Because you shouldn’t have to get a second job to pay for your beauty routine.

By Kristin Granero
November 18, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
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It’s no secret that skincare can be expensive, with hopeful consumers willing to pay top dollar for the promise of a more radiant and youthful glow. Sure, many people would consider a solid product lineup a smart investment—a quality formula has the power to appreciate over time, working wonders for your outward complexion and inner confidence in the process. However, you don’t necessarily have to break the bank in order to obtain products that make your skin look and feel its best. From Olay and CeraVe to Neutrogena and La Roche-Posay, here are 12 expert-approved brands that are making quality skincare accessible to everyone. 

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Why it’s great: Diane Madfes, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, counts La Roche-Posay among companies that put proper resources into research and development despite the accessible price tags. “Safety is of utmost importance. I find most people are able to tolerate its products and incorporate them effortlessly into their skincare regimens,” she says of the brand, which is known for its ultra-hydrating creams and sophisticated sunscreen formulas.

Top picks: La Roche-Posay’s Lipkar Balm AP+ Moisturizer ($20; amazon.com), which has a five-star rating, is Dr. Madfes’ go-to lotion. “This product contains prebiotic thermal water, shea butter, and glycerin for keeping the skin barrier protected. It absorbs instantly, soothing and keeping skin soft all day. Not a day goes by that I don’t use this, especially in my office when washing hands all day,” she says. La Roche-Posay Anthelios AOX Daily Antioxidant Serum With Sunscreen ($42; cvs.com)  is also a must-have. “It provides protection against sun and free radicals to prevent skin cancer, brown spots, and wrinkles.” 

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Why it’s great: Neutrogena is another one of Dr. Madfes’ go-tos when looking for “technology, powerful ingredients, and innovative formulations,” especially when it comes to anti-aging products.  

Top picks: New to retinol? Dr. Madfes considers Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regeneration Cream ($32; ulta.com) one of your best drugstore bets. “Retinols can be irritating to the skin for first-time users. This retinol is in a moisturizing base to help keep the epidermal barrier intact and minimize irritation,” she says, noting that patients typically notice positive changes in skin texture around four weeks of use.

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Why it’s great: The last brand on Dr. Madfes’ drugstore shopping list is Garnier. “Less expensive skin products from reputable companies have increased efficacy targeting common skincare problems,” she says. She reaches for the brand’s face washes and masks in particular as a way to cleanse and prep skin.

Top picks: For a multitasking product, try Garnier SkinActive Charcoal 3-in-1 Wash, Scrub and Mask ($7; amazon.com). “Charcoal absorbs toxins, oils, skin cell debris and allergens. The white clay is a key ingredient as well. I also love that there are no microplastic beads! I use this myself and, after removing the mask, my skin is ready for my serums and peptides,” says Dr. Madfes, who suggests those with oily skin apply a thicker layer for a leave-on mask treatment once a week. 

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Why it’s great: Wendy Roberts, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in California, considers RoC a pioneer when it comes to pharmaceutical-grade anti-aging drugstore brands. “A French chemist founded the company over 60 years ago. The brand was the first to discover a method for stabilizing retinol. By combining retinol with other nourishing ingredients (such as vitamin E), it made it possible for daily use when it was once only suitable for nighttime,” she explains.

Top picks: One of her go-tos include RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream ($16; amazon.com). “The quality of the retinol and other anti-aging ingredients is superior with a lot of scientific data behind it. It is the OTC retinol I reach for when I’ve left my RX products home.” Anna Guanche, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and celebrity beauty expert based in California, is another believer: “I love RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream ($18; walgreens.com) for helping to prevent fine lines and wrinkles!”

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Why it’s great: Dr. Roberts also hails Olay as a generational brand that harnesses “effective, evidence-based ingredients.” Adding, “Every line it launches has been well designed and thought out. What I also love about this company is it has corporate leaders in diversity and appointed black women to leadership positions before it was en vogue."

Top picks: For those looking to experience the brand, Dr. Roberts suggests the cult classic Olay Regenerist Ultra Rich Hydrating Moisturizer ($29; olay.com). “Look for products that have antioxidants, collagen stimulators and collagen-plumping molecules to combat the signs of aging.” 

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Why it’s great: Joshua Ross, a celebrity aesthetician at SkinLab, is currently loving this new K-beauty line, which caters to all skin types and caps at $25. “It’s clinically tested, fragrance-free, gluten-free, cruelty-free, vegan, and has zero toxins or dyes. I also like how the brand uses quality ingredients with stringent guidelines (they are all formulated using EU standards for cleanliness),” he says. “The two key ingredients in the line are spring camellia and lotus extract, which are usually found in luxury skincare." 

Top picks: Ross recommends SeSpring Dreamy Glow Sleeping Mask ($20; sespring.com) for an added hydration boost and SeSpring So Rich Hydrating Gel ($25; sespring.com) for a light, yet still hydrating formula. “It’s especially great for those who have oilier or combination skin but still need moisture.”

