Your Cheat Sheet To Drugstore Skin Care

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
We’ve all been there: standing in the middle of the skin-care aisle at the drugstore, staring at row after row of bottles, jars, and tubes, all beckoning us. Which brand is best? SPF 15 or 30? Soy or retinol? What’s the point of toners anyway? With so many questions, you find your head exploding with information, and suddenly you’ve left the store without buying anything at all.
Because I know how challenging it can be to successfully navigate that drugstore aisle, I’ve put together my very best tips (along with product recommendations) for smart, fast skin-care shopping. Follow my advice, and I bet you’ll not only start to see the results you’ve been looking for, but you’ll also feel much more confident in that packed skin-care aisle. Click ahead to find out how to shop like a skin-care genius at the drugstore.
1 of 27
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Bar soaps and bar cleansers, although they might be labeled moisturizing, tend to have a drying effect. Even those that don’t contain true soap ingredients can still leave a residue on the skin. Over time, the residue makes skin look dull and may reduce the effectiveness of other products (like your favorite anti-aging treatment). A gentle, water-soluble cleanser will remove excess oil without stripping skin and will also adeptly remove most types of makeup (double-duty beauty!).
2 of 27
This all-purpose cleanser (good for all skin types) has a price-to-performance ratio that's tough to beat.
3 of 27
Excellent for sensitive skin because of its fragrance-free formula, this generously sized foaming cleanser is great for oily skin and won't leave you with that unpleasant, tight, dry feeling.

CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser, $10.13, available at
4 of 27
Because of its fragrance-free formula, this cleanser is wonderful for sensitive complexions, especially for slightly dry or combination skin types.
5 of 27
An ideal gel option for oily or combination skin, this cleanser will leave your face feeling smooth rather than stripped.
6 of 27
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Scrubs are so 1985, especially those that use ground walnuts or fruit pits as the abrasive (and I do mean abrasive) ingredients. You can't scrub away skin problems like blackheads, red marks from breakouts, or white bumps, but using the wrong scrub can make all of those issues worse.

Instead, have an “aha moment” by choosing a leave-on AHA exfoliant. Applied once or twice daily on clean skin, AHA (alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid) exfoliants renew skin’s texture, make skin tone more even, reduce bumps and brown spots, and spur collagen production. Scrubs can’t compete! Now, there aren’t many well-formulated AHA exfoliants at the drugstore, but there are some reliable picks.
7 of 27
This AHA formula has a texture that lends itself to well to skin that suffers from both aging and breaks at the same time.
8 of 27
This overnight peel with alpha hydroxy acids blends tried-and-true AHA glycolic acid with lesser-known but quite effective acids for a gentle exfoliant best for normal to dry skin.
9 of 27
This is a night resurfacing elixir that has an elegant, serum-gel texture that treats skin to exfoliation. It includes anti-aging peptides and green tea, and its fragrance-free formula is great for all skin types.
10 of 27
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Don’t skip the sunscreen, ever. At least not if you want to keep your skin as even, firm, and wrinkle-free as possible. Since most of us tend to under-apply this product (and, really, who can blame us given how heavy most sunscreens feel), go for products with an SPF of at least 30.

If in doubt about whether to choose a lotion or cream texture, opt for the lotion. You can always apply a dab of moisturizer for extra smoothing of drier areas. Critical tip: Check the label of any SPF product you’re considering to make sure it states “broad spectrum protection.” Don’t see that? Move on. You want the most protection for your money, right?
11 of 27
An SPF that feels creamy yet light and is loaded with skin-defending antioxidants, this formula is best for normal to dry skin, including dry skin that's prone to breakouts.
12 of 27
Under $20, this SPF has a silky lotion texture that those with normal to oily skin will appreciate; plus, it treats skin to anti-aging superstar retinol while working beautifully under makeup.

RELATED: Getting A Faux Glow Is Easier Than You Think
13 of 27
This is the high-level SPF moisturizer for those with oily, breakout-prone skin who hate how most sunscreens feel. It's so light that it's hard to believe it packs such a heavy, anti-wrinkle punch.
14 of 27
Although it won't lift sagging skin (sad but true), it feels wonderfully silky as it protects normal to slightly dry skin from the number-one cause of wrinkles, brown spots, and sagging: sun exposure.
15 of 27
Say “yes” to this moisturizing SPF if you have dry skin. Gentle mineral actives mix with moisturizing agents for a creamy texture that won’t feel greasy or interfere with makeup application.
16 of 27
Truly sheer, this moisturizing SPF feels surprisingly light on the face; it's a great SPF with a non-shiny finish that provides light hydration.
17 of 27
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Surprisingly, jar packaging often isn't the best choice. Any moisturizer worth buying should contain a range of antioxidants as well as other proven anti-aging ingredients like soothing plant extracts or retinol. Those ingredients break down with repeated exposure to light and air — which is exactly what happens each time you open a jar.
18 of 27
This is the go-to formula I recommend for those who want a bona fide beauty bargain in a lightweight lotion base that does much to rebuild skin’s barrier. You get substantial moisturizing without heaviness — or fragrance, which is a top cause of allergic reactions in skin-care products.
19 of 27
A state-of-the-art formula for normal to dry skin, this anti-aging potion contains mineral pigments that add a soft-focus effect that helps to blur wrinkles and even out skin tone.
20 of 27
Use this if you have sensitive, highly reactive, and dry skin. The gentle, yet highly emollient, formula can even double as a good eye cream!
21 of 27
This ought to appeal to people with combination to oily skin who also prefer natural products. The sheer formula is laced with proven antioxidants and repairing ingredients that hydrate without leaving any heaviness.
22 of 27
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
The drugstore is not an ideal place to find great acne products unless you know precisely which ones to buy. The reason? Most acne wares at the drugstore are front-loaded with irritants like alcohol, menthol, peppermint, eucalyptus, and witch hazel. All of these can make acne worse because irritation stimulates oil production at the base of the pores and can impair skin’s ability to heal.
23 of 27
This acne cream contains 10% benzoyl peroxide. That might sound like a high amount, but some will find that it’s what’s needed to squelch those pesky pimples.
24 of 27
I love this elegant disinfectant for killing acne-causing bacteria with 5.5% of the gold-standard active ingredient benzoyl peroxide. The product's anti-irritants reduce redness, and the light texture can be used all over the face or just where needed.
25 of 27
A mask that nixes fragrance in favor of soothing plant ingredients, this works to reduce redness as it (gently) sucks up excess oil before it can clog your pores.
26 of 27
This one cleanses and provides a mild scrub effect, which can help remove superficial blackheads; it also provides a more thorough removal of excess oil that often accompanies breakouts.
27 of 27
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Surprising but true: Most eye creams hardly differ from their facial-moisturizer counterparts. You can confirm this yourself by examining the ingredients between the two products. You may not know what each ingredient does (or how to pronounce it), but you will see many overlapping components. Most of us can get away with applying our regular, well-formulated facial moisturizer around our eyes, too. And, don’t forget that during the day, an eye cream that doesn’t provide sun protection could be setting you up for more wrinkles and darker under-eye circles.

NEXT: Get A Perfectly Clear Complexion NOW

More from Skin Care


R29 Original Series