It seemed like every time I would leave a dermatologist's office, the doctor would send me off with samples of Neutrogena face cream. Then, when I became a beauty editor, most derms I interviewed for stories would recommend a Neutrogena product.
The constant availability of samples in the dermatologist offices and the fact that Neutrogena is a mass-market brand made me wonder if there were some sort of secret contract in place. But even off-the-record chats with dermatologist friends involved mention of the drugstore giant as one of the best skincare brands.
So what, exactly, makes dermatologists go gaga for Neutrogena products? We decided to find out.
Founded By: Emanuel Stolaroff, 1930
Based In: Los Angeles
Best Known For: Providing high-quality, cutting-edge products at affordable prices
Most Popular Products: Hydro Boost Water Gel; Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen
Fun Fact: Neutrogena changed its name from Natone in 1962 to match that of its hero product: the game-changing, amber-colored bar soap that's still sold in drugstores around the world today.
Other Brands You’ll Love: Olay, Cetaphil, CeraVe
"Neutrogena began in 1930 when founder Emanuel Stolaroff started a small specialty cosmetic company called Natone," Former General Manager at Neutrogena Kerry Sullivan explains. "Natone was a supplier to beauty salons usually associated with the glamour of the film industry. Then in the 1940s, Natone began manufacturing and distributing cosmetics for the retail market."
So what sets the brand apart? "Neutrogena is different because of our superior science and commitment to improving skin health," Sullivan continues. Part of that commitment, she says, includes "meet[ing] the needs of our diverse consumers with different skin types, tones, and conditions."
Neutrogena has undoubtedly earned a reputation as an accessible, science-driven skincare brand, offering $30 retinol creams and cleansers under $10. Johnson & Johnson, which owns the Neutrogena brand, is a beauty-industry behemoth that spends billions of dollars on research and development each year. This explains why dermatologists stan for Neutrogena, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
"Being owned by a pharmaceutical company, the products need to go through rigorous testing for stability, skin delivery, and clinical efficacy, which makes the products reliable," Zeichner says. "Neutrogena products generally provide a great balance between quality results and a luxury experience." (Ed. note: Zeichner has served as a consultant for the brand).
Neutrogena isn't a cutting-edge company in every aspect: J&J allows Neutrogena's products to be tested on animals in countries that require it by law at a time when other American skincare brands are increasingly embracing cruelty-free practices. But for skincare aficionados who prioritize high-quality products at super-reasonable prices, Neutrogena products are compelling buys.
Keep reading for our top 11 favorite Neutrogena products.
This Neutrogena face cream is a great example of what the brand does best: affordable, effective products that feel expensive.
The gel-cream is "chock-full of hyaluronic acid, a favorite dermatologist humectant, and has an elegant, lightweight, gel consistency that moisturizes without feeling heavy," says dermatologist Melissa K. Levin, MD, FAAD, founder of Entière Dermatology in New York City. "As a bonus, this moisturizer has glycerin and dimethicone, both powerhouse moisturizing ingredients, and is non-comedogenic, which is appropriate for acne-prone skin."
Read Byrdie's full review of Hydro Boost Water Gel here.
When Neutrogena's Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen was introduced, derms everywhere hailed it as an innovator for its lightweight formula and non-greasy feel.
"There are other sunscreens that feel more luxurious, are more lightweight, or that do more for anti-aging or have additional benefits," explains dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, who practices at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, "But for basic sunscreen and sun protection, Neutrogena is wonderful and affordable. And no one is going to be liberal enough with their sunscreen application if they spent too much on it."
Not to be outdone by the cult classic Ultra Sheer, is this Neutrogena sunscreen, designed to be applied on wet or dry skin. We call that a game-changer.
Like all Neutrogena sunscreens, it's formulated with Helioplex, a breakthrough technology that offers long-lasting, broad-spectrum sun protection, according to the brand. Also, this transparent sunscreen leaves no white cast, making it a fantastic option for those with dark skin.
If you're tired of face washes that obliterate your skin's moisture barrier with harsh surfactants, you just may love this 10-ingredient gentle cleanser.
"This is a great drugstore cleanser that removes dirt and makeup at the end of the day without irritating the skin," Levin says. The fragrance-free, soap-free, hypoallergenic formula is aces for people with dry or sensitive skin or skin conditions like eczema.
"Neutrogena retinol products provide proven efficacy," Zeichner says. "I am a fan of Neutrogena products because they give high-quality, luxury products at affordable prices. I jokingly refer to the brand as being 'mastige:' prestige-quality skincare for the masses."
One of Neutrogena's swankiest retinol products is this oil-serum with 0.3 percent retinol. The lightweight oil has an indulgent feel that most drugstore skincare products just don't have.
Are Neutrogena's skincare products better than luxury-brand products? "Not always better; often equal," Nazarian says. "Sometimes they work just as [well] but are more affordable."
Take this eye cream, a spin-off of best-selling Hydro Boost Water Gel. This refreshing gel-cream contains hyaluronic acid, known for plumping fine lines in addition to deeply hydrating skin. Sure, this eye cream doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, but it's a great value—plus derms say the best eye creams are pretty simple, anyway.
Nazarian praises Neutrogena's "reliable products," saying they're "affordable" and "well-formulated to not cause acne." That includes this budget-friendly eye makeup remover, a drugstore mainstay.
The oil-free formula makes it a smart buy for the acne-prone, plus it's opthalmologist tested, so it shouldn't irritate you if you wear contact lenses. Bonus: Fans swear it's a dupe for the much pricier Lancôme Bi-Facil Double-Action Eye Makeup Remover.
"[Neutrogena's] retinol is superior to some because it's oil-free, and I don't worry about the comedogenicity," Nazarian says. Nazarian recommends Neutrogena products with the anti-wrinkle ingredient Retinol SA, a proprietary technology that blends stabilized retinol with hydrating ingredients, allowing time-released delivery that prevents skin irritation, according to the brand.
Although retinol products shouldn't typically be worn during the daytime—retinol makes skin particularly sensitive—the broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen in this product makes it a great daytime moisturizer for most skin types.
If this shower gel looks like something out of the '70s, that's because it is. But it's a Neutrogena best-seller for a reason: It's a workhorse shower gel and a fantastic value, especially at the 32-ounce size.
Fans love the original scent—a strangely spicy yet fresh fragrance that's not too masculine or too feminine—but it comes in four other scents if you want to switch things up.
Have oily or dull skin? This inexpensive acid toner may be just the ticket to achieving a clear, luminous, even-toned complexion.
Neutrogena's Pore Refining Toner is one of few drugstore toners to contain both alpha and beta hydroxy acids—glycolic acid and salicylic acid—meant to brighten skin and fight acne. It also contains witch hazel meant to tighten pores and control excess oil.
Picture this: You come home after a late night out with the squad, several cocktails deep, then realize you need to wake up early the next day. Do you wash your face before bed? Hell, no.
These moments are why Neutrogena's makeup remover wipes were invented, and they do the job swimmingly. At least one Byrdie editor has been known to pick up a trial-size pack to tuck in her carry-on bag for cleansing skin on long-haul flights.
Jegasothy SM, Zabolotniaia V, Bielfeldt S. Efficacy of a new topical nano-hyaluronic acid in humans. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(3):27-29.
Yin S, Luo J, Qian A, et al. Retinoids activate the irritant receptor TRPV1 and produce sensory hypersensitivity. J Clin Invest. 2013;123(9):3941-3951. doi:10.1172/JCI66413