Drug Store Skincare Products: What’s Good and What Isn’t

Hi. first I wanted to say I appreciate all the helpful information you give on your site. It's so helpful, so thank you for doing that for us. Ok so i'm confused. In one of your posts I read (I believe it was the one on budget skincare) that you said you can't recommend any drug store brands because they do not really have enough strength in them to do anything.... but then I read in your (skincare myths) section you say there are a lot of good international drug store names that can be good ??

Thank you for pointing this out. I can clarify. What I was trying to say is better described below.

Which drug store skincare products are good:

  1. For gentle cleansers, moisturizers, and basic acne medications, the drug store products may be a good, inexpensive option. Brands like CeraVe, Cetaphil, Eucerin, Neutrogina, and Vanicream all have some of these in larger sizes at good prices. The larger sizes are especially nice, if you need to lotion your whole body every day. This is true if you have atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, or just really dry skin. The downside is that these brands have more chemicals in them. Vanicream is better on this front and is formulated for those with skin allergies.
  2. For sunscreens, my bias is toward more minerals and fewer chemicals. The chemicals are harder on our system and our environment. Zinc is still the best, but it’s expensive generally.  Look for sunscreens with 7-20% zinc depending on how much you are outdoors (Zinc is more important than the SPF, here’s why). Most of the higher zinc sunscreens are sold by doctors or in some salons. The web products which look identical sometimes are counterfeit (see my other blog post on this here). One of my patients mentioned recently, that she finally found a high zinc sunscreen in the drugstore. Might be worth looking for!

Which drug store products to avoid:

  1. All of the more difficult to formulate skin care products! These include the Vitamin C serums and creams, all other antioxidants, and the retinols (unless the exact concentration is listed).  Most of the more advanced products have processes to make them that are expensive. When a company tries to make the process cheaper, the quality usually suffers.
  2. Avoid drug store products that are marketing to you their peptides, vitamins in a cream, whatever the latest hot thing is……be careful!
  3. Sunscreens to avoid are the ones that say one thing, but contain another. But then when you check the active percentage on the back, it’s almost nothing like 1-3%. Look for zinc or zinc plus titanium in 7-20%. If you’re not outdoors much, you don’t need the higher percentages.  Most drugstore sunscreens are chemical heavy.

Sometimes you just get what you pay for!!

Hope this helps, Dr. I

Recommended readings:

What “over the counter” retinol and vitamin C brands are good?


Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

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Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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