See what the pros always have stashed in their medicine cabinets.
Head to Sephora or your local drugstore and you’ll find near endless choices when it comes to skincare products. Moisturizers alone can take up a full aisle, and at online stores, there's page after page to scroll through. Exploring these options can be fun—one of these products could be your new favorite cure-all, after all. But facing the wide expanse of moisturizers, sunscreens, and face washes available can also be a little overwhelming: Which of these lotions is the best of the bunch? Will that face wash with the pretty packaging lead to breakouts and post-purchase regrets, or will it truly live up to its claims and transform your skin?
Reviews can help with it comes to selecting the very best face and body products—along with advice from the pros. We asked 15 dermatologists to pick out the one product that they always have on hand. Unsurprisingly, many opted for sunscreen as their pick—but they also recommended retinol, exfoliants, powerful serums, and more. Here are the items dermatologists stash in their own medicine cabinets and makeup bags for daily use.
1 Aquaphor Ointment
"Aquaphor ointment. It is a multipurpose ointment that moisturizes and protects lips and skin, while helping to retain hydration and prevent cracking. It nourishes the lips and skin, helps healing and cracked lips, and is fragrance- and preservative-free. Furthermore, it is inexpensive and available in various different sized containers, big and small. Moisturizing the lips and using this petrolatum-based ointment helps to ensure that your lips remains smooth, soft, and well hydrated.”
—Lance H. Brown, MD, surgical and cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City and East Hampton, NY, and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine
2 Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-on Shield
"One of the products I always have in my purse is Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-on Shield. Not only is this powder sunscreen easy to have on hand, but it is great for if you find yourself outside and do not have SPF to re-apply. It gives you a little tint, has both UVA/UVB protection, and also protects from harmful effects of the environment."
—Jennifer Gordon, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas
3 Differin Gel
"This is one of my favorite skin products. [It] used to be a prescription, [but] is now a prescription-strength over-the-counter retinoid that is a gold standard for the treatment of different types of acne, from whiteheads to blackheads to mild acne to moderate acne. Retinoids not only normalize skin cell turnover, which prevents and treats clogging of pores, but Differin Gel also has anti-inflammatory properties as well as improves the skin texture and tone with regular use. Furthermore, Differin Gel is more tolerable and gentle compared to other retinoids."
—Melissa K. Levin, MD, NYC-board certified dermatologist, founder of Entière Dermatology, and clinical instructor at NYU Langone and Mount Sinai Hospital
4 ProactivMD Adapalene Gel 0.1%
"[This] is a fantastic product. Adapalene is a retinoid that induces collagen formation in the skin, so aside from aiding in preventing acne pimples, [it] can be used as an anti-aging treatment. It typically doesn’t interfere with other topical medications, and is a wonderful addition to most people’s skincare regimen. I usually recommend 2-3 times weekly use to allow for skin to adapt to the ingredients."
—Rachel Nazarian, MD, a NYC-dermatologist at Mount Sinai Department of Dermatology and the Schweiger Dermatology Group
5 Skinfix Renewing Scrub
“My new favorite product is Skinfix's Renewing Scrub. I like it because it combines chemical and physical exfoliating ingredients in one formula that you apply to dry skin. This is a novel concept—apply the scrub to dry skin, rinse, and then apply step two. So many patients do one or the other and the combination is what really helps. The product uses bamboo polishers (safe for the environment!) and glycolic and lactic acids at their clinically validated levels to actually smooth rough and bumpy skin—including keratosis pilaris. I love that it also uses sweet almond and coconut oils to leave skin silky soft! Both of these ingredients serve as excellent humectants.”
—Kavita Mariwalla, MD, a dermatologist based in West Islip, New York
6 SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
"My current favorite product is C E Ferulic, a vitamin C serum by SkinCeuticals. Living in a big city, I love this product because its antioxidants protect my skin from urban pollution and elements in the environment. I’ve been using it for a while and I have found that it helps with fine lines and wrinkles and brightens the complexion. My skin can get pretty dry and sensitive, and this serum has not irritated it, although it contains ferulic acid. I find it to be hydrating which helps in the summer since the sun only dries out my skin more. It's also paraben-free."
