Pharmacists’ picks: Top recommended health products

Claritin or Zyrtec? Excedrin or Advil? Carmex or ChapStick?

When you’ve got a drippy nose or monster headache, chances are you head to your local pharmacy in search of relief, where endless over-the-counter treatment options await, sardine-packed on store shelves. For many of us, the which-product-should-I-buy decision is little more complex than a game of eeny, meeny, miney, mo. For some, it comes down to price. For others, it’s brand loyalty (Mom always went with …). For others yet, it’s whichever medication has the most convincing TV commercial. For most of us, it’s a decision we make alone. But we don’t have to.

[See: List of Top Recommended Products by Therapeutic Category.]

Enter the pharmacists — those white-coated, behind-the-counter individuals who, as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor, “dispense prescription medications to patients and offer advice on their safe use.” Indeed, pharmacists must understand the complex composition of medicines, as well as the laws that regulate their manufacture and sale, and they instruct patients on how and when to take a prescribed medicine, advise on potential side effects and stay alert for the possibility of risky drug interactions.

But they have a lot to say about all the products lining drugstore aisles, too. For more than 20 years, the industry trade publication Pharmacy Times has surveyed thousands of pharmacists nationwide to pinpoint their recommendations on a range of over-the-counter products. The results, published annually in its OTC Guide, are then widely circulated to pharmacists throughout the country to help them guide consumers’ shopping decisions.

And now you have the pharmacists’ intel, too.

U.S. News, in collaboration with Pharmacy Times, presents Top Recommended Health Products, a product aimed at getting those pharmacists’ recommendations into your hands. We see Top Recommended Health Products as a natural extension of our continuous commitment to helping Americans make important health decisions, whether it’s choosing a hospital, doctor, diet or medication. U.S. News and Pharmacy Times have combed through pharmacists’ survey responses to show how different brands stack up in more than 150 over-the-counter product categories, from cough suppressants and headache relief, to sleep aids and antacids.

[See: 5 Common Preventable Medical Errors.]

2018-19 Pharmacists’ Top Recommended Health Products

Navigate our website to find pharmacists’ favorite brands for all your over-the-counter needs, from allergy medicine and first-aid solutions to smoking cessation aids and ovulation prediction products. Here are the 13 groups, along with some standout winners:

Cough, Cold and Allergy

— Cold Remedies: Cepacol

— Oral Antihistamines: Claritin

— Oral Decongestants: Sudafed (pseudoephedrine)

Diabetes Health

— Diabetic Neuropathy Products: Aspercreme with Lidocaine

— Diabetic Multivitamins: Nature Made

— Oral Glucose Products: Insta-Glucose


— Blood Sampling Devices/Lancets: OneTouch

— Blood Pressure Monitors: Omron

— Peak Flow Meters: Omron

Eyes, Ears, Nose and Throat

— Contact Lens Solutions: OPTI-FREE

— Saline Nasal Moisturizers: Ocean

— Sore Throat Liquids, Sprays and Strips: Chloraseptic

First Aid

— Adhesive Bandages: BAND-AID

— Topical Antibiotics and Antiseptics: Neosporin

— Sun Burn Relief: Solarcaine

Oral Care

— Cold Sore Treatments: Abreva

— Toothpaste (general use): Crest

— Therapeutic Mouthwashes/Oral Rinses: Listerine

Pain and Inflammation

— Headache Products: Advil

— Migraine Headache Products: Excedrin Migraine

— Anti-Inflammatory Products: Advil


— Children’s Cough and Cold Combinations: Children’s Dimetapp

— Infant Formula: Enfamil

— Children’s Sore Throat Products: Chloraseptic Kids Sore Throat Spray

Stomach and GI

— Upset Stomach Remedies: Pepto-Bismol

— Antacids: TUMS

— Nausea Remedies: Emetrol


— Sunscreen: Neutrogena

— Lip Balms: Carmex

— Acne Products: Differin Gel

Vitamins and Supplements

— Nutritional Supplements: Ensure

— Multivitamins: Centrum

— Prenatal Vitamins: One A Day Prenatal

Women’s Health

— Menstrual Pain Relief: Midol Complete

— Pregnancy Testing: FIRST RESPONSE

— Urinary Pain Relief: AZO Urinary Pain Relief

More Health Products

— Sleep Aids: Unisom

— Smoking Cessation Aids: NicoDerm CQ Patch

— Aspirin for Heart Health: Bayer

Click around to find precisely what you’re looking for. Some of the findings might surprise you. For example, when it comes to the numerous scar treatment brands on the market, 72 percent of pharmacists recommended Mederma over all the other brands. Among oral antihistamines (in Cough, Cold and Allergy), Claritin is the go-to, before Zyrtec, Allegra Allergy or any others. One a Day Prenatal wins in the Prenatal Vitamins category, Advil beats Excedrin and Tylenol for headache relief, and Abreva wins among cold sore treatments by a mile.

U.S. News displays all brands that received at least 1 percent of pharmacists’ votes, but only products that garnered the most votes within a given category earned the “No. 1 Pharmacist Recommended” designation. In a few cases, this results in a tie.

Note that you’ll see the percentages rounded to whole numbers. Consequently, the sum of all product percentages in certain categories may sometimes be more or less than 100 percent. Pharmacy Times handled rounding a little differently, and so some products differ by a percentage point between our website and the OTC Guide.

[See: Your Guide to Over-the-Counter Pain Relief.]

For both resources, it’s important to note these pharmacist recommendations are based solely on brand-name products in cases where generics may be present.

We hope Top Recommended Health Products will help make your next trip to the drugstore a little less mind-boggling. While you should always check package labels for ingredients, directions and warnings, this information is another resource when considering different brands.

When in doubt about how well a product will handle the job, step up to the counter and ask.

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Pharmacists’ Picks: Top Recommended Health Products originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 06/12/18:

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