The Best Skin-Care Brands Created by Dermatologists, According to a Cosmetic Industry Expert
Skin doctors making skin-care products — it’s kind of a no-brainer. Demanding a bit more of our cerebrum, however, is the task of analyzing the countless physician-fronted potions that cross our desks at Allure every day. While touted as the ultimate inventions of world-renowned dermatologists and plastic surgeons, not every MD-emblazoned bottle boasts the actual blood, sweat, and tears of its famous founder. For some doctors, “it’s more about PR than science,” says Wendy Lewis, an international cosmetic-surgery insider, and a virtual Who’s Who of aesthetic pros. “There’s a distinct difference between a doctor who has a personal vision and is directly involved in every step of the formulary process and one who simply slaps his or her name on a contract manufacturer’s existing formula.” To create a standout brand, she adds, it takes a village — and an abundant budget, because designing even a single original formula can be a six-figure proposition. Since it’s nearly impossible for even the savviest shopper to distinguish between a true expert innovation and the skin-care equivalent of fool’s gold, we asked Lewis for the inside scoop. After debating the merits of dozens of doctor brands — new and old, widely acclaimed and more obscure — she singled out six worth investing in. Who’s up for a house call from some of the world’s most beautiful minds?
Behind the Brand:Macrene Alexiades, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University, and an adjunct professor at Sigros Hospital at the University of Athens. She runs a private practice on Park Avenue in New York City.
#SkinGoals: “To create an all-in-one, toxin-free, truly effective treatment for my patients, many of whom were layering on products with trendy, but unproven ingredients, and loads of preservatives,” says Alexiades. “I aimed to simplify and maximize each product with 37 active ingredients. Now we’re up to 50 scientifically proven, plant-derived ingredients in each bottle, all designed to improve skin health and reverse the signs of aging.” The brand is free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates, fragrance, animal- and human-derived ingredients; all of the plant extracts are USDA-certified organic. “I envision active ingredients ultimately replacing in-office procedures, and believe 37 Actives is already doing just that, with my lip treatment replacing injectable fillers, and my décolletage cream obviating the need for IPL of the neck and chest,” she says.
Inside Scoop: “Dr. Alexiades is considered a ‘doctor’s doctor’ by her peers,” says Lewis. “Her scientific knowledge is head-and-shoulders above most lifelong researchers, and she slaves over her formulas — each of which is an original, patented creation. She’s launched only one product per year, because she is such a perfectionist, and really takes her time getting her formulations just right before debuting them. 37 Actives is a high-performing, luxury skin-care line, and it’s all Macrene, all the way.”
#SkinGoals: “I first came across vitamin A in 1979 when searching for ways to treat melanoma,” says Fernandes. “I was so impressed with my patients’ [line-smoothing and spot-fading] results from retinoic acid, I began using it myself, but found I was very sensitive to it.” In the mid-80s, he set out to create a product line to protect against sun damage — one built around vitamin A and antioxidants — but cosmetic manufacturers “thought I was crazy, because vitamin A only irritates the skin, they said, and free radicals were still ridiculously unknown.” From an independent lab, he researched appropriate levels of vitamin A to create his signature “step-up system” that allows people to gradually get professional results from retinoids without skin reactions. “I’m actively involved in the concept and formulation of each product right from the start, and I test my ideas on real people, many of whom are my patients,” he says.
Inside Scoop: “Dr. Des, as he’s known to patients, is one of the top aesthetic doctors in the world, and his product line is regarded as a giant among doctor-backed brands, having been influential in advancing the MD skin-care concept in the 1980s. His brand’s heritage is based on vitamins A, C, and E, plus a host of other antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, and peptides. He’s also a pioneer in the field of microneedling and was one of the earliest proponents of at-home dermarolling. When I first saw his spiky, gold-plated roller, I remember thinking it looked like something out of the Tower of London. Now, I keep several of them by my bedside and use them nightly, without hesitation, to stimulate collagen. This doctor has always been way ahead of his time,” says Lewis.
Behind the Brand:Steven Wang, the director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and the chair of the Photobiology Committee for the Skin Cancer Foundation. He cofounded the line with his father, Gui T. Wang, a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist.
