Tired of dry, flaky skin, but shopping on a budget? Luckily, dermatologists agree that drugstore moisturizers can be just as effective as pricier moisturizers at preventing dryness, soothing tired skin and slowing the signs of aging.
Strolling down the drugstore aisle scanning hundreds of options and figuring out where to begin can be overwhelming, much less differentiating an OK product from a great one. Well, that's where I come in as Best Products' beauty editor. I've spent the last 6 years of my career mainly covering beauty and have picked up plenty of tips from industry leaders to help readers always shop smartly. I tapped some of my most-trusted experts for their no-fail tips and must-have drugstore moisturizer recommendations. The best part? Everything costs $32 or less and is available to shop from reader-favorite retailers.
Best Drugstore Moisturizers
What to Consider
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., argues that drugstore moisturizers aren't necessarily lower-quality products because they cost less than mid-tier and higher-end moisturizers you can purchase from Sephora, Dermstore, and Nordstrom.
“Shopping for a drugstore moisturizer is the same as shopping for any moisturizer in general. You should not only focus on the ingredients, but also the texture or vehicle in which it is delivered,” says Kanchanapoomi Levin, the founder of Entiére Dermatology. “It’s not about the price. It’s about the ingredients and formulation, which is why dermatologists typically recommend tried-and-true drugstore moisturizers.”
The first step to determining the best drugstore moisturizer, whether for yourself or for gifting a loved one, is identifying the skin type you're shopping for. According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Courtney Rubin, M.D., it's the skin type that determines how thick or occlusive (forming a protective layer over the skin) the moisturizer needs to be.
Oily, Combination, and Acne-Prone Skin
Regular drugstore moisturizers are typically made with heavy hydrating ingredients that can congest pores that cause blackheads and acne, while lightweight and non-comedogenic products won't leave your face greasy like an oil slick. So your best bet is to shop for lightweight face moisturizers that typically say oil-free to provide hydration without causing zits.
Normal, Dry, and Mature Skin
These skin types need hydration, so opt for a thicker face moisturizer infused with humectants such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which draw water into the skin and prevent moisture loss. Kanchanapoomi Levin says dermatologists also look for emollients such as ceramides and petroleum jelly, which lock in hydration.
“One of the best ways to understand how ceramides work is to imagine your stratum corneum (the outermost layer of your epidermis) to be made up of bricks and mortar. The skin cells are essentially the brick, and the lipids or the fats in between are the mortar. Ceramides are important for the structure of the stratum corneum (skin’s most outer layer) to remain intact,” she explains.
Moisturizers can be in a gel, lotion, cream, or ointment form. Those with oily, combination, and acne-prone skin will appreciate the lightweight feel gels and some lotions provide. Kanchanapoomi Levin advises those with dry skin, especially in winter, to use creams and ointments because they contain oil-based formulas with a thicker consistency and provide more hydration than lotions or lotions gels.
And if your loved one has eczema or dry skin, she suggests they use a thick year-round moisturizer or ointment as they are the backbone of any skincare routine.
Lastly, Rubin, the cofounder and medical director of the skincare line Fig.1, notes someone's skin goals can help determine what active ingredients to look for in products. "For example, retinol for those concerned about fine lines, vitamin C and glycolic acid for those looking to brighten their skin," she says.
How We Chose
Beyond featuring the best expert-approved drugstore moisturizers, I rummaged our beauty closet to test several products aligned with our experts' guidance. I considered their key ingredients and formulations, and slathered my face and body with them to ensure they lived up to their promised claims. For added reassurance, I also carefully read hundreds of drugstore moisturizer reviews to confirm that other shoppers are thrilled with their purchases — and ensure you or your giftee will love them as well.