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.
“I wouldn’t even ever recommend any department-store moisturizers, to be honest—not even the ones that are the ‘superstars,’” she 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.
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,” says Dr. Chi, a third of them are preservatives and then another third of them are perfume. 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 two drugstore moisturizers Dr. Chi says will elevate 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,” she says. It’s housed in air-tight packaging which prevents any contamination, allowing this formula to be free of preservatives. “It feels very rich but it’s still great for layering.”
“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.”
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