#SkinGoals: “My father and I spent more than four years in research, blending the best of Eastern herbal traditions with the rigor of Western modern science to ensure our products are effective, natural, and good for the skin,” says Wang. “Our mission is to help people attain skin health first, as this is the foundation for a flawless and youthful appearance. We aim to educate and inspire people to live a holistic life — to focus on skin wellness rather than just getting rid of wrinkles or blemishes. Ultimately, we want to address the root of such issues, which is the essence of traditional Chinese medicine.”
Inside Scoop: “Dr. Wang is one of my favorite new finds,” Lewis says. “I, of course, knew of him as a dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering and as a published researcher and photobiologist, but only recently discovered he had launched this brand with his father. The formulas are elegant and lovely. Their first product was a unique purple eczema remedy [Herbal Rescue Balm] that sold out on HSN in a matter of minutes. His new serum was designed using a novel patented MicroDroplet technology, which is completely heat-free to preserve all the active ingredients. Overall, the exquisite attention to detail in both the packaging and ingredients really stands out for me. This derm researcher is the real deal.”
Behind the Brand:Carl Thornfeldt, a dermatologist in Fruitland, Idaho, who’s done over 30 years of research on the skin barrier, inflammation, botanicals, and disease therapies.
#SkinGoals: “To help repair the skin barrier and stop chronic inflammation with botanicals that address the complexity of the systems and processes of the skin, and a delivery system that targets cells without damaging the barrier,” says Thornfeldt. “We conduct evidence-based clinical studies on our final formulations to prove safety and efficacy, very often testing them against prescription products and achieving equal benefits without the irritation of Rx formulas.”
Inside Scoop: “Dr. Thornfeldt is a straight-shooting, down-to-earth, real medical dermatologist from the heartland,” says Lewis. “He started out treating skin diseases, like eczema (he was plagued with dermatitis as a child), eventually coming to realize that many of the prescription topicals enlisted to correct these problems can break down the skin barrier and eventually cause patients to quit using them. This inspired him to develop products specifically to restore the barrier and prevent inflammation. He’s passionate about his brand, and has done years of clinical and formulation research to make sure his products actually achieve these goals.”
Behind the Brand:Harold Lancer, a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, and a Beverly Hills-based dermatologist famous for tending to Hollywood royalty — Oprah, Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian West, and Victoria Beckham among others.
#SkinGoals: “Over three decades of patient care has provided me with phenomenal opportunities for direct observation and creative solutions,” Lancer says. “My skin-care philosophy is rooted in a holistic approach — it’s meticulously following a daily program and also employing great self-care. I believe using high-quality products and integrating lifestyle practices — exercise, clean eating, stress reduction, proper sleep habits — can go a long way in achieving glowing skin and overall health.”
Inside Scoop: “Dr. Lancer is a derm legend — the original ‘red-carpet ready’ man to see on Rodeo Drive,” says Lewis. “He’s an innovator who adds his personal twist to new treatments and emerging technologies. His original The Method: Polish — a daily exfoliating scrub, and step-two in his signature Lancer Method product trio — is renowned for giving A-listers that ‘Lancer glow.’ He recently partnered with his patient, Ryan Seacrest, to create Polished, a men’s grooming line that’s equally results-driven.”
Behind the Brand:Zein Obagi, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, specializing in pigmentation disorders and chemical peels. He developed one of the first MD skin-care collections — the original Obagi Nu-Derm System — in the 80s.
#SkinGoals: “For years, I saw women coming into my practice with melasma, acne, and sun damage,” says Obagi. “I’d fix their skin with chemical peels and laser resurfacing, but then they’d go back to department stores and buy the wrong product for the wrong reasons, and I’d see them back again in a year with the same issues. So, I wanted to create a skin-care collection that would enable physicians to keep their patients’ skin healthy for the rest of their lives — a line of products that would offer solutions for all skin needs.”
Inside Scoop: “I first met Dr. Obagi at a plastic surgery conference in the late 1990s,” says Lewis. “The auditorium was packed, but you could’ve heard a pin drop as he took the podium. The before-and-after photos he presented blew the audience away— such dramatic improvements from topical treatments and peels. He was considered quite a renegade in the early days. I’ve since seen him lecture in London, Paris, and Monaco, where he’s followed by crowds shouting questions and taking pictures. This doctor practices what he preaches: In fact, he and all of his family and staff members have fresh, baby-soft skin. Over the years, his skin-care empire has grown to include huge clinical research and product development teams, but Dr. Obagi remains very involved in the process, and is just as sharp as he was when I met him 20 years ago.”