How to Get Beautiful Skin at Drugstore Prices

Beautiful SkinBuying fancy serums and anti-aging ointments can get pricey, but beautiful skin shouldn't be a luxury.

“Skin care doesn't have to be expensive to be good,” says dermatologist Dr. Debra Wattenberg, a New York City cosmetic dermatology specialist and founder of her own practice, SkincareRX.

“Some of my favorite products come from the drugstore. The ingredients determine the efficacy, not the price, so don't be fooled by expensive products that contain beautiful packaging and fancy fragrances.”

Dr. Wattenberg shared where to buy the best products and how to prep your skin for the changing seasons, all with your budget in mind.

The 3 Skincare Essentials

On top of a healthy diet, regular exercise (which when you sweat, clears toxins from your pores) and adequate sleep, the key to beautiful skin is having the right basic products. According to Dr. Wattenberg, any good skin care routine should include:

  1. Facial cleanser
  2. Sunscreen
  3. Moisturizer

There's no need to shell out $150 for one ounce of Creme de la Mer, either. Dr. Wattenberg's recommended brands include Neutrogena, Oil of Olay, Cetaphil and Aveeno. If you have a little more room in your budget, she also likes upmarket brand La Roche-Posay, which drugstores such as CVS and Walgreens sell for $28 (for 1.35 ounces of moisturizer).

If your budget doesn't leave extra room for new skincare products this month, make the most of basics you already have. “Vaseline ($1.50) or Aquaphor ($6) can be used to cure dry cuticles, heels and elbows as well as chapped lips,” Dr. Wattenberg says. (Check out 13 more healthy and cheap beauty replacements.)

Other ways to save? Try buying your favorite moisturizers and cleansers in bulk, and try to buy face creams with pump dispensers to avoid bacterial contamination from touching the mouth of the bottle with your hands, making your product last longer.

What to Look for in Your Skincare Products

Oily or acne-prone women will need something different from women who have dry skin or are developing wrinkles. Dr. Wattenberg loves 2-in-1 products, like combined sunscreen and moisturizer, because they save time and money.

“The one exception is foundation with SPF,” Dr. Wattenberg warns. “While it's a great product, most people don't apply enough to get the SPF they need, so I usually recommend a moisturizer with SPF in addition.”

If you are buying anti-aging products at the drugstore, look for ingredients that target your issue, rather than falling for package advertising. “For example, don't buy a product just because it says ‘collagen boosting.’ Look for ingredients like retinol, vitamin C or hyaluronic acid,” Dr. Wattenberg says.

If you're experiencing one of the four common skin problems below, look for these ingredients in your products:

Dry Skin Acne Wrinkles Oily Skin
These ingredients will help the skin attract and retain moisture. These ingredients will kill bacteria, remove dead skin cells and reduce inflammation. These ingredients will reduce sun damage, promote collagen production and exfoliate the skin. These ingredients will exfoliate skin, hydrate and reduce swelling.
Ceramides Benzoyl peroxide Alpha-hydroxy acids Salicylic acid
Dimethicone Salicylic acid Salicylic acid Glycolic acid
Glycerin Alpha hydroxy acids Hyaluronic acid Lactic acid
Hyaluronic acid Sulfur Acai oil Witch hazel
Lanolin Alpha-lipoic acid
Mineral oil Green tea extract
Petroleum jelly Retinol
Vitamin C
CoEnzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10)

If you have a specific skin issue, are trying the regimen above and still not seeing results, consult a dermatologist, Dr. Wattenberg suggests. You may need prescription versions of the treatments you're using.

Transitioning Your Routine From Summer to Fall

As the season changes, your skincare routine should, too.

During the summer, Dr. Wattenberg recommends skipping moisturizer in the morning and just using a sunscreen if you are experiencing breakouts. You can also try using oil-free products. That said, these tactics can dry out your skin as you get into the winter months.

As the weather gets colder, you may need to reverse your routine. Use moisturizing creams that contain oil to hydrate your skin in the winter months, and consider using a humidifier in your bedroom to combat the dry air. You may also want to avoid products with alcohol, salicylic acid or glycolic acid, because they can cause dry or cracked skin.

There is no set seasonal deadline for changing over your routine--just be mindful of the environment and how your skin is responding.