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Why it’s great: “I like how Dove products use mild gentle surfactants that, unlike soap, properly clean skin without stripping it of its natural oils,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York. She adds that many of the brand’s body cleansing products feature a special Moisture Renew Blend technology with a blend of fatty acids that can be found in the skin’s natural moisture barrier to help nourish the skin and replenish lipids or fatty acids that are lost during cleansing. “Plus, the brand offers a wide range of cleansing options so people can choose the product that’s best for their individual skincare needs and preferences.”

Top picks: Dove Deep Moisture Body Wash ($6; target.com) is among Dr. Garshick’s cold-weather essentials. “It’s a sulfate-free cleanser that effectively cleanses while restoring moisture, supporting the skin barrier and being gentle on the microbiome,” she says. Dr. Guanche agrees: “It provides an optimal amount of moisture—perfect for the winter months!"

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Why it’s great: According to Dr. Garshick, CeraVe offers an all-star lineup of quality cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreens specifically formulated for various skin types. “Additionally, CeraVe products contain three essential ceramides to help restore the skin’s natural barrier, important for all skin types and especially those with dry or sensitive skin," she says. "The special MultiVesicular Emulsion (MVE) Technology, which delivers ingredients such as ceramides throughout the day, also provides continuous, non-greasy moisturization."

Top picks: Dr. Garshick is currently enjoying the brand’s new Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser ($18; amazon.com). “It contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides and goes on as a cream that lathers into a delicate foam to help remove dirt, oil, and makeup without leaving the skin feeling dry.” She also likes applying CeraVe Moisturizing Cream ($15; walgreens.com) post-shower in fall and winter months.

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Why it’s great: When it comes to skincare, choosing the right acne products over the counter can prove particularly challenging. “It’s important to keep the skin in balance and avoid products that are too oily or drying. If using products without the right ingredients, it risks leading to sensitivity or irritation, which can make matters worse,” cautions Dr. Garshick. “The Humane Company incorporates effective ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, while avoiding parabens, phthalates, sulfates, paraffin, formaldehyde, mineral oil, synthetic fragrance, and more, ensuring your skin is getting the active ingredients it needs, while minimizing the overall number of ingredients it is exposed to (they also don’t test on animals)."

Top picks: Experiencing breakouts? Try Humane Acne Wash ($22; amazon.com), which contains benzoyl peroxide and can be used on the face and body to help fight acne-causing bacteria. “Humane Clarifying Toner ($18; amazon.com) is another great option for those with breakouts, especially whiteheads and blackheads, as it contains 2% salicylic acid to reduce oil and unclog pores, as well as green tea extract to offer some antioxidant benefits and reduce redness and inflammation,” Dr. Garshick says.

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Why it’s great: Derma E is another brand that experts have come to appreciate for its eco-conscious and effective ingredients. “Its formulations are considered clean based on ingredient safety and how they affect our body and health. Its ingredients are also quality-proven with a great price point,” says Marie Hayag, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics in New York.

Top picks: Dr. Hayag’s favorite product is Derma E Advanced Peptide & Collagen Serum ($37; ulta.com). “It contains powerful peptides, like argireline and Matrixyl Synthe'6, known to support healthy collagen production and promote a smoother skin surface,” she says. “It also has green tea—one of the most potent free radical-fighting antioxidants—to combat redness.”

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Why it’s great: Caroline Robinson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Tone Dermatology in Illinois, counts herself among fans of this drugstore brand for its breakthrough innovations and age-defying serums. “Since its launch in 1935, No7 has continued to invest in research and development and respond to the ever-changing needs of their customers to help them look and feel their best every day,” she says.

Top picks: Dr. Robinson can’t get enough of No7’s Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate ($37; walgreens.com). “Combining two powerful age-defying skincare technologies in one expert formula, next-generation retinol complex, and No7’s advanced peptide technology, Matrixyl 3000+, this night concentrate offers a boost of overnight anti-aging power that reboots and renews skin. The slow-release retinol delivery system offers powerful results while minimizing irritation with an expert-recommended level of retinol suspended in a lipid core,” she says, noting that those with irritated, broken, or inflamed skin should avoid using retinol products.

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Why it’s great: Kristin Baird, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder and medical director at the Dermatology Center of the Rockies in Colorado, taps Green Goo for all-natural, potent, plant-based ingredients that are safe for the skin and environment. “The plant-based ingredients are slowly infused with enriching oils. I also enjoy supporting other local, women-owned businesses,” she says.

Top picks: Dr. Baird is especially keen on the brand’s solar solutions. “Living in Colorado, sun protection is essential, so finding quality broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen is important. Green Goo Solar Goo Sunscreen ($15; amazon.com) effectively shields skin cells from damaging UVA and UVB rays. In addition, the formula is water-resistant, ultra-moisturizing, and lightweight so it absorbs well and doesn't leave a white cast on your skin like some other mineral sunscreens,” she says.