As much as I love my expensive skincare, I do love a good drugstore staple. When you can get an amazing moisturiser/serum/face wash/eye cream that is just as good as the pricier counterparts, why not take advantage of that? In fact, I would dare to say some of the formulas are even better than the more expensive options. Personally, I'm about 50/50 when it comes to my collection of high street and "designer" skincare products. I like to mix and match, and I'm always updating my rotation with new finds. For example, some days, I could use a drugstore makeup remover, daily moisturiser, and face wash but will apply a £126 vitamin C serum. It's all about a balance, right?
But I understand it can get a little overwhelming when you're shopping the aisles of Boots because there are so many brands and options. To help, I polled a bunch of dermatologists and got a list of their favourite drugstore buys. Here's what they would recommend over and over.
Ope Ofodile, MD, MPH, of Dermatology and Surgery Specialists of North Atlanta recommends CeraVe's foamy cleanser because it's great for sensitive skin but will also adequately cleanse skin of oils, sebum, and makeup. Ife Rodney, MD, FAAD, of Eternal Dermatology and Aesthetics agrees, adding, "You still need a separate cleanser for your face since most soaps can dry out your face and change the pH balance. Cetaphil gently removes dirt without drying your skin using ingredients like vitamin E, B5, and glycerin."
Co-founder and partner of Dermatology and Surgery Specialists of North Atlanta, Kathleen S. Viscusi, MD, FAAD, FACMS, says Pond's Cold Cream Cleanser has been an essential staple in her skincare routine for years. "It not only removes makeup and associated residue (including all things 'waterproof' and makeup intended for heavier coverage), but it is also incredibly moisturising and leaves skin hydrated without being even the slightest bit greasy or oily. And trust me—I've tried everything!"
"It's a great product. While benzoyl peroxide is an OTC favourite for acne, it can often be drying," says Michele Farber, MD, FAAD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group. "This CeraVe wash is a gentle formulation that contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide to moisturise, reduce redness, and most importantly, improve tolerability."
A majority of dermatologists I spoke to recommended Vaseline. "Petroleum jelly has been around for years and remains a medicine-cabinet staple because of its emollient properties, ability to help with skin healing, and safety record," explains Deborah Spey, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group. "It is allergenically inert, meaning you can't be allergic to it. Keep the contents of your jar clean and germ-free and choose a purified, triple-distilled version like Vaseline to avoid dangerous contaminants."
And Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD, FAAD, owner of Vibrant Dermatology and SkinBar MD adds, "I love Vaseline. It's extremely effective for chapped lips and dry skin, can be layered over lipstick, and is extremely hypoallergenic."
"There are times when our skin is just parched, irritated, or over-treated, stripping our natural oils (despite our best intentions when using our skincare products!), and we can feel it," Viscusi says. "I have never found anything that helps me reset more than Vaseline or Aquaphor. There is a reason these ointments are still a gold standard for so many things, including moisturising."
"I recommend Neutrogena's Hydro Boost Water Gel as a great affordable daily moisturiser, as it hydrates the skin without the use of occlusive products that cause a heavy or oily residue," Ofodile says.
"It would help if you had a moisturiser to lock in water after your shower," suggests Rodney. "This cream contains hyaluronic acid, a naturally produced substance that attracts and binds moisture from the environment. It can also heal your skin, repairing those little cracks and dryness that you can't see with the naked eye. CeraVe also contains ceramides, compounds that form a protective layer on your skin to keep moisture longer and protect it from external pollutants."
"If you're looking for a two-in-one product, you can find a moisturiser with added sun protection," Rodney says. "Olay contains ingredients that heal your skin like amino peptides, niacinamide, and vitamin E. With broad-spectrum SPF 30 built in, you won't have to worry about forgetting your sunscreen."
"This skin-nourishing moisturiser has been shown to help reduce the itching and irritation of eczema. It contains colloidal oatmeal and ceramides and is free of steroids and fragrance.," Spey says.
"It has a slight, fresh citrus scent that dissipates quickly as it spreads easily on the skin in a lightweight moisturising formula. The opaque pump dispenser ensures that the vitamin C maintains its potency and the peptides add a next level of cell signaling to maximise the effect," says Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology.
Viscusi recommends this vitamin C serum, which contains 10% vitamin C/ascorbic acid, salicylic acid, and glycerin, a moisturising agent that naturally attracts water to the skin.
"It's a hydrating serum that gives the skin a radiant glow while working to soften fine lines and wrinkles," Ofodile says.
Robinson says this one is a favourite of hers because "it combines low- and high-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid with the gold standard humectant glycerin, vitamin B5, and other hydrators to deliver optimal hydration to the skin by attracting water nine layers deep."
"It is definitely one of my favourite drugstore sunscreen options. Its staying power is amazing even in extreme heat and humidity, and I love its dry-touch texture. You also can't go wrong with UVA/UVB protection!" Viscusi says.
Imahiyerobo-Ip also recommends this one from Avène, saying it goes on sheer, even on darker skin tones.
Retinols and Retinoids
"RoC's retinol deep wrinkle night cream is powerful for collagen production without a lot of cost," says Jason Emer, MD, FAAD.
Hartman says this is a good option for those who have started to see fine lines and wrinkles form and have drier skin: "It contains [rhamnose to help boost cellular turnover] but also Vichy Volcanic Water, which has 15 minerals and hyaluronic acid to help with dryness."
"Olay's Regenerist Retinol 24 has been a crowd favourite for years for a reason," Hartman says. "The secret may be the inclusion of niacinamide, vitamin B3, which helps to calm inflammation (which can speed ageing) and provide an extra antioxidant glow to the skin. It's a good go-to for someone just starting with a retinol."
Treatments and Toners
"It contains vitamin C and retinol to pack a powerful punch to even skin tone," Hartman says. "This advanced corrector renews the look of skin, brightening skin's tone and improving dark spots and discolouration. The bonus is that this product also contains the two most important components of an anti-ageing skincare regimen to treat wrinkles."
Ofodile recommends this toner for oily or acne-prone skin because it uses salicylic acid to gently unclog pores.
"My holy-grail drugstore lip SPF option is the Sun Bum Mineral SPF 30 Sunscreen Lip Balm. This broad-spectrum, zinc-based lip balm safely protects from UVA/UVB rays and provides both hydration and a healthy glow—making it perfect for year-round protection," Viscusi says.
"While most sensitive cleansers don't lather, this cleanser offers rich suds while soothing dry, sensitive skin," Spey says.
"I love Dove's Soothing Care Body Wash, a gentle, fragrance-free formula that has been clinically proven to help your body produce the ceramides it needs and one that leaves skin feeling soft after every wash," Robinson says.
"I'm not a fan of body bars and body washes. These soaps strip the protective layer of your skin, leaving it dry and exposed to dirt and sun damage," Rodney says. "A Dove Beauty Cream Bar (or the liquid equivalent) is one of the best things you can buy in a drugstore. These bars can clean your skin while still leaving it hydrated. The added shea butter contains fatty acids and anti-inflammatory vitamins to heal your skin."
"It's a great choice because it both hydrates and heals dry skin without ever leaving it feeling greasy," Robinson says.