• Home
  • Guide
  • A Field Guide For Drugstore Shopping

A Field Guide For Drugstore Shopping


If you really want to forget all your problems for exactly ten minutes, head to a drugstore. Going in for nothing and leaving with a jump rope, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and a pair of knockoff Crocs is probably the most fun weekend activity late capitalism has to offer. But just on the off chance you are in there for something specific, we’ve got some tips for smarter shopping. Drugstores should be soothing oases of abundance, which is a hard vibe to maintain when you’ve got to match your foundation shade without any help, or pick out the best mascara in a sea of literally 20 identical-looking mascaras. Here’s how to breeze through the beauty section like you just had a particularly effective acupuncture session:

Keep your eye on the prize

You’ll be a lot happier with your purchases if you make a list of the products you need to replenish or want to try before you even step foot inside the store. Stay focused! In the Notes app on your phone, write down the items you’re looking for grouped by category. (That’ll make it easier to navigate the different aisles once you’re inside.)

Know your shades before you shop

The last person to correctly pick their foundation shade in bad overhead light without even opening the bottles immediately left the drugstore, won the lottery, bumped into Michael B. Jordan on the street on their way to cash the check and is now carrying his unborn child. Kidding! But it really is unlikely you’ll match your skin tone on the first go. While drugstore brands never offer testing samples, they usually do have shade matching tools online. A more general shade finding tool like Temptalia’s Foundation Matrix gives you options across brands, in case anything’s out of stock. And for first-time complexion shoppers without any foundations shades to use as a reference, see what Fenty’s shade finder spits out. The tool itself is spot on and their 50 shade range allows for a super close match to compare other foundations against.

Base where you shop on what you want

Of course, the big brands are going to be stocked everywhere. But lots of indie brands are also stocked at select drugstores, and you’ve got to know where the fun stuff is. At Target, you’ll find exclusive brands like Versed, Sonia Kashuik, and Kristin Ess, plus small brands like Starface, Lip Bar, Black Girl Sunscreen, and Tenoverten. CVS is the place to shop Flower Beauty, plus K-beauty brands like Peach Slices, Peripera, and Tony Moly. (Actually, the store’s K-beauty offering was curated by Alicia Yoon of K-beauty mecca Peach and Lily.) And Walgreens and Duane Reade have wider offerings from French pharmacy brands like Avène, La Roche-Posay, and Vichy.

Stick to the greatest hits

They’re the greatest for a reason! Most brands are known for a couple really great products. Sometimes it’s because their entire line specializes in the thing. Cerave, La Roche-Posay, and all have great gentle, fragrance-free options for sensitive skin, and for something like dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis, you really can’t beat Head & Shoulders. If you have a deeper complexion, utilize makeup lines specifically designed with dark skin and its varying undertones in mind. And if you have curly hair, regardless of your skin tone, make a beeline for the natural hair section to shop brands like Shea Moisture, Miss Jessie’s, and Camille Rose. Other times, drugstore brands share a parent company with luxury brands. YSL, Armani, It Cosmetics, Lancôme, Nyx, L’Oréal, and Maybelline are all under the L’Oréal umbrella. Olay (which shares a parent company with SK-II) is great for wrinkle-reducing active products.

Strategize larger purchases

If you give an opened product back to a store they have to throw it out, and you should always try to do a little legwork before you buy to minimize potential waste. But things at the drugstore can still cost around 40 bucks, and it’s nice to have an insurance plan if a product ends up being unusable. Target gives refunds on most opened beauty products within three months of purchase if you have the receipt. CVS gives refunds on beauty products within 60 days, and Rite Aid only gives you a month. Walgreens (and Duane Reade, because they’re the same company) can only offer refunds in store credit, and they’re up to the store manager’s discretion. If you’re taking a risk on something pricier, it’s good to double check your store’s policy.

Photo via ITG