For the ultimate, expert-vetted skin-care routine, look no further than your local drugstore.

By Genevieve Monsma
Updated February 11, 2016
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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.

"Many women with oily or blemish-prone skin use too many products," says Jill Waibel, M.D., director of the Miami Dermatology & Laser Institute. The motivation is obvious: You're trying to stem relentless oil production and prevent annoying breakouts. However, overdiligence can exacerbate both issues. "When you overstrip oil, your sebaceous glands start pumping out more sebum, because they think your skin is dry," says Waibel. And, she says, "all those active acne ingredients can cross-react, leading to redness and irritation." Simplifying your routine cuts costs and improves your complexion.

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Cleanser: "A gentle, foaming cleanser, used twice a day, is all you need," says Heather Rogers, M.D., a cofounder of Modern Dermatology, in Seattle, who warns against using anything with acne-fighting ingredients in the morning. "I want patients to be able to tolerate an acne-fighting lotion at night, and using a strong cleanser may be too aggressive," she says. Her pick: CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser ($11,

Sunscreen: "There are lots of effective sunscreen options in drugstores. Like cleansers, these are products that don't require you to fork over a lot of money," says Elizabeth Hale, M.D., a codirector of CompleteSkinMD, in Manhattan, who likes Coppertone Clearly-Sheer Faces SPF 30 ($10.50,, which leaves a matte finish. If your skin is very broken out, some dermatologists recommend going with a physical block, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, rather than a chemical sunscreen, because blocks have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce the redness and irritation associated with acne. Try Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen SPF 60 ($12,

Antioxidant Serum: No matter your skin type, you should use an antioxidant product at least once a day, because it's one of the first lines of defense the body uses to fight free radicals caused by environmental assaults, like ultraviolet (UV) rays and pollution, says Hale. (It's the damage from sun and smog that can cause fine lines and sun spots.) "Regardless of your skin type, in order to ensure that you're getting an antioxidant formula that is both stable and effective, you need to pay a bit more," says Tina West, M.D., the director of the West Institute, in Chevy Chase, Maryland. One formula that is doctor-vetted and won't clog pores: SkinCeuticals Serum 20 AOX+ ($119, You should put it on in the morning, because the daytime is when you need the most protection. But if you have very oily skin, morning application of some products may make you feel too tacky. In that case, find an antioxidant that comes in gel form to avoid that feeling.

Retinoid: Not only are retinoids great anti-agers "but there's also no better treatment for acne than a retinoid," says Rogers. As with the antioxidant serum, many dermatologists say it's worthwhile to pay a bit more for a proven (non-drugstore) formula when you're battling both acne and aging, especially since that's the only nighttime treatment you need. A prescription-strength formula would probably be the most effective. "The closest you can get to that in an over-the-counter product is SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 ($70, Because it's the strongest product available over the counter, that necessitates starting slowly to avoid irritation," says Rogers. Apply to dry skin after washing or over your antioxidant serum, if you choose to use a serum before bed. Rogers points out that you need to use only a pea-size drop of most retinoid creams. The amount is so small, most tubes will last almost a year, so even a $120 tube translates to about $10 a month. (Pay attention to the expiration date. Even though the product may still work, it may be weaker.)

Toner: Oily-skin types often apply an astringent toner in an effort to curb oil. Fight the urge, say Rogers and Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., of Union Square Laser Dermatology, as many contain skin-drying alcohol, which can to lead to oil overproduction and irritation.

Moisturizer: "I tell my patients, 'If your kitchen sink is clogged, you don't throw more food down the drain,'" says Waibel. Like people with normal or combination skin, those with oily or acne-prone skin probably don't need a separate moisturizer. You'll get enough hydration from sunblock during the day and your anti-aging treatment at night. Just make sure you're using one with a creamy base.