Pharmacists' Picks: Top Recommended Health Products

These pharmacist-recommended over-the-counter products will make your next trip to the drugstore easier.

Young woman searching for medicine at the pharmacy.

With more information at your disposal, you'll be able to purchase safer and more effective products.

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Claritin or Zyrtec? Tylenol or Aleve? Carmex or ChapStick?

When you've got a drippy nose, monster headache or simply chapped lips, 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.

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 18 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 Health, in collaboration with Pharmacy Times, presents Top Recommended Health Products, a project 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 culled through pharmacists' survey responses to show how different brands stack up in 151 over-the-counter product categories, from cough suppressants and headache relief, to sleep aids and antacids.

All this information is easily navigable on our website. The first step to accessing the recommendations is to select from among the following broad product groups. Here are the 13, along with standout winners:

    Cough, Cold and Allergy
  • Cold Remedies: Cepacol and Zicam (tie)
  • Oral Decongestants: Sudafed
  • Cough Lozenges: Cepacol
    Diabetes Health
  • Diabetic Neuropathy Products: Capzasin
  • Diabetic Multivitamins: Nature Made
  • Oral Glucose Products: Glucerna and Insta-Glucose (tie)
  • Pregnancy Testing: e.p.t. and First Response and e.p.t (tie)
  • Blood Sampling Devices/Lancets: OneTouch
  • Blood Pressure Monitors: Omron
    Eyes, Ears, Nose and Throat 
  • Contact Lens Solutions: Opti-Free Replenish Multi-Purpose Solution
  • 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 (Cool Aloe Burn Relief Formula Pain Relieving Gel)
    Oral Care
  • Cold Sore Treatments: Abreva
  • Toothpaste (general use): Colgate Total and Crest (tie)
  • Teeth Whitening Products: Crest 3D Whitestrips
    Pain and Inflammation
  • Headache Products: Advil and Tylenol (tie)
  • 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: Blistex and Carmex (tie)
  • Acne Products: Neutrogena and Clearasil (tie)
    Women's Health
  • Menstrual Pain Relief: Midol
  • PMS Symptom Relief: Hyland’s PMS
  • Urinary Tract Infection Treatments: AZO Standard
    More Health Products
  • Sleep Aids: Unisom
  • Smoking Cessation Aids: NicoDerm CQ Patch
  • Snore Aids: Breathe Right

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 sunscreen add link when we have it -lm brands on the market, more than half the pharmacists surveyed preferred Neutrogena (52 percent) to Coppertone (30 percent) and other brands. Among cough lozenges (in Cough, Cold and Allergy), Cepacol is the go-to, not Halls, Ricola, Sucrets or any others. Claritin ties with Zyrtec in the Oral Antihistamines category, Advil and Tylenol beat Excedrin and Aleve 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 some cases, two or more products tied for that distinction, arising when their vote tallies came within 5 percentage points of the product with the most votes.

Note that when deciphering ties, U.S. News looks at the extended percentage into the millionths and trillionths and beyond, but to simplify, you'll see the percentages rounded to the whole numbers. Consequently, the sum of all product percentages in certain categories is sometimes 99 or 101 percent. There are also a few products that seem like they should be tied, given that they're only five rounded percentage points apart from the top product, but they're actually more than 5 percentage points apart, once you fully extend the numbers. Pharmacy Times handled rounding a little differently, and so some products differ by a percentage point between our website and the OTC Guide.

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 more informed and 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.

Updated on 06/18/2014: This article was originally published on June 19, 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most recent survey results by Pharmacy Times.

Updated on 06/19/2014: This article was updated to list winning 2014 products.