If there's anything I've learned from working in the beauty industry, it's that skin care doesn't have to be expensive to be good. Case in point: I've tried a $320 moisturizer that feels indistinguishable from one that costs $20. And according to Shirley Chi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Southern California, that information tracks. Below, we'll explain why some luxurious drugstore moisturizers feel just as good as—and often better than—fancy designer brands.
Some of the most luxurious drugstore moisturizers, at a glance:
- Best drugstore moisturizer for sensitive skin: La Roche-Posay, Toleriane Ultra, $31
- Best drugstore moisturizer for dry skin: CeraVe, Moisturizing Cream, $20
- Best drugstore moisturizer for acne prone skin: Neutrogena, Hydro Boost Water Gel, $17
- Best drugstore moisturizer with SPF: La Roche-Posay, Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen Gentle Lotion, $26
- Elizabeth Kream, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist based in New York City
- Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital
- Shirley Chi, MD, board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology
What to look for in a drugstore moisturizer
According to Dr. Chi, you don't need to spend a small fortune to get an effective moisturizer. "I wouldn't even ever recommend any department-store moisturizers, to be honest—not even the ones that are the 'superstars,'" Dr. Chi says. "When I'm looking for a moisturizer, I'm looking for the presence of certain ingredients and the absence of others." The good ones? Ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid—in that order.
Ingredients to avoid in a moisturizer
Dr. Chi then avoids ingredients like dyes, botanicals, fragrances, and (when possible) preservatives. "If you look at the most common contact allergens, meaning things that can cause rashes on the skin, a third of them are preservatives and then another third of them are perfume," says Dr. Chi. So, if you can cut out perfumes and preservatives, you're golden.
Unfortunately, these ingredients are common in luxury products, to make them feel higher-end.
"And then the other thing you're paying for is marketing," says Dr. Chi. "So now you've got the expensive bottle that's made of some fancy glass, and then you need Julia Roberts to be your spokesperson, so now you gotta pay for her. You end up paying mostly for things that are not necessary and, actually, not preferred."
Below, you can shop the luxurious drugstore moisturizers derms recommend for elevating your routine—without breaking the bank in the process.
“The Toleriane Ultra is by far the best face moisturizer for sensitive skin in my book,” Chi says. “It feels very rich but it’s still great for layering.” It’s housed in air-tight packaging which prevents any contamination, allowing this formula to be free of preservatives. Plus, like all of La Roche-Posay’s products, it contains the brand’s selenium-rich thermal spring water.
Size: 1.4 ounces
Key ingredients: Thermal spring water, shea butter, neurosensine (a dipeptide that repairs the skin barrier)
- Fragrance-free and dermatologist-recommended formula for sensitive skin
- Mix of neurosensine and shea butter hydrates and strengthens the skin barrier
- May be too thick for some
Packed with three essential ceramides, this drugstore staple is a great pick for folks with dry skin. It’s another fragrance- and paraben-free formula that is safe for all skin types. Plus, it contains hyaluronic acid to not only provide moisture, but lock it in for the entire day. “The CeraVe Moisturizing cream in the tub—that one is better than most department-store moisturizers,” says Dr. Chi. “It feels almost whipped, giving it a lighter feel. I like this one for the body.”
Size: 19 ounces
Key ingredients: Ceramides 1, 3, and 6-11, hyaluronic acid
- Includes nourishing ceramides and hydrating hyaluronic acid
- Good for all skin types
- Great value for size
- Tub-style packaging is less hygienic
As Elizabeth Kream, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Chicago, previously told W+G, this drugstore staple is a great hydrator for acne-prone skin. Its lightweight consistency glides on smoothly and doesn’t leave skin feeling oily or congested. Plus, the formula is centered around hyaluronic acid, which locks in moisture.
We should note that while this formula certainly feels luxurious and is highly praised by those with acne-prone skin, it does break Chi’s rule about avoiding added fragrance and dyes. If that’s a dealbreaker for you, check out our list of the best moisturizers for acne-prone skin for more suggestions.
Size: 1.7 ounces
Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, olive extract
- Lightweight, yet luxurious formula
- Hydrating mix of hyaluronic acid and olive extract
- Highly rated by users with acne
- Formula includes fragrance and dye
This SPF is not only a dermatologist favorite, but it made our list of the best face sunscreens of 2023. It’s regularly recommended by Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. As Dr. Zeichner previously told W+G, it’s the combination of broad-spectrum SPF 50, proprietary antioxidants, and nourishing vitamin E that make this drugstore pick feel so luxurious. Plus, the addition of silica helps prevent excess oil buildup on the skin’s surface.
Size: 3 oz
Key ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, silica, water
- UVA/UVB protection with mineral SPF 50
- Water-based formula includes antioxidants and excludes added fragrances
- Safe for all skin types
- Some customers say the zinc leaves a white cast, but that it disappears after a while
Things to consider before buying
Your current skin-care routine
When shopping for a drugstore moisturizer, take stock of the ingredients you're currently using. If your current moisturizer isn't hydrating enough, you'll want to try a new approach with a formula that has different ingredients.
Check for the big 3
As Chi mentioned, it's important to prioritize ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid when shopping for a drugstore moisturizer. These key ingredients will help provide that luxurious hydration your skin is craving.
Know your skin type
Super dry skin can handle thicker formulas, while acne-prone skin may need something non-comedogenic and more lightweight. If you're not sure about your skin type, it never hurts to speak with your dermatologist to get a better sense of what your unique skin needs.
Frequently asked questions
What are the best drugstore facial moisturizers?
All four of the dermatologist-recommended picks on our list stand out as luxurious drugstore moisturizers. But if you're looking for a wider variety of facial moisturizers, we recommend checking out our list of the best drugstore moisturizers, which features additional products from popular drugstore brands like Simple, e.l.f., Olay, and Bert's Bees.
What is the best drugstore face moisturizer for mature skin?
As mentioned in our roundup of the best face moisturizers for mature skin, CeraVe's AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($20) is a great drugstore pick. It features hyaluronic acid (which is great for mature skin), as well as SPF 30 for broad-spectrum sun protection.
Get more dry-skin tips:
Loading More Posts...