1. Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%, $8
Azelaic acid is known for its brightening properties and its ability to even the texture of the skin, and this serum has a 10 percent concentration of the stuff. "It's great for acne and rosacea, because it has the same active ingredient as a [prescription-grade] medication that's used to treat those conditions," says Dr. Sperling. It's got a lightweight texture that falls somewhere between a cream or a gel, and can be layered onto clean skin underneath your go-to moisturizer.
2. Salicylic Acid Masque, $12
As far as treating acne goes, salicylic acid is one of the best active ingredients you can get. This mask combines two percent salicylic acid with charcoal and clay to clear out pores and leave your complexion smooth and gunk-free. "This is great for acne prone skin, as it helps remove impurities and cleanse skin," says Dr. Sperling. What's more? It's also helpful for doing away with dullness and textural issues.
3. Hyaluronic Acid 2%, $7
Hyaluronic acid is like the sponge, drawing water deep within your pores to maximize hydration. Dr. Sperling is a fan of this particular serum thanks to its combination of low, medium, and high molecular weight HA, which delivers H2O to multiple layers of the skin. It also has B5 for an added level of nourishment, and Dr. Sperling calls it "a great moisturizer that helps with skin hydration."
Get a double-dose of antioxidant protection and hydration with this hybrid vitamin C-hyaluronic acid serum "Vitamin C is a great antioxidant to rid skin of free radicals, and hyaluronic acid is a great moisturizer," says Dr. Sperling. The formula is waterless, which helps the L-asorbic acid (aka vitamin C) remain stable, and Dr. Sperling says she recommends applying in the morning for all day protection.
5. Mandelic Acid 10% HA, $7
This serum is as close to a professional-grade chemical peel you can get for $7. "It's formulated with the same ingredient we use in a chemical peel that helps brighten the skin, and we call it the 'red carpet peel' because it helps reduce redness and gives a brightness to skin for few days after applied," says Dr. Sperling. Ten percent mandelic acid offers chemical exfoliation that works on all skin types (thanks to its infusion of hydrating hyaluronic acid), and the lightweight texture is perfect for layering.
Want more affordable skin-care, straight from a derm? Here are board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara MD's favorite drugstore picks:
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