A huge part of my personal philosophy is making skincare more approachable and accessible. That’s Why I’m Cool With Non-Professional Skincare. I wanted to expand on that and REALLY help you guys put together an effective routine, no matter where you’re shopping. As I’ve stressed so many times before, it comes down to using the right ingredients for your skin type and concerns, so I’m going to put together a full skincare routine for each skin type based off of labels alone. I’m going to leave professional skincare recommendations to the professional who knows your skin best, so I’m going to be working with CVS, Target, Ulta, and Sephora. In the case of CVS, I’m going to leave out brands such as Clarins, Dermalogica, etc. as those can be bought from higher end stores or professionals. These posts are going to be really long just because there’s SO MUCH, but I’ll do my best to condense and label things well for easier scrolling!
I have not personally tried every product I’m going to suggest. 1.) That’s too damn expensive, and 2.) the vast majority of these products are not suited to my skin type. I’m making these recommendations based on ingredients and my ingredient knowledge alone. Be smart and stay away from things you know your skin is allergic or sensitive to; discontinue use immediately of any product that isn’t agreeing with your skin. Professional skincare may produce better or longer-lasting results due to higher concentrations of active ingredients. While I recommend professional lines for things like exfoliants, serums, and treatments, the point of this series is to piece together a comprehensive routine using OTC skincare only.
Goals for oily skin: balancing oil without drying out the skin, and keeping things clean to reduce potential breakouts. Oily skin requires more cleansing and exfoliating than other types.
What to avoid:
- Things that make your skin tingle-I’m looking at you, Noxema. That tingling feeling is meant to evoke illusions of cleanliness, but really it’s your skin screaming in irritation from drying ingredients like menthol and SD or denatured alcohol. The goal is to BALANCE oily skin, not dry it out to the point that it produces even more oil to compensate.
- Things that are overly thick or emollient-bar cleansers, stick foundations, occlusive moisturizers, and balms leave ingredients that mix with your skin’s excess oil and add to the greasiness. These things can also clog your already acne-prone skin.
- Cleanser: gel or foaming cleansers that do not contain harsh detergents or menthols. Avalon Organics Vitamin C Renewal, Refreshing Cleansing Gel ($11.99 or $1.41/oz); Derma E Very Clear Acne Cleanser ($15.49 or $2.58/oz); or Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Facial Cleanser ($8.29 or $1.38/oz).
- Toner: free of irritants, not drying or too astringent, and filled with things like antioxidants and barrier-repairing ingredients. Earth Science Clarifying Herbal Astringent ($10.49 or $1.31/oz. NOTE: This does contain peppermint extract which worries me a bit, but it’s lower in the ingredient deck, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Also, peppermint extract is much safer than peppermint oil.); Alba Botanica Hawaiian Facial Toner ($12.99, or $1.53/oz); or Avalon Organics Vitamin C Balance Toner ($12.59, or $1.48/0z).
- BHA Exfoliant: salicylic acid is going to be your best friend. Regular exfoliation with a BHA will not only improve pore function, it will also fade red marks from past breakouts. Salicylic acid is derived from wintergreen, willow bark, and sweet birch bark. Andalou Naturals Facial Scrub ($14.99, or $8.82/0z); Jason Natural Products Brightening Apricot Scrubble ($8.99, or $2.25/oz. A VERY IMPORTANT WORD ABOUT APRICOT SCRUBS: avoid St. Ive’s Apricot Scrub at all costs. Those sorts of scrubs use apricot kernels/pits to exfoliate, and those are awful for your skin, as they actually leave micro scratches and abrasions. This scrub uses apricot OIL and walnut POWDER to exfoliate and is much safer.); or North American Hemp Seed Exfoliating Face Scrub ($11.99, or $2.50/oz).
- Moisturizer: DO NOT SKIP ON MOISTURIZER JUST BECAUSE YOUR SKIN IS OILY! That is the number one worst thing you could do for your skin. Derma E Very Clear Moisturizer ($19.49, or $9.74/oz); Nature’s Gate Oil Free Moisturizer ($19.99, or $5/oz); or Reviva Labs Glycolic Acid Moisturizer ($18.99, or $12.66/oz).
