Many, many moons ago, Emily Weiss wrote ITG's first and definitive guide to Navigating a French Pharmacy. But just as the French Pharmacy conjures up feelings of wide-eyed wonder and quiet reverence, the American Drugstore too can feel mystical and exciting. Don't agree—maybe you're not looking hard enough. Your Avène and La-Roche Posay are excellent, but what about your Aveeno and Garnier? Approach your Duane Reade with these tenets in mind and you're in for a new experience. The first thing to keep in mind is...
1. Go in prepared
Where rule number one in the French alternative universe is to respect authority, in an American drugstore (or at least a run of the mill one—there are always exceptions to the rule), you go in alone and you come out alone. There's very little room for testing, swatching, and asking for advice here. So check your sources. Do a quick search of your most trusted sites (cough cough hello) and go in with a list. If you have specific skin concerns, a pro-tip: Dermatologists are loaded with drugstore samples if you want to try before you buy. Professional favorites include Cerave Hydrating Cleanser, Neutrogena Hydro Boost, and Aquaphor...tubs and tubs of Aquaphor.
2. Stay simple
Much like Kevin James dancing in Hitch, it's important to stay in a controlled zone while shopping for skincare at the drugstore. Trusted brands, heritage products, nothing new-fangled or highly technical. We're talking your Neutrogena Makeup Remover Wipes and sunscreens, your Cerave night cream, your Dove bar soaps... You've used these things for forever because they've worked for forever. So keep using them. Cleansing, hydrating, protecting—it's that simple. No need to reinvent the wheel, or spend more money on it.
3. Acne doesn't have to be the most expensive thing that's ever happened to you
When you start breaking out, it's tempting to buy everything under the sun that promises to fix it. Particularly the scorched earth, no bacteria left behind methods. Before you get carried away, try Differin. Long a doctor prescribed retinoid, it's now available over the counter for 10 bucks. If it sounds reliable, that's because it is. Similarly, Burt's Bees has made the trick of dabbing some tea tree oil on a spot much less messy with their convenient rollerball applicator. And of course Bioré strips. Love 'em, hate 'em...but they only cost $6.
4. Embrace the tub
Particularly in the hair aisle. Bypass the Pantene bottles shaped like curvy ladies and go straight for the hefty Shea Moisture and Cantu products in the tubs. Hyper-hydrating and nutritive, these masks will last you forever and come with the five-star reviews your hair deserves.
5. But if you want to be French...
There's Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water. Squint and it looks just like Bioderma. Use it and you can't tell the difference. Authentically American? Maybe not. But who cares? Your skin looks great.
Photographed by Tom Newton.