Whenever we reach out to dermatologists about the best skin-care products, drugstore brands like CeraVe, Cetaphil, and Neutrogena always seem to top the list (even when the story is not drugstore-specific and they have the option to recommend much more expensive options). The fact is, plenty of the moisturizers you can find on the shelf of your local Duane Reade have everything you need — ceramides, hyaluronic acids, glycerin, and other dermatologist-preferred ingredients — without the high price tag. And so, here, we did get specific, and asked five dermatologists to hone in on the best of the wallet-friendly best. The names that follow will probably all be familiar to you — but now just may be the time you give them a second look.
Best overall drugstore moisturizer
Four out of five of the dermatologists we interviewed recommend CeraVe PM. (And no, you don’t only have to use it at night — even though that’s when you’ll get its fullest effect.) As Dr. Sapna Palep of Spring Street Dermatology notes, “It’s good for many different types of skin, extremely affordable, and extremely versatile.” Our dermatologists suggested it for skin types as varied as the acne-prone, the dry, the sensitive, the normal, and for facial psoriasis, too. That’s because of its key, deeply hydrating ingredients. Not only does it have ceramides, which reinforce the skin’s barrier to help the skin retain moisture, but it also has hyaluronic acid, which is a humectant that draws water into the skin. And Dr. Jennifer MacGregor of Union Square Laser Dermatology points out that because it’s a lighter formula, it won’t clog pores (hence the acne-prone suitability). Plus, to add to its versatility, if you use a retinol at night, Dr. Katelyn Woolridge of Westlake Dermatology says this moisturizer can “combat side effects and minimize redness and peeling” by restoring the lipid barrier of your skin. You might also consider the matching moisturizer with SPF for morning.
Runner-up best overall drugstore moisturizer
While not recommended quite as often as the PM version of Cerave, this slightly thicker cream works for almost as many skin types, says Woolridge, including normal, dry, and acne-prone. (It’s similar to our best-rated pick, but unlike the PM cream, it doesn’t have niacinamide, which calms inflammation and repairs a compromised skin barrier.) But it does have all the other buzz-word ingredients, including the aforementioned ceramides and hyaluronic acid that are so effective at drawing and locking in moisture. And because it does indeed “provide around the clock moisture,” according to Palem, she even recommends this cream for those dry, flaky patches associated with eczema.
When treating acne, MacGregor tends to recommend the entire La Roche Posay Effaclar treatment system, which provides patients with a cleanser, toner, and spot treatment. And to complement that plan, she loves the moisturizer for that line because it specifically targets oily and acne-prone skin: It contains LHA to tighten enlarged pores and refine the skin’s texture, as well as Zinc Pidolate to neutralize any shine. It’s also a lightweight, non-comedogenic cream that won’t clog pores or cause any further irritation as patients are trying to treat the acne that’s already there.
Best drugstore moisturizer for oily skin
Although they’re typically grouped together, not every patient with oily skin has acne. While oily skin patients could benefit from the La Roche-Posay Effaclar moisturizer, too, Palep also suggests this Cetaphil moisturizer, which also made our list of top moisturizers for oily skin. “It has a micropearl technology that absorbs surface oil, while giving UV protection, moisturizing the skin, and reducing shine,” she says. And it, too, is non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog the pores and potentially cause acne.
Best drugstore moisturizer for dry skin
This Neutrogena moisturizer has not only hit our Best-Sellers list five times, but it’s also come recommended to us by dozens of dermatologists for dry skin, mature skin, sunburned skin, accutane-users, and even for pregnant women. Palep loves this formula for dry skin because it’s loaded with hyaluronic acid, which “acts like a sponge,” soaking up moisture. It’s a gel-cream, so it “absorbs quickly but has the power of a cream moisturizer” and deeply hydrates parched complexions. It’s also fragrance-, oil-, and dye-free, so it can work on sensitive skin-types, too.
Best drugstore moisturizer for extremely dry skin
When it comes to extremely dry skin, Woolridge recommends patients look for an ointment over a cream. “Ointments are the best at fortifying the skin barrier and locking in moisture,” she notes. Aquaphor is her “go-to option” because it’s a sensitive skin-friendly, multi-purpose ointment — the formula is mainly petrolatum, which is a skin-protectant — that actually repairs cracked, flaking skin from the inside out.
Best drugstore moisturizer for sensitive skin
Woolridge admits it’s “very difficult to manage sensitive skin because it can be hard to determine which ingredient is the culprit.” While you’re figuring out what exactly you’re sensitive too — or if you just want to play it safe — she calls Vanicream an “excellent option.” It’s free of the most common allergens within skincare products, like “fragrance, dyes, formaldehyde, and formaldehyde releasers,” so it limits (or basically prevents) your chances of reacting. Despite how clean it is, it still manages to be effective, says Woolridge — and the petrolatum (also the main ingredient in Aquaphor) immediately hydrates dry, cracked skin.
Best drugstore moisturizer for eczema
Dermatologists recommend patients with eczema — a condition that causes inflammation, itching, and dryness on the skin — look for ingredients like colloidal oatmeal because it’s “naturally anti-inflammatory,” as Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology notes. But it also contains ingredients like ceramides, which will hydrate the flaking skin those with eczema can experience. Aveeno has multiple products within their eczema therapy line, including a cream and a body wash, but this balm is their thickest — and intended to soothe even the driest of skin.
Psoriasis is another finicky, unique condition that, like eczema, needs to be monitored by your dermatologist. There’s “no way to moisturize psoriasis away,” says Nazarian, but there are over-the-counter options that can soothe the affected skin for the time being. Nazarian recommends patients look for a cream that contains salicylic acid, like CeraVe SA, “to resurface the scaling” that appears with psoriasis and help remove the excess skin that causes the “scaly appearance” of psoriatic plaques. But she doesn’t suggest patients use this daily — more like once a week, along with a daily moisturizer. Even with such limited use, you should notice a “smoothing out” of those psoriasis plaques, Nazarian says.
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