Skin Care Products on a Budget

My Recommendations and Reviews

Cosmetic companies have great marketing departments that tout new magic ingredients every season.  Or they make skin care seem complicated, so you buy more products.

Luckily, it’s possible to keep skin care simple and affordable.  And there are excellent, affordable products to maintain that youthful glow for those of us past thirty.

A Good General Skin Care Regimen

Everyone Needs:

  • A gentle cleanser
  • A moisturizer
  • A good sunscreen

For those over 30 – 35, you need to add:

  • An antioxidant in the morning
  • A retinoid (Vitamin A cream) in the evening

(If you have acne or very oily skin, you’ll need different products.  Here are Dr. Irwin’s Acne and Oil Control Product Recommendations).

Let’s take the antioxidant and retinoid products first.  These types of products are surrounded with the most confusion, but I can simplify it for you.

The antioxidants and retinoids are not cheap, but these are two types of products where you need to spend some money to get an effective product.  Later, we’ll save you money on the cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreens.

You can buy some of these products from our own shopping cart, or from a good online skin care product seller). We get a commission if you buy from them, but that is the only way I pay back the cost of building and maintaining this website. Please remember that I have no financial ties to any cosmetic company. So my product recommendations are completely unbiased.


If you’re over 40, use an antioxidant product in the morning. I recommend (scroll down to see these):

I also have some others shown below that I like.

These are expensive, I realize. And you usually have to get them from your doctor or online. And while I can heartily recommend drugstore cleansers and moisturizers, I cannot recommend the drugstore antioxidants. The concentrations in drugstore antioxidants are too low.

Consumer Reports agrees with me on this, too. They studied drugstore wrinkle creams and found no improvement discernible by the naked eye.Consumer Reports wrote, “You are probably going to need products available only from your doctor – and even then, don’t expect miracles.” They went on to recommend the Vitamin A derivatives, otherwise known as retinoids.


Retinoids are the gold standard in wrinkle creams and have lots of science behind them. You have two options:

  1. Get a prescription from your doctor for Retin-A or Renova;
  2. Get an over-the counter retinol like SkinMedica Tri-Retinol Complex ($55)

These retinoids are not cheap either. The prescription ones cost about $150 for a 6 months supply. What about the drugstore products with retinol? As with the antioxidants, I think you need the greater concentrations found in the above products.

So that’s it. For those of us over 30-35, use the antioxidant in the morning and the retinoid in the evening. Your retinoid will come with instructions, but be sure to use sunscreen if you are using a retinoid product.


Hopefully the antioxidants and retinoids didn’t break your budget. Now, on cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreens, you can save yourself some money.

Try these cleansers from your drugstore:

  • Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser—for dry or sensitive skin
  • Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser for Normal to Oily Skin—for normal to oily skin
  • Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Foam Cleanser—for oily or acne-prone skin

For more expensive recommendations here are very nice cleansers I can recommend.


These deserve some attention because moisturizers are worth using.

Here are some drugstore options that are really affordable:

  • Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion—for normal, sensitive skin
  • Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream—for dry, sensitive skin
  • Neutrogena Healthy Skin Lotion—for normal to dry skin
  • Olay Total Restoration Lotion—for normal to dry skin

Here are some more expensive moisturizers I can recommend.


You’ve heard it before, but it’s really true: Sunscreen is the most important product you can use on your skin every day.

Sunscreens and sun protection are the single best way to prevent prematurely aged skin, age spots, brown spots, leathery-looking skin, skin cancers, and the deadly skin cancer, melanoma. In fact, melanoma is the biggest cause of cancer deaths among kids in their twenties. But – take Vitamin D3, 1,000 units daily.

Here are some good sunscreens available at drugstores and department stores:

  • Clinique City Block Sheer Oil-Free Daily Face Protector –SPF 15—normal/oily (at department stores)
  • Lancôme UV Expert 20 with Mexoryl SX—SPF 20 (at department stores)
  • Neutrogena Healthy Defense SPF 30 Daily Moisturizer (at drugstores)
  • Blue Lizard Face Sunscreen SPF 30 (at many drugstores)
  • Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 15 with Parsol 1789(at many drugstores)

Affordable Splurge?

What if you get tired of scrimping and want an affordable splurge? Here are a couple products that make me feel like royalty:

  • Eminence Honeydew Body Lotion ($28):this organic body product smells good enough to eat, yet is not cloying and doesn’t linger too long on my skin. And it has that perfect blend of richness and absorbability.
  • Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant ($50): this is a more gently microfoliant made with rice powder grains. It won’t harm your skin. Use it one to three times a week depending on your skin.

More information:
Dr. Irwin’s Skin Rejuvenation Plans on a Budget
Dr. Irwin’s Skin Care Product Regimen

Next, learn about Skin Rejuvenation on a Budget

See Dr. Irwin’s expert answers to other reader’s questions on skin care products on a budget:
What can I accomplish with skin care products? I’m on a budget!