"Serums tend to have more concentrated ingredients, and they are lighter in feel, which is good if you don't like the heavy feel of a cream," Wu says. "But if your skin is dry, then a cream is better. You don't need both. After the first one or two products, any other products probably aren't doing anything."
In an effort to see for ourselves how drugstore products stack up, we took on the daunting task of checking out an array of cleansers, eye creams, wrinkle fillers and body lotions. All our selections were formulated in keeping with Wu's recommendations, and we asked an assortment of women ages 22 to 62 to give us their opinions after trying those suitable for their skin types for a week. What they told us in this admittedly subjective test is on the next page.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Facial Cleanser, $7.99, 6 ounces
On the plus side: It made skin feel clean and soft (thanks to the aloe in the formula); took care of the oily parts without clogging pores, or making the skin feel dry, as cleansers often can. What we're not so sure about: The very strong aroma is almost like that of cologne.
Skin Effects by Dr. Jeffrey Dover Cleansing Effects Gentle Foaming Cleanser for Sensitive Skin, $6.99, 6.6 ounces
Thumbs up: A little bit seemed to go a long way, and the foamy lather felt good and nondrying as it cleaned. Thumbs down: It didn't seem to remove makeup, though it did clean the skin once makeup had already been removed.
Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 15, $11.99, 4 ounces
This felt too thick and kind of chalky as it went on but absorbed to end up feeling light and lasting all day. The sunscreen is a plus.
Aveeno Ultra-Calming SPF 15 Day Lotion, $16.99, 4 ounces
Smelled great; lightweight and smoothed on nicely, making skin feel as if it was getting more moisture, compared with some other products.
Lumene Sensitive Touch Cleansing Wipes Face and Eye Makeup Remover, $2.99 for 10 wipes
On the plus side: extremely gentle, with no parabens, colors or harsh ingredients; very good for taking off light facial makeup. Not so good: It took two to remove eye makeup.
Normal and Combination Skin
Pond's Clean Sweep Micro Dermabrasion Wet Cleansing Towelettes, $7.29 for 30 wipes
This is a great idea: One side cleanses, one exfoliates, and you can also use it to remove waterproof makeup. Not a plus: It took some rubbing to remove eye makeup -- and rubbing the eye area is a no-no.
Burt's Bees Radiance Day Creme with royal jelly, $17.99, 2 ounces
It's a heavier cream, good for dryer skin, and our tester said it made her skin glow so that even her husband noticed. If only it had sunscreen, it would be her go-to day cream.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture for Combination Skin, $10.79, 4 ounces
Very light in texture, it felt good on the skin and didn't cause problems in the oily T-zone area. The downside: It has no sunscreen.
Basis Cleaner Clean Face Wash, $5.99, 6 ounces
This is a definite keeper. It cleans thoroughly, taking off makeup and stubborn mascara. It felt nice on the skin and smelled like a refreshing cucumber wash. A bonus: It's free of oils and soap.
CVS Oil-free Eye Makeup Remover, $5.49, 4 ounces
Another keeper: It removed all eyeliner and mascara in one clean sweep without leaving oily residue or stinging the eyes. Smelled appealingly of rose water.
L'Oreal Eye Makeup Remover, $6.99, 4 ounces
Light, not heavy like a cream, and it did remove all eye makeup, including mascara. A plus: The kelly-green color looks kind of cool.
Neutrogena Extra Gentle Cleanser, $7.99, 6.7 ounces
On the plus side: This was very gentle and the pump bottle easy to use. The downside: If you're looking for a cleanser that has some kind of "extra" -- an exfoliating agent, a wake-up-and-tingle feel or citrus-pop scent -- this isn't it.
Neutrogena Ageless Essentials Continuous Hydration Cream Cleanser, $7.99, 5.1 ounces
Soft texture and scent, easy to wash off, and, impressively, worked better than a more expensive exfoliating cleanser.
Garnier Skin Renew Radiance Moisture Cream, $12.99, 1.7 ounces
The positives: It smelled great and would probably work well for someone with moderately dry skin. The negatives: It didn't feel creamy enough for really dry skin. And the bright packaging won't suit everyone's taste.
Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash, $6.99, 6 ounces
An old fave that still trumps some department store brands. Makes the face feel clean, but not tight and dry, and does a good job removing tons of eye makeup. It even smells clean, and not too perfumey. The clear bottle is a nice touch, because you can see exactly how much is left.
CVS All Day Moisture Lotion SPF 15 for Sensitive Skin, $6.99, 4 ounces
Nice, light and supple. Absorbed quickly and left skin feeling young and dewy. The pump bottle makes it quick and easy to use.
Pond's Dry Skin Cream, $4.99, 3.9 ounces