Most importantly? Even when the summer ends, sunscreen is still a must year-round for healthy and youthful skin.

  • sarahy

    I’m disappointed that this article didn’t give any actual product recommendations. 

    • Knowurself

      I agree

    • KatyD

       From the article: “Dr. Wattenberg’s recommended brands include Neutrogena, Oil of
      Olay, Cetaphil and Aveeno. If you have a little more room in your
      budget, she also likes upmarket brand La Roche-Posay, which drugstores
      such as CVS and Walgreens sell for $28 (for 1.35 ounces of moisturizer).”

  • Elliejune19

    mineral oil and petroleum jelly? i avoid any products with these ingredients, as both are suspected to be carcinogens. ladies, please do your research and protect yourselves.

    coconut oil (pure organic) is an excellent affordable and healthy moisturizer for skin and hair. i also cook with it!

    • Tiffjvincent

      That’s exactly what I was thinking when reading the article!  Thanks for posting.  I have coconut oil in my kitchen and vanity area.

    • AldenWicker

      Hi @b73465e3e25d6081a7622be655f6e13a:disqus and @ef9987da5a398c5e3ed61c231cb301b0:disqus , 
      We were actually as surprised as you to find out that petroleum jelly is free of any ingredients that are unsafe. It has one ingredient, petrolatum, and no parabens. Though, it is true is is derived from oil, so if you want to avoid petroleum-based products for environmental reasons, that could be a reason to avoid it. 

      We also looked up the safety of mineral oil. The CVS brand, for example, ranks a fairly safe 8 out of 10 on,, which says it has some concerns it is linked to cancer, though it doesn’t contain any parabens. 

      I personally love coconut oil as well, though it is pricier than mineral oil. It all comes down to your personal preference! 

      As you can see, I’m an ingredient nerd as well, so thanks for bringing up these concerns!

    • Kate G

      Physicians Formula makes a great organics line that I use in the summer months it is cheaper, but it’s great and I like Tarte for higher end organic products though there are some great Vegan brands online as well. 

  • Beagle freedom project

    I agree, but a lot of drug store products are tested on dogs.  Search for “Beagle Freedom Project” on facebook or go to  Switch to brands with the leaping bunny logo.  Looking at photos of rescued beagles on fb every day who have been confined to testing labs is a great reminder that I personally don’t want to have anything to do with a dog suffering because of the brand of cleanser I purchased.  We vote with our money.

  • Janas23

    Some good ideas.  I wouldn’t use witch hazel, though. Great for medicinal purposes but caused breakouts on my face and was confirmed by beauty expert, Paula Begoun.   I have followed Paula Begoun for quite a while…she wrote many editions of “Take This Book to the Beauty Counter. “  She does sell her own line of products but also recommends like above–with specific brands and why.  You can find her on, I believe this is correct,  Or just Google Paula Begoun. 

  • Karen Hodge

    Instead of purchasing serums, I use oils (which works better for me) because I make my own blends depending on my skin condition, time of year, etc.  If you purchase from a cosmetic supplier, you’ll save even more rather than purchasing from a name brand.  For instance, Jose Maran argan oil (organic) is $14 for 0.5 ounce;  New Directions Aromatics has organic argan oil $12.89 for 3.3 ounces.

    If you read the ingredients, you’ll realize many products can be substituted. For instance, Decleor’s skincare is based on “Aromaessence” ($68-$95 for 0.5 ounce), which is basically a combination of oils, to be used under their moisturizers.  I tried Decleor’s moisturizers with and without Aromaessence and, truthfully, their moisturizers work better with  Aromaessence.  However, they work just as well with ANY oil.

  • Amber

    I agree – I use coconut oil for body moisturizer and for a night eye moisturizer. It works great! I also agree with the article that it’s important to get a daily moisturizer with spf. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kate G

    But remember the SPF in foundation also isn’t good for anyone getting photographed. It has a tendency to create a white wash effect on the skin under harsh lighting which is why it’s best to use a foundation without SPF and sometimes some people go a tad bit darker. Though my fave full coverage foundation is the Loreal True Match you get full coverage and it lasts all day. 

  • Swimtheocean

    Don’t use petroleum based products on your skin like vasoline or mineral oil. That stuff is nasty and not good for you. Try Coconut oil instead.