- Masks: One of my favorite masks for oily skin isn’t a mask at all, but rather a mask ingredient. Bentonite clay is UH-MAZING for cleaning out your pores and controlling oil. The best part is, you can mix it with anything: water for a classic mud mask, honey for an antibacterial mask, rosewater for a toning mask-you get the idea. I don’t think they sell the powder at CVS (they don’t online), but look for it if you’re interested. Derma E Anti-Wrinkle Pore Refining Mask ($18.79, or $4.70/oz); Veria Kapha Dig Deep Mask ($21.99, or $12.94/oz); or (my personal favorite of the three), Yes To Tomatoes Skin Clearing Facial Mask ($15.49, or $9.11/oz).
- Serums/Treatments: I didn’t find anything worth the price per ounce in the serum category, and I kinda anticipated that. The problem with OTC serums is that they aren’t worth the price per ounce because they just aren’t that concentrated. For the price, you would be better off buying a professional or high-end product.
Be sure to find a sunscreen you’ll use daily. Just because your skin will age slower to due to your higher oil content, doesn’t mean you don’t need sun protection.
Goals for dry skin: to stop damaging the outer layer by avoiding drying, abrasive, and damaging things such as bar soaps and unprotected sun exposure; to use good exfoliation and proper hydrating products to build up the damaged outer layer. Dry skin also tends to age quicker, so products that utilize vitamin A and glycolic acid are vital.
What to Avoid:
- bar soaps
- water-soluble cleansers
- irritating ingredients such as menthols and abrasive scrubs (fruit, shell, or nut fragments)
- Cleanser: an oil pre-cleanse is absolutely essential for dry skin. The best oils for this are vitamin E, almond, coconut, jojoba, and avocado. Texture-wise, you’ll want a cleanser that is more occlusive. Look for cleansing milks, creams, lotions, etc. I found way more great options for this type of cleanser than I did for oily skin, but here a few: Avalon Organics Vitamin C Cleansing Milk ($12.59, or $1.48/oz); Earth Science A-D-E Creamy Fruit Oil Cleanser ($10.49, or $1.31/oz); Nature’s Gate Rice Bran Cleansing Milk ($16.49); or Yes to Carrots Cream Cleanser ($7.99, or $1.33/oz).
- Toner: Stay away from anything astringent. Focus on ingredients that are hydrating, refreshing, and antioxidant. Earth Science Herbal Tonic Mist ($10.49, or $1.31/oz); Earth Science Aloe Toner ($10.49, or $1.31/oz); or Derma E Anti-Wrinkle Vitamin A Glycolic Toner ($13.79, or $2.30/oz).
- AHA Exfoliant: Glycolic and lactic acids are the best choices for dry skin. However, it’s hard finding good exfoliants for dry skin at the drugstore. The only one I found that I would recommend is the Derma E Exfoliating Scrub ($13.99, or $3.50/oz).
- Moisturizer: It is so, so important to make sure there are no drying alcohols in your moisturizer. You’ll want something super hydrating but still non-comedogenic. Just because your skin lacks oil doesn’t mean it’s immune to breakouts. A moisturizer with an SPF built in is a plus! Derma E Evenly Radiant Day Cream + SPF ($29.99, or $15/oz); Derma E Hyaluronic Night Cream ($29.49, or $14.74/oz. I recommend this for both day and night use if you aren’t going to use a moisturizer that has SPF built in.); or Earth Science Ceramide Facial Lotion ($11.99, or $1.50/oz).
- Masks: Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses Rosewater Mask ($19.29, or $11.35/oz) or Derma E Hydrating Hyaluronic Mask ($29.49, or $7.37/oz).
- Serums/Treatments: Once again, it was hard to find anything worth your money. My favorite that I found is Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses Asbolute Serum ($28.49). I also like Reviva Labs Collagen Serum ($24.99). However, at these prices, I recommend looking at professional lines or at least higher end.
Goals for combo skin: balance. That’s pretty much it. Combo skin is tricky because you need to treat the oily areas with products designed for oily skin, and dry areas with dry products. For the sake of this series, I’ll recommend products based on the “combo” category on the CVS website.
What to avoid: one size fits all skincare.
- Cleanser: this was a difficult category. I do like the Desert Essence Thoroughly Clean Face Wash ($5.99, or $1.50/oz). Other good ones are Dr. Woods Tea Tree Facial Cleanser ($6.99, or 87 cents/oz) and Promise Nourishing Coconut Milk and Papaya Cleanser ($7.99, or $1.33/oz).
