Unlike fashion, the beauty industry relies on a mix of marketing, trends and actual science to keep you looking your best. And while it can feel really luxurious to drop a lot of money on a fancy skin care product in the name of self-care, sometimes the best product for the job isn’t the one with the highest price tag.
“It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on skin care products,” confirms Dr. Elyse M. Love, who notes that most dermatologists use drugstore products in their own skin care routines. Still, the reasons behind triple-digit costs vary widely: “Sometimes it’s because an ingredient is difficult to formulate, sometimes it’s because the product has undergone thorough clinical testing, sometimes it’s because the product delivers an active ingredient with less irritation — and sometimes it’s purely marketing.”
We’re all for treating yourself, but it helps to know when you might need to drop some serious cash on a product and when the more affordable option will work just as well. “Certain ingredients like botanical extracts and antioxidants like vitamin C tend to cost more, which is why many products containing these ingredients are more expensive,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Department of Dermatology. He regularly recommends brands like Aquaphor and Cetaphil, which he says are staple brands for many dermatologists. “There are many products available right at your local drugstore, which may work as well if not better than competitors’, that cost double the amount,” he says.
Ahead, check out the affordable, under-$20 skin care products that dermatologists recommend by name.
“This toner combines glycolic and salicylic acids to help remove dirt, oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin to brighten the complexion and minimize the appearance of pores,” says Zeichner.
“My favorite cleanser for winter is the Neutrogena Hydroboost Cleansing Gel,” says Love. “It provides adequate cleansing without stripping the skin.”
“Aveeno’s Oat and Pumpkin Mask is a great option to hydrate and protect inflamed skin,” says Zeichner. “Colloidal oatmeal has anti-inflammatory properties, while pumpkin seed oil is rich in emollient oils to soothe the skin.”
“This is a great drugstore brand antioxidant,” says Zeichner. “It contains 10% vitamin C in a stabilized anhydrous delivery system to help brighten and even skin tone.”
According to both Love and Zeichner, this body wash is a go-to drugstore favorite. “Its hypoallergenic formula uses ultra-gentle cleansers along with the same type of hydrating ingredients found in traditional moisturizers,” says Zeichner.
Differin’s vitamin A acne treatment is prescription strength — and one of Love’s favorite under-$20 skin care products.
Love also recommends this no-frills body lotion, which has more than 4,000 5-star reviews.
“This contains triple-purified petrolatum in a nongreasy, easy-to-spread lotion to help hydrate and protect dry skin,” says Zeichner.
Love recommends CeraVe’s hand cream because it’s packed with hyaluronic acid, a moisturizing molecule that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water.
“I also love La Roche-Posay Double Repair for dry skin,” says Love. The niacinamide-rich moisturizer has more than 4,000 5-star reviews on Amazon.
“I love Avène products for patients with sensitive skin,” says Love, who recommends this face mist to keep your face feeling fresh and moisturized throughout the day.
Avène’s Micellar Water is great for removing makeup without stripping the skin of its natural moisture barrier, according to Love.
“Brands like Cetaphil are a staple for the dermatologist,” says Zeichner, who recommends it to patients with sensitive skin. “It has a long heritage of being an effective, well-tolerated and affordable option for our patients.” And we can personally vouch for the greatness of its cleanser, which leaves skin still moisturized after washing in the morning and at night.
“My favorite oily skin cleanser is the Neutrogena Grapefruit Salicylic Acid Wash,” says Love. “The smell just makes me happy.”
And if chapped lips season is already well underway for you, Zeichner recommends Aquaphor as a no-frills option for moisturized lips.