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.
Of all the types, your skin is the easiest to care for because you don't have a chronic condition (like acne) to manage. "I tell my normal-skin patients to keep their skin-care routines basic, because their skin behaves well on its own," says Jill Waibel, M.D., director of the Miami Dermatology & Laser Institute.
Your Drugstore Products
Cleanser: "You don't even need to wash twice a day," says Heather Rogers, M.D., a cofounder of Modern Dermatology, in Seattle. "Your skin naturally acts as a barrier, keeping out the bad stuff, like dirt and pollution. When people overcleanse their faces and suds up too often, it strips skin of the good stuff—the oils that keep your complexion balanced. Just wash with water in the morning." You should, however, take the time to cleanse every night. "At the end of the day," she says, "you have to get all that grime and makeup off your face, even if you don't worry about breakouts. Otherwise nighttime treatments can't penetrate the skin." Rogers recommends Eucerin Gentle Hydrating Cleanser ($9 at amazon.com) because it foams and rinses away easily.
Sunscreen: "I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to apply sunscreen every single day," says Elizabeth Hale, M.D., a codirector of CompleteSkinMD, in Manhattan. "And using foundation with sunscreen doesn't count. You have to use a separate sun-blocking product." Because daily application means you'll go through a bottle rapidly, it makes sense to go with a fairly affordable option, and there are plenty. Try L'OrÃ©al Paris Age Perfect Hydra-Nutrition SPF 30 Day Lotion ($18 at target.com).
Retinoid: Retinoids help correct skin damage that has already occurred. Many dermatologists agree that topical vitamin A is the best anti-aging ingredient we have to date. And because normal-to-combination skin is better able than other types to tolerate this potentially irritating ingredient, you have a wider range of options, many of which are inexpensive. One cream often cited for its efficacy and affordability: ROC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream ($16 at amazon.com), which is meant to be applied before bed.
Cleansing Brush: Rogers and Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., of Union Square Laser Dermatology, in New York City, both agree that those with combination skin, in particular, will reap big rewards by incorporating a brush into their regular routines. Why? Combination skin has a split personality, and the regimen outlined on these pages is geared more toward the normal half. Deep cleansing the T-zone with a brush two times a week can help keep that combination area clear of clogs. Then use the brush a third time each week, over the whole face, to remove dead skin cells. This will leave your skin smooth and pave the way for antioxidant and retinoid products. Try the Olay Professional ProX Advanced Cleansing System ($22 at amazon.com).
Your Specialty Product
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.) But not all antioxidant serums are created equal. Unlike cleansers and basic moisturizers, effective antioxidant serums are probably going to cost more than $30. "Antioxidants are pricey and hard to stabilize," says Tina West, M.D., the director of the West Institute, in Chevy Chase, Maryland. "Finding an antioxidant for $10 is no bargain, because it's unlikely to work." So for this product, you'll need to step out of the drugstore and splurge online. One formula doctors swear by: SkinMedica Vitamin C + E Complex ($102, skinmedica.com), which leaves skin with a slightly matte finish—good for shine control.
Just Skip It
Moisturizer: "Most women with normal or combination skin don't really need a hydrating lotion in addition to a hydrating sunscreen," says Gmyrek. An inexpensive, SPF-laced lotion: Aveeno Absolutely Ageless Daily Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($22 at drugstore.com). Same goes for your nighttime routine; choosing a retinoid with a richer base means you don't need to spring for a separate moisturizing lotion. The exception: During the winter, you may want an extra layer of moisture to prevent or combat chapping. In that case, a simple drugstore formula will do. Try CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM ($12 at amazon.com), which can be applied as needed. Note: If your under-eyes are feeling dry, too, the CeraVe lotion can be safely tapped on that area; no need to buy a separate eye product.