—Alain Michon, MD, cosmetic physician and medical director at the Ottawa Skin Clinic
7 Cerave Moisturizing Cream
“My absolute favorite cream for body and face is Cerave moisturizing cream. It doesn’t leave your skin feeling sticky after application but at the same time does a great job of moisturizing. Even better, it's fragrance-free and people who have sensitive skin don’t get irritation from this cream since it is so mild."
—Lindsey Bordone, MD, a dermatologist at Columbia Doctors and assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City
8 Eltamd UV Clear Sunscreen
“My most essential product is Eltamd UV Clear Sunscreen SFP 46. Sunscreen is the most important skin product we can use not only to prevent burns but also signs of aging like wrinkles and sun spots. Eltamd UV Clear contains transparent zinc oxide which goes on sheer and leaves no residue. I find that mineral sunscreens like this one work best on the face and are the least irritating."
—Anna Karp, MD, a NYC-based board-certified dermatologist
9 Coppertone Defend & Care Zinc SPF
“I am loving Coppertone Defend & Care Zinc SPF 50, which I use on my face and body. The formula is really lightweight and doesn’t clog pores, which is essential, as I am training for my 8th marathon. It's easy to apply and I use it on the beach and on cloudy days. And my patients love that it contains zinc, the best physical sunscreen ingredient."
—Elizabeth Hale, MD, a NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center
10 Lierac Micellar Cleansing Water
“One of my faves is the Lierac Micellar Cleansing Water. It's not drying like a toner or astringent since it contains no alcohol. I like to use it after a cleanser to take off the last traces of makeup. This one has honey and flower extracts that make it soothing to the skin. It can be used on sensitive skin like mine. It also has a great scent. It's at a good price point."
—Debra Jaliman, MD, board certified NYC dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of Dermatology at Icahn School of medicine at Mount Sinai
11 Trader Joe’s All-in-One Facial Cleanser
"Face cleansers need to be effective, but do not need to be expensive. Trader Joe’s All-in-One Facial Cleanser is a one-step cleanser that removes dirt, oil, and makeup. It also contains natural antioxidants like green tea extract, CoQ-10, and vitamin C to help undo DNA damage from daily UV and pollutants; anti-inflammatory, soothing ingredients that keep skin soft and less red (oat amino acids, copper, vitamin K); and vitamin A, that helps to gently exfoliate dull, dead surface skin. And finally, it is never over-drying and won’t leave your skin feeling tight or stripped."
—Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles and a clinical instructor at the University of Southern California
12 ISDINCEUTICS Skin Drops
“My favorite go-to that I won’t leave home without are ISDINCEUTICS Skin Drops. They are pure pigment drops that can be added to anything from your daily SPF to moisturizer [and] allow you to build customizable coverage—my go-to is a half a drop in my eye cream. Instant coverup!”
—Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, a Connecticut-based dermatologist.
13 EltaMD UV Tinted Elements SPF 44
"This is a micronized zinc oxide (physical sunblock) sunscreen with a very universal tint. It does not contain a chemical sunscreen agent and it also is composed of hyaluronic acid, a natural and powerful hydrating agent. I use it daily as the primer underneath my makeup during the week, and it is my tinted moisturizer on weekend. It is great, long-wearing, and stays put with both physical activity and water sports.”
—Melanie Palm, MD, MBA, board-certified dermatologist, assistant clinical professor at UCSD, and cosmetic surgeon at Art of Skin MD in Solana Beach, California
"EltaMD tinted daily moisturizing sunscreen is a go-to for me, as it is a broad-spectrum daily sunscreen that can work alone or under makeup. It has hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin and micro-sized particles of zinc oxide, making the product lightweight and easily applied. This product makes daily sunscreen an easy task!"
—Jordan Carqueville, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Chicago
14 IS Clinical Youth Serum
“I use IS Clinical Youth Serum every day before I apply makeup. It dries on the skin and contracts a bit to make a great palette for your foundation. I love it!"
—Anna Guanche, MD, board-certified dermatologist at the Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, California