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You never forget your first trip to the skincare section at the drugstore. When I was about 11 years-old, my mom took me to our local drugstore to buy the essentials. As a '90s kid, that included Noxzema, various Clearasil products, Jergens lotion (it smelled—and still smells, like cherries and almonds) and per my mom’s advice Olay moisturizer in a plastic white bottle with a black cap.
Since then, I’ve been a cult drugstore skincare aficionado. While I own and use some luxury products, I always seem to return to my tried-and-true drugstore skincare products. They are packed with ingredients that produce results at an affordable price.
Now in my 40s, I pay attention to my purchases with an eagle eye. Not only do I desire skincare products that prevent aging and wrinkles, but I’m also on the lookout for gentle options and those that supply a serving of SPF. Ahead, some of the best drugstore skincare products for your 40s. Spoiler: they are all under $30. Below, find my favorites with a sign-off from a dermatologist.
Meet the Expert
Angie Seelal is a physician assistant specializing in dermatology. She is a member of many prestigious associations including the American Academy of Physician Assistants, the National Psoriasis Foundation, the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants, and the New York State Society of Physician Assistants.
Whether I have makeup on or went au naturel (chapstick and mascara), I always reach for micellar water at the end of a long day. Bioderma Sensibo H2O Micellar Cleansing Water is free of soap, alcohol, and fragrance. In a word, it’s refreshing. Micellar cleansers are formulated by suspending surfactants in water (surfactants work like little magnets by attracting and removing oils and dirt). My skin not only feels squeaky clean but also rejuvenated. This particular brand contains glycerides, which provide an occlusive barrier to keep water locked in—it’s like a tall glass of water for my skin.
Garnier Green Labs Smoothing Milk Wash is a gentle, milky facial cleanser that aims to improve dehydrated skin and fine lines, resulting in smoother, bouncier skin. "Aside from tasting great, watermelon is full of antioxidants such as lycopene—and also vitamin C and A, which helps reduce and neutralize free radicals that can slow down the signs of aging," Seelal tells us. "When paired with hyaluronic acid, you’ll see and feel a boost in hydration."
Hyperpigmentation can be frustrating—trust me, I know. But, good news, you'll be in the clear with this treatment from Olay. "One of the main benefits of topical niacinamide (B3) is that it helps prevent the development of discolored patches on your skin," Seelal says. "Niacinamide has been shown to reduce inflammation, which can help tone down redness, acne and increase the thickness of the stratum corneum (the top layer of your skin)." Seelal notes when paired with vitamin C, you’ll get double the skin brightening benefits.
I wear SPF on my face daily. But, I admit it was hard finding one that wasn’t greasy and heavy—and worked with makeup. That’s why I love this skincare product from Aveeno. "The proteins in soy help reduce and diminish redness and blotchy coloring on the skin," Seelal says. "Sun exposure on any red marks or spots on the face have an increased risk of becoming a dark or hyper-pigmented mark—sunblock helps prevent scarring." That said, you should still be applying an SPF on top for effective protection (at least SPF 30!).
I apply this eye cream daily and I promise you—you will see results, because I have. We can thank retinol, a derivative of vitamin A for that transformation, which includes softening and preventing fine lines and wrinkles. "Retinol also encourages collagen production, lessening the appearance of brown spots, increasing cell turnover, and improving skin texture," Seelal says. "It’s also an ingredient composed of smaller molecules, so it’s able to penetrate the skin deeply. Retinol contributes to vascular support in the area and the recovery of skin volume and firmness. This helps reduce puffiness, fine lines, and wrinkles especially under the eyes."
This two-step mask and peel activator will give you professional results for less than $20. "Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, so it protects your skin from premature aging by neutralizing free radicals," Seelal explains. "It also helps to repair existing damage by spurring collagen production and blocking excess melanin formation—which translates to your skin becoming firmer, more even-toned, and radiant." The physician assistant also pointed out that AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) exfoliate the surface layer of the skin. Key ingredients, glycolic acid and lactic acid, are the most common and effective AHA. Together they help brighten and improve the appearance of your skin.
The Age Perfect Cell Renewal Night Cream helps address common signs of visible skin aging. It is formulated with LHA and Lipo Acid. "LHA stands for lipo-hydroxy acid," Seelal says. "It’s a gentle exfoliating ingredient derived from salicylic acid; the lipo part of its name means it's drawn to the lipids (or oils) in your skin."
LHA helps smooth the surface of the skin by enhancing its natural, dead-cell-shedding process. It also reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and keeps pores clear. "As for Natecium DHC, the powerful antioxidant is derived from orange peels," Seelal adds. "It helps defend skin against cell degradation as a result of sun exposure."
Don’t forget your lips. Seelal says lip masks can help moisturize dry, cracked lips, temporarily erasing lip lines. Nourishing and moisturizing ingredients like sea kelp and berries power the SooAE My Collagen Hydrogel Lip Patch. Wear this patch for 15 minutes and you’ll be left with an ultra-soft and plumped pout.
When it comes to a daily skincare routine, I think most of us automatically think about face products. However, it’s important not to neglect every other inch of our bodies—especially as we approach the summer season when we tend to show a little more skin. Nivea's Body Lotion is another affordable drugstore option that has a permanent spot on my bathroom vanity. "It can firm and improve skin elasticity with the help of ingredients like Q10 and vitamin C," according to Seelal.