The Best OTC Products Top doctors pick their favorites
You've run into a drugstore to grab something. Next thing you know, you're standing dazed and confused in front of shelves stocked with more choices than Carter's has pills.
To make things easier, we asked professionals across the country what products they would choose. Next time you're feeling under the weather or simply struggling with too many OTC options, keep these favorites in mind.
"Of the multitude of drugs available, this is the most potent and effective over-the-counter acid suppression medicine on the market," says Paulo Pacheco, M.D., clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine. According to Dr. Pacheco, Prilosec OTC lasts longer than other OTC options, so you only need one dose a day.
Dr. Pacheco says Imodium A-D starts working about 30 minutes to an hour after you take it. The quick onset of action makes it "an extremely effective medicine and easy to take for acute or chronic diarrhea," he says.
In both soft-gel and chewable tablet form, "Gas-X is considered a very safe and effective over-the-counter drug for gas and bloating symptoms," says Dr. Pacheco. If you aren't able to find Gas-X, he suggests looking for other products that contain the same anti-gas agent, simethicone.
e.p.t Pregnancy Test
"It's readily available, easy to read and accurate—the easier the better," says Rebecca Brightman, M.D., an OB/GYN in private practice in New York City. It's proven to be more than 99 percent accurate after the first day of a missed period.
Clearblue Easy Ovulation Test
This relatively low-priced kit detects the surge in the hormone that signals ovulation, letting you better pinpoint your most fertile days. "Talk to your OB/GYN before splurging on one of the more expensive fertility monitors," suggests Dr. Brightman.
Monistat 3 Combination Pack
"This is hands-down one of the best OTC products out there, and it has helped women avoid unnecessary visits to the gynecologist," says Dr. Brightman. The three-day suppositories relieve ******l symptoms, and the external vulvar cream can be used twice a day for added relief, she says.
Mix these raspberry-lime and strawberry-kiwi packets with cold water and drink twice daily while experiencing premenstrual symptoms. "PMS Escape replaces the amino acids that are missing and may be associated with normal PMS-related mood disturbances," says Laura Riley, M.D., director of labor and delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Sonicare Elite by Philips
It's currently the number-one power toothbrush recommended by dental professionals in the U.S., says Barbara J. Steinberg, D.D.S., clinical professor of surgery at Drexel University College of Medicine. "I like it better than any other power toothbrush out there because it's very effective at plaque removal and excellent at stain removal," she says.
Arm & Hammer AdvanceWhite Baking Soda & Peroxide toothpaste and Crest Whitestrips
Although Dr. Steinberg strongly advocates seeking whitening treatment under the supervision of a dentist, she likes Arm & Hammer's toothpaste because the baking soda and peroxide don't remove enamel. One step up, she says, is Crest Whitestrips. "It doesn't have the same effect as going to the dentist, but some people like it better than whitening toothpaste."
Colgate Total and Arm & Hammer Enamel Care
"If you tend to develop gingivitis, there's really only one toothpaste: Colgate Total," says Dr. Steinberg. She recommends Arm & Hammer Enamel Care for sensitive teeth because it contains liquid calcium that fills in the small cracks in tooth enamel.
Nasal Spray for Allergy Prevention*
Approved for regular use to prevent and treat allergies, NasalCrom's principal ingredient had been a prescription medication for many years. By inhibiting the release of histamines that is triggered by an allergen, "it can be helpful for seasonal allergies, and it can also help those with cat or other animal dander allergies," says William Anderson, M.D., an allergy/immunology specialist in Bellingham, Washington.
Loratadine (generic form of Claritin)
Dr. Anderson recommends using this non-sedating medication in conjunction with NasalCrom to reduce the histamine reaction that occurs with exposure to allergens such as animal dander and pollen.
To reduce nasal congestion or stuffiness, Dr. Anderson often refers patients to pseudoephedrine. "I usually advise avoiding this in the evening as it may keep you awake at night." (If you have high blood pressure, check with your doctor first.)
Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture and Coppertone Sport
"Neutrogena makes lots of fabulous sunscreens depending on skin type," says Debra Wattenberg, M.D., a dermatologist in private practice in New York City. "They're very innovative with their technology." She loves the spray lotions because "they're elegant in the way that they spray on." Lynn McKinley-Grant, M.D., a physician in private practice in Chevy Chase, Maryland, likes waterproof Coppertone Sport sunscreen. "Kids think it's cool and sporty, so they will use it in large amounts."
Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10 and Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
Our expert dermatologists suggest using products that include specific active ingredients. Dr. Wattenberg likes Clean & Clear's Persa-Gel 10 with benzoyl peroxide. "It helps fight off the bacteria that cause acne," she says. Dr. McKinley-Grant recommends Neutrogena's wash with salicylic acid to combat blackheads, whiteheads, regular acne and back acne.
Vaseline, RoC Retinol creams and Neutrogena Healthy Skin products
Here's a dermatologist's trick: Mix Vaseline jelly with water to turn it into a cream. "Avoid using it on your face if you're prone to acne," says Dr. McKinley-Grant. "But Vaseline is the secret of my 80-year-old patients who look 60!" Dr. Wattenberg recommends RoC Retinol creams and Neutrogena Healthy Skin because the retinol "helps unstick the glue between cells, improving texture and tone."
UTI Pain Relief
Antibiotics are required to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs), but "these OTC meds will give you almost immediate relief from UTI symptoms," says Dr. Brightman. ("Beware: It will turn your urine bright orange," she warns.)
Astroglide and Replens
"While the name is good for a few laughs," says Dr. Brightman, "Astroglide is very popular and my patients who use it rave about it." Dr. Riley recommends Replens as well, and explains that both products are water-based and don't promote dryness.
Act and Listerine
Dr. Steinberg favors mouthwashes that fulfill specific needs. If you're worried about cavities, she says, look for one with fluoride in it, such as Act. "If you have gingivitis, your dentist may recommend an antimicrobial mouthwash for its therapeutic benefits," she says. "The best is Listerine."
Dry Mouth/Bad Breath*
Many people who chew on sweets such as peppermints and sugar-filled gum all day don't realize that while they may be solving their immediate breath problems, they may also be contributing to future cavities. Dr. Steinberg says, "I personally carry around Listerine Pocketpaks," which are sugar-free. "These are strictly for a clean taste and to freshen your breath."
Refresh and similar products
"I find myself recommending an OTC, non-medicated, saline-based eye lubricant or rinse," says Dr. Anderson, "and I recommend those available in the small single-use vials such as Refresh." The small vials don't contain the preservatives found in squeeze-bottle eye drops, he says.
Nasal Spray for Congestion
Ocean and Afrin
Dr. Anderson recommends Ocean to anyone with rhinitis or a cold. "Some nasal congestion is actually due to mucus within the nasal passage, and rinsing this out can relieve discomfort," he says. And although some doctors have recently become concerned about Afrin's potential to result in dependency after long-term use, Anne-Marie Irani, M.D., chair of the division of pediatric allergy and immunology at Virginia Commonwealth University, likes it for short-term use. "If you use it the right way, it's beautiful," she says. "It's perfect to treat symptoms of the common cold for no longer than three days." (If you have high blood pressure, check with your doctor first.)
Sensitive Skin Products
Cetaphil and Eucerin Dry Skin Therapy Calming Creme
Cetaphil has been a favorite of dermatologists and patients alike for years, thanks to its gentle but thorough cleansing abilities. For another option, "I like Eucerin Calming Creme," says Dr. Wattenberg. "It contains oatmeal, which is soothing and feels great."
Head & Shoulders, Neutrogena Therapeutic T/Gel Shampoo, ZNP Bar and Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Shampoo
Dr. Wattenberg suggests trying Head & Shoulders for mild cases of dandruff and Neutrogena T/Gel for moderate cases. Dr. McKinley-Grant likes the ZNP Bar, which she calls "basically Head & Shoulders in a bar." She adds, "Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Shampoo is great for people who have any type of perm or haircolor."
"The active ingredient in Lamisil has been tested and works quite effectively on most types of fungi," Dr. Wattenberg says. "I prefer Lamisil cream to the sprays." The skin absorbs creams better than powder sprays, she explains, but the sprays are good for preventing new infections.
Don't get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.