- Toner: good lord I feel for you combo types! It is so difficult finding drugstore products for your skin. For a toner, I love Andalou Naturals Illuminating Toner ($12.99, or $2.16/oz). I also like Earth Science Clarifying Herbal Astringent ($10.49, or $1.31/oz).
- Exfoliant: combo skin could benefit from an AHA/BHA combo, or either. Although not a direct source of either, I like Abra Therapeutics Grapefruit and Bamboo Scrub ($16.29) and I LOVE Andalou Naturals Radiant Skin Polish ($14.99, or $7.50/oz).
- Moisturizer: I did not find a single good moisturizer for combo skin. Try one of the moisturizers suggested for oily skin.
- Masks: Once again, there were no masks for combo skin that I don’t consider to be high end and could be purchased elsewhere with better quality assurance. However, this is the perfect scenario for multi masking! Choose a mask from the dry skin category for your drier parts, and a mask from the oily skin category for your more oily parts.
- Serums/treatments: Any guesses as to what I’m gonna say here? Yeahhh…
Goals for acneic skin: clearing the skin and keeping it clear WITHOUT drying it out or causing more damage.
What to avoid:
- anything inflammatory, as acne is an inflammatory disorder
- anything drying (menthol, harsh detergents, over concentrated acids/peroxides/alcohols)
- overdoing the cleansing; keeping the skin clean and exfoliated is crucial, however, you CANNOT wash away your acne. All you’ll do is irritate it!
- unprotected sun exposure (no, sunscreen will not give you acne, and no, sunlight does not “clear up” acne)
- thick, waxy textures
- Cleanser: nothing harsh, stripping, drying, or abrasive. That’s a tall order for drugstore skincare. Here are some good ones: Yes to Tomatoes Daily Clarifying Cleanser ($9.99, or $2.96/oz); Derma E Very Clear Acne Cleanser ($15.49, or $2.58/oz); or Burt’s Bees Acne Purifying Cleansing Gel ($9.99, or $2/oz).
- Toner: the major concern with toners for acne-prone skin is avoiding anything that is too astringent. Again, you cannot dry out your acne; you can’t scrub it away, wash it away, sting it away. The only one I found that is worth the money without doing further damage is Andalou Naturals Clarifying Pore Minimizer ($12.99, or $2.16/oz). “Pore minimizer” is a bit of a misnomer, because you can’t minimize your pores once they’ve been stretched out. But it is a lovely toner all the same. Run away from anything that has denatured alcohol (sometimes listed as SD alcohol) anywhere near the beginning of the ingredient deck; this is what dries your skin out and makes it tight, which makes you think it’s working, but it’s just making your skin angry which leads to more breakouts.
- Exfoliant: a leave-on AHA or BHA is ideal, because exfoliation (GENTLE exfoliation) is key to keeping acneic skin healthy. That can be hard to find outside of professional lines, so the next course of action is to find a good scrub. Acne scrubs are so, so abrasive and irritating. Here are the most gentle acne scrubs I found: Derma E Very Clear Acne Scrub ($13.99, or $3.50/oz); Reviva Labs Microdermabrasion Pomegranate Scrub ($18.99, or $9.50/oz); or Burt’s Bees Acne Pore Refining Scrub ($9.99, or $2.50/oz).
- Moisturizer: just like with oily skin, you might be tempted to skip the moisturizer in the name of keeping your skin clear. This is a huge mistake! When your skin is stripped of the oil it’s putting out, it puts out more oil, which causes more breakouts. The key is to find a moisturizer that is light but still hydrating. The ONLY one that I can happily recommend is Burt’s Bees Acne Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($17.99, or $9/oz). CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM ($14.49, or $4.83/oz) is an alright choice, especially since it’s SPF 30 and contains niacinamide, but it has a lot of preservatives for the price. I’m not anti-preservative or paraben, but I do believe there should be more active ingredients than preservatives in products.
