Italy Roundtable: Basic Toiletries to Buy in Italy


Sometimes over the past five years, I’ve been able to plan weeks in advance what I was going to write about for the Italy Roundtable. For other topics, I only realize a few days beforehand that there’s a Roundtable post coming up.

This month falls into the latter category.

The good news is that when I saw the topic of HEALTH, I had just gotten off the phone with a friend about an Italy trip she was planning – and she had a question for me that I realized I hadn’t yet covered specifically on Italy Explained. It’s one part packing, one part shopping, and it might be a little bit of a stretch to match this month’s theme perfectly, but that’s one of the many wonderful things about being your own boss.

When I say that I want Italy Explained readers to feel like they’re getting travel advice from a friend, I mean it. So much so that when my high school friend Amy recently contacted me on Facebook asking questions about her upcoming trip to Venice, I had a bunch of links on the site to send her – the stuff I’d already written was almost exactly the same information I would have typed out to answer her questions.

One of the exceptions was something I realized I had skirted around in a couple of articles but hadn’t yet answered directly. Amy rightly wondered what liquids she could avoid bringing from home because of the liquid restrictions on flights, but she also didn’t want to spend half a day in search of something simple like toothpaste.

I’m here, then, to talk about the wonders of Italian pharmacies and all the random things you can easily pick up when you arrive. There are some things it’s probably best if you bring with you, though, which I’ve also listed below.

So I guess this means that not only do I think of my Italy Explained readers as friends, I think of my friends as Italy Explained readers.

Read more:

Liquids You Can Buy in Italy at the Pharmacy


It may not surprise you to learn that many of the brand names you’re familiar with at home are also on store shelves in Italy. That obviously makes buying shampoo or toothpaste much easier, even if you don’t speak the language. There are still some words you’ll need to know, however, so that you don’t end up buying a bottle of hand lotion when you meant to get body wash.

(Yeah, just ask me why I’ve used that as an example.)

Here’s a vocabulary list for your pharmacy visit:

  • Shampooshampoo (SHAM|pooh)
  • Conditionerbalsamo (BAL|sah|moh)
  • Shower Gel/Body Washsaponetta (sah|poh|NET|tah)
  • Hairspray – lacca (LAH|kah)
  • Hair Gel – gel (jell)
  • Toothpastedentifricio (den|tee|FREE|chyoh)
  • Hand Lotionlozione (loh|ZYOH|neh) or crema (KREH|mah)

Indigestion Remedies

Italians, as I’ve mentioned before, are semi-obsessed with digestion, so treatments for tummy troubles are abundant in Italian stores. You can find both Maalox and Immodium at the pharmacy, plus a tablet water-soluble tablet (akin to Alka-Seltzer) called Citrosodina. So unless you have more severe problems with your digestive system, it’s probably safe to pick up something for the odd tummyache (should you need it) when you’re in Italy.

Pharmacy Items You Should Bring from Home

  • Prescriptions – This may go without saying, but any prescriptions you take should go with you, liquid or otherwise. Pack them in your carry-on bag, and keep them in their original bottles so if you do need to get a prescription refilled it will be easier for a doctor or pharmacist to get the information they need.
  • Painkillers – These are usually pills and not liquids, but there’s another reason it’s a good idea to bring painkillers from home rather than buying them in Italy – cost. You can certainly find ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxyn and other pain remedies in Italy, but they’re most likely far more expensive than what you’d find at home. Costco bottles of Advil are a commonly-requested item by expats in Italy when family visits from the United States, and that’s why.
  • Sunscreen‡ – crema solare (KREH|mah soh|LAH|reh) – Italians love to get tan, so while you can find sunscreen in Italy it is rarely an SPF level high enough to actually protect your skin. Visiting Italy in the summer often means spending lots of time outside, whether you’re on the beach or just walking through Pompeii, so it behooves you to bring your higher-SPF sunscreen from home.

Reader and friend Laurel (who lived in Rome) left a comment below that I wanted to highlight here, for those of you who don’t read comments. She says, “I found sunscreen in high SPF easy to find at the pharmacy in Italy. There is increasing awareness of skin cancer and dermatologists are recommending SPF 50 so it is available. … Some of the brands are La Roche-Posay Anthelios, Eucerin, Vichy and Heliocare.” I hadn’t had luck finding SPF 50 when I was in Italy recently, but I’m determined to try again at Laurel’s urging!

Pharmacy vs. Grocery Store

Italy’s most charming food markets are not big grocery stores, but Italy has those, too. And, like big grocery stores elsewhere, there are usually small pharmacy departments inside for basic items.

I find actual pharmacies to be more ubiquitous (they’re even in most train stations), but if you come across a grocery store before you find a pharmacy be aware that you can usually find most of the basics (shampoo, toothpaste, body wash, etc.) there. Medications of any kind are typically only found in pharmacies.

Other Voices at the Italy Roundtable

Click along with me through to the following links to read each of their posts – and please leave comments, share them with your friends, and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

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14 responses to “Italy Roundtable: Basic Toiletries to Buy in Italy”

  1. Greg Speck says:

    Just the one idea about sunscreen has made my day. We enjoy shopping the the farmacia and ferramenta in Italy as we can usually find exactly what we want. As we prepare for our fall trip, I was debating whether to bring sunscreen. Now that question is answered. Thank you one more time. Grazie.

  2. Hi Jessica. I found sunscreen in high SPF easy to find at the pharmacy in Italy. There is increasing awareness of skin cancer and dermatologists are recommending SPF 50 so it is available. An Amercian doctor at the embassy published an article in the embassy newsletter singing the praises of Italian products because apparently they have an effective ingredient that American products do not have.(Did I save the article? If I did, I cannot find it.) Anyway, it is easy enough to find so travelers can bring a tiny tube from home and make a stop at the farmacia for a vacation-sized supply.

    • Jessica says:

      Wow! I must have always been going into the wrong pharmacies, because I haven’t seen it. That’s good to know, though!

  3. Karen Cookerly says:

    I was just finishing a box of cough drops I bought in Italy and was telling my mom about one of my pharmacy experiences. I got something in my eye and it was very painful. I had a scratched cornea. Our tour guide brought me to a pharmacy in Sorrento. They have doctors there for certain hours. They gave me eye drops and promised I would feel better in the morning. I did. The eye drops were the same thing I would have been prescribed here in the U.S. after waiting for hours at a clinic, then referred to a specialist, paying a large copay, etc. I was so impressed. I paid 12 euros as opposed to @$100. I love Italy for many reasons.

    • Jessica says:

      It’s true! As much as I’d rather not get sick while traveling, I love what I can get done at an Italian pharmacy that would be a hassle back home.

  4. Sarah says:

    Hi! I’ve found SPF 50 quite easily in supermarkets, even the small Carrefour Express next to my house. It’s usually the “kids” sunscreen that has a high SPF.

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for the note, Sarah! I’m going to search again next time I’m in Italy. I either hit the wrong stores, or gave up too soon. 😉 I’ve updated the article, though, so hopefully others will have better luck!

  5. MarshaM says:

    Whatever you do ladies, take a full month supply of menstrual products. Cycles change when you travel, and having scoured Venice for supplies I hadnt expected to need, in an urgent manner, let me spare you. I finally ran some horrifically expensive pads down in a convenience type store, as the pharmacy I’d found on Google maps was gone. Just TRUST me that this is not a search you want to waste time on. You may also save someone else’s trip.

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for the word of warning, Marsha! I know I’ve had to buy tampons in Italy before, but it was many years ago and I don’t recall it being a traumatic search. Maybe I just got lucky that time.

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