For the ultimate, expert-vetted skin-care routine, look no further than your local drugstore.
When Real Simple challenged seasoned dermatologists to design tip-top skin-care routines using mostly drugstore products, it wasn’t much of a challenge at all. Turns out, the aisles are packed with effective-yet-affordable formulas that beget healthy skin. Layer on one (or two) specialty products the dermatologists swear by, throw away a few superfluous items that you thought you needed (but don’t!), and your regimen is complete.
Dry or sensitive skin typically has barrier issues, which is why moisture is hard to hold on to and irritants are more likely to get in. Therefore it can become easily inflamed. So it’s important to be cautious and use only a handful of products that are effective but gentle. Less is truly more. (You’re welcome.)
Your Drugstore Products
Cleanser: “You want something creamy and soothing, without any active ingredients, like acids,” says Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., of Union Square Laser Dermatology. Try Yes to Coconut Ultra Hydrating Creme Cleanser ($10, ulta.com) or Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($10, amazon.com). Wash in the evenings but skip the mornings to avoid overstripping your skin (and to make your cleanser last longer).
Moisturizer: Even if you use a relatively moisturizing sunscreen (see our pros’ pick in the specialty section, below), it probably won’t provide enough hydration for your skin during the day. At the drugstore, look for a moisturizer containing at least one of these highly effective hydrating ingredients: hyaluronic acid (which helps skin hold more moisture, longer) and ceramides (which help repair tattered skin barriers to keep moisture in more effectively). Try Skin + Pharmacy Advanced Anti-Aging Therapy Intensive Hydration Cream ($20, cvs.com) with hyaluronic acid or CeraVe Moisturizing Cream ($15, target.com) with ceramides. Apply before sunscreen in the morning and after your anti-aging retinoid (below).
Eye Cream: Because your skin is so dry, your under-eye area is probably parched, too. And while many doctors think a face cream can work just fine there, your propensity toward sensitivity calls for something made specifically for delicate under-eye skin. Try Burt’s Bees Sensitive Eye Cream ($15, drugstore.com).
Your Specialty Products
Sunscreen: Those with dry or sensitive skin require a sunscreen that ticks off a lot of boxes: creamy and physical. Dermatologists say that for the best version of this, you’ll need to spend a little more. Opt for a creamy sunscreen to ensure that your skin isn't missing another opportunity to hydrate. Also, look for a formula with a physical sunblock, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, rather than a chemical sunscreen, like avobenzone (also called Parsol 1789). This is because blocks sit on top of the skin, rather than getting absorbed into it, making them less apt to irritate these sensitive-skin types. One that fits the bill: EltaMD UV Facial Broad-Spectrum SPF 30+ ($22, amazon.com).
Antioxidant Serum: Although your skin craves moisture, many dermatologists say you’re still better off with an antioxidant serum, as opposed to a cream, because there’s some concern that creamy humectants may impede the skin's ability to absorb the antioxidants. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($162, skinceuticals.com) is a formula you’re apt to find in many dermatologists' medicine cabinets. Apply in the morning before your moisturizer and sunscreen.
Retinoid: “Your skin has fewer oils to act as a buffer against retinoids, so you need to use one for sensitive skin,” says Heather Rogers, M.D., a cofounder of Modern Dermatology, in Seattle. Her pick: AvÃ¨ne RetrinAL 0.05 Cream ($61, dermstore.com). Minimize irritation by applying it twice a week, then work your way toward more frequent applications, followed by moisturizer if you have flaking.
Just Skip It
Harsh Scrubs: Gently sloughing away dry skin helps moisture penetrate the skin better. And because dry-skin types often experience flakes, this is tempting. But grainy exfoliators that contain beads, enzymes, or acids can dry out and irritate your skin. Instead, once a week, use a washcloth and a gentle cleanser to remove dead skin cells.