- Masks: I stand by my bentonite clay powder recommendation for oily skin. You’re going to want to find something that is purifying without drying, lightly hydrating, and soothing. I’m gonna be real honest, drugstore acne masks are shit. The best options I found are these two: Beauty 360 Detoxifying Perfecting Black Facial Mask ($11.99, this one has a decent ingredient deck AND IT’S BLACK), and Queen Helene The Original Mint Julep Mask ($4.99, or 62 cents/oz). I hesitate to recommend the Queen Helene mask because although it has some great ingredients for the price, it also has two or three possibly irritating ingredients in higher concentrations. So watch out.
- Serums/treatments: spot treatments are great for minimizing individual spots, but they aren’t a long-term or all-over treatment. They won’t keep spots from coming back. Keep that in mind when shopping for one. Most of the drugstore options are crazy drying and overpriced for how much active ingredient is in the product. Even my good friend Burt’s Bees had denatured alcohol as the first ingredient (damn you Burt). Derma E Very Clear Acne Spot Treatment ($11.49, or $21.28/oz) is the only good option I found. When you look at the price-per-ounce, you might consider another option.
Goals for anti-aging: this is such a tricky skin concern because everyone expects miracles that will turn back the clock as quickly as the signs of aging appeared. Only surgical procedures and injectables will give you (almost) instantaneous results. You want to incorporate as much of the following ingredients as possible: antioxidants (vitamins A, C, and E; superoxide dismutase; beta carotene; glutathione; selenium; green tea; soy extract; grape extract; pomegranate extract), skin identical/skin repairing (ceramides; lecithin; glycerin; hyaluronic acid; sodium PCA; collagen; elastin; proteins; triglycerides), cell-communicating (niacinamide; retinol; synthetic peptides; lecithin; ceramides). Sun protection is an absolute most because the most visible signs of aging are due to sun exposure and damage.
What to avoid:
- “miracle” products that claim to mimic the effects of Botox and other medical procedures. Nothing can fully replicate the effects of those measures.
- irritating products. As your skin ages, it doesn’t recover quite as quickly. It’s very important to avoid anything that could prolong that.
- Cleanser: Pure Life Oatmeal Facial Wash ($9.99, or $1.47/oz) is the only cleanser I found at CVS that is worth the money for addressing aging concerns. In all honesty, you can use any gentle cleanser that’s meant for dry skin; aged skin needs more moisture, and cleansers aren’t on the skin for very long, so an anti-aging specific cleanser isn’t totally necessary.
- Toner: a good anti-aging toner should be hydrating, soothing, and full of antioxidants. I cannot stress this enough: anything very astringent is going to dry you out and make you look EVEN MOAR OLD! Don’t do that. Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses Toner ($17.49, or $2.91/oz) is the absolute best you can find for anti-aging, in my humble opinion. Kiss My Face Balancing Antioxidant Toner ($14.99, or $2.83/oz) is another excellent choice, and Derma E Soothing Toner ($15.49, or $2.58/oz) gets an honorable mention.
- Exfoliant: good, gentle exfoliation is so important in the fight against visible aging. Dead skin cells are gross and make you look aged and tired. Which is how I look on the daily but I digress. The only anti-aging exfoliant at CVS is shit…absolute, utter, shit. Take from the dry skin suggestions for this one.
- Moisturizer: your moisturizer and serums/treatments should be where you spend your money in regards to anti-aging skincare. These are going to be on your skin the longest, so it’s best to find something that is PACKED with great ingredients. There are loads of good options at CVS for this category! Here are the best I found at drugstore prices: Jason Effects Ester-C Lotion ($19.79, or $4.95/oz); Kiss My Face Underage Moisturizer ($20.99); Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses Moisturizer + SPF 18 ($19.29, or $7.14/oz); Reviva Labs Alpha Lipoic DMAE Cream ($22.99, or $11.50/oz); North American Hemp Omega Anti-Age Lotion ($24.99, or $5.21/oz); and Derma E Age-Defying Antioxidant Moisturizer SPF 15 ($26.49, or $13.24).
- Masks: there isn’t much by way of anti-aging masks at CVS. Choose from the dry skin selections, or try Queen Helene Mud Pack ($4.99, or 62 cents), but be cautious of the fragrance.
- Serums/treatments: White Egret Hyaluronic Acid Day Serum ($16.99, or $8.50/oz); Earth Science A/B Hydroxy Acid Night Rejuvenator ($23.99); or Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses Absolute Serum ($28.49, this is the BEST one in my opinion).