Which OTC Health Products Are Best?

New Report Claims to Know


If you’ve been in a drugstore recently or shopped online, you know: The number and variety of over-the-counter health products on the market — from cough syrups to anti-wrinkle creams — can be overwhelming. Which to choose and which to bypass? Which work best?

In a new report released today, U.S. News & World Report has attempted to answer those questions. The publication partnered with the Harris Poll for the second consecutive year to produce the report, ranking products in 132 categories based on input from pharmacists and dermatologists. Consumers can access it free of charge.

The list is robust, according to Shanley Chien, senior editor of health at U.S. News. It includes more than 900 brands across the 132 product categories. Among the categories are acne treatments, sunscreens, sleep aids, blood pressure monitors, and cough suppressants.

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While many products got good ratings, the brand with the most No. 1 products this year is Nature Made, followed by CeraVe and Neutrogena. The company with the most products ranked number 1 is Kenvue (formerly a Johnson & Johnson division) followed by Haleon (Sensodyne, Advil, Centrum) and Parmavite LLC (Nature Made). 

How to use the list? “It’s really based on individual needs,” Chien said. For instance, if you’re trying to find the best multivitamin for your child, you can refer to the list for suggestions. (Flintstones got the top spot.) It’s based on symptoms and what you are trying to treat, she said. 


For the rankings, U.S. News and Harris surveyed 354 pharmacists and 122 dermatologists practicing in the U.S. in February. 

Those surveyed took into consideration availability, accessibility, costs, affordability, safety, efficacy, and quality when choosing best brands. For instance, Chien said, many experts said they ranked some migraine medicines higher than others because they were both effective and more accessible — and that accessibility is important for those with migraine trying to resume their schedule. 


Both pharmacists and dermatologists selected the top three brands in each product category assigned to them. A top-ranked brand got 5 points, second place, 3, and third place, 1. Unranked got no points. Brands were ranked by the total number of points received. 

No compensation or incentives were given to the participants. The pharmacists and dermatologists did comment on how familiar they were with the categories they were asked to rate, but financial ties to companies were not tracked. No responses mentioned conflicts of interest, according to US News. 

The Winners

Among the many products ranked No. 1 in various categories by pharmacists are:

Arthritis creams: Voltaren

Arthritis pain relief: Aleve

Back pain: Motrin

Blood pressure monitors: Omron

Burn treatment: Neosporin

Children’s cough medicine: Children’s Delsym

Children’s multivitamins: Flintstones

Decongestants (Oral): Sudafed (Pseudoephedrine)

Diarrhea remedies: Imodium

Fish oil/omega-3 supplements: Nature Made

Men’s multivitamins: Centrum

Women’s multivitamins: One A Day

Sore throat sprays: Chloraseptic

Among the many products evaluated by dermatologists and ranked No. 1: 

Baby sunscreens: Aveeno Baby

Baby wipes: Aveeno

Dandruff shampoos: Head and Shoulders

Diaper rash: Desitin

Eye creams (anti-wrinkle): La Roche-Posay

Face moisturizers: CeraVe

Hand creams: Neutrogena

Moisturizers with SPF, night creams: CeraVe

Sunscreens (Facial): EltaMD

Wrinkle creams: Neutrogena


A pharmacist and two dermatologists reviewed the new report for WebMD and had some additional suggestions on how to use it and what other actions are needed to find effective products.

The experts see a need for guidance. 

“The variety of products available for similar indications marketed by different manufacturers can be overwhelming and difficult for consumers to navigate,” said Melody Berg, PharmD, editorial director of patient medication information for ASHP (the American Society of Health-System

Pharmacists).  “Although this list attempts to help make that decision more manageable, it cannot replace the medical expertise of a pharmacist or other health care provider.” 

Besides encouraging people to speak with their pharmacist, she stressed the importance of knowing what the active ingredient is in a product, not simply the brand name.

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She suggested using the new report “as a launching point for discussion” with one’s pharmacist. The ASHP patient medication website Safe Medication also provides valid information on OTC products, she said.

When choosing OTC products, individual needs and personal specifics must be considered, said John Barbieri, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Advanced Acne Therapeutics Clinic at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.  “When it comes to skin care, it’s important to consider which ingredients and formulations make the most sense for someone’s skin type and skin care goals,” he said. 

He also urges people to think about an overall skin care routine, not just to focus on single products.

For skin care products, “I would look for products that are dermatologist-approved or recommended,” said Mamina Turegano, MD, a New Orleans dermatologist. “Oftentimes these are brands that have rigorous research behind the products and their ingredients.” 

These products often avoid the use of fragrance and dyes, she said, which are problematic for some. 

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