroxy acid product or for those with more sensitive skin, a gentle exfoliating cleanser like Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub as a great entry point that uses fine micro-particles from bamboo extract to buff and soften the skin."
In skincare, especially if your skin is sensitive, the more essential fatty acids a formula has, the better. This four-ingredient serum nourishes your skin with avocado, geranium, turmeric, and coffee oils. Each ingredient works to support your skin's natural healing, providing hydration, comfort, and moisture.
Turmeric oil is full of anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. It brightens complexions, diminishes fine lines, boosts collagen production, and protects against environmental stressors.
"If your skin is often red, irritated, and sensitive to many products—use Dove's Sensitive Skin Beauty Bars," suggests Nazarian. "It has no perfumes and a moisturizer that helps to rebuild your delicate skin barrier while gently cleansing your skin. This brand has been around forever (well, since the '50s) and this is (in my humble opinion) their star product."
"This product soothes skin and restores skin barriers via Cer-Omega, which is derived from evening primrose and rich in omega-6 and ceramides," says Engelman. It's non-greasy, calms itching and inflammation, and even makes use of Avène's cult-favorite Thermal Spring Water ($18) to soothe your skin and ensure it stays soft. "It feels good to apply and even better when you realize it lessens the intensity of skin flare-ups."
Once a prescription-only product, Differin Gel has since become an over-the-counter favorite for those looking to minimize the look and feel of wrinkles and fine lines. "Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, has been demonstrated to stimulate your own production of hyaluronic acid, collagen, and elastin, leading to thickening of your skin," Melissa Doft, MD, of New York's Doft Plastic Surgery, explains. "The thickening helps lines to be less visible, reversing crepiness and the look of thin, sagging skin."
Levin agrees: "The truly tried-and-proven, vitamin A–derivative ingredient has been long studied since the '80s, and has been proven to improve the appearance of wrinkles, diminish brown spots, and even out discoloration in the skin. At the cellular level, retinoids work by increasing collagen formation, decreasing breakdown of collagen, and normalizing cell turnover."
"These sheet masks combine several ingredients that work harmoniously together to give you brighter, younger-looking skin," says Engelman. "This happens as sheet masks use the material to trap active ingredients on the skin, forcing it to lock in moisture and receive all the benefits. Sheet masks prevent loss of product through evaporation. Depending on the material, the sheet can help deliver products deeper into the skin. My favorite masks give a healthy glow, hydrate the skin, and help with inflammation."
Over time, your skin can start to lose that ever-elusive glow, the type of pink-y radiance that keeps skin looking young and hydrated. This rosy moisturizer offers an instant boost, as it's infused with peony and lipo-hydroxy acid (a derivative of salicylic acid) to gently exfoliate and stimulate surface cell renewal. "Long-term free-radical damage is at the top of the list of skin concerns for aging skin," says Nazarian. L'Oréal's Age Perfect Cell Renewal Rosy Tone Moisturizer improves skin texture and color with continued use.