Skin doctors developing their own product lines – it’s a no-brainer. After all, these are the people who really understand the miscellany of skin problems, down to the ingredients that effectively treat them. That said, what place does doctor‑developed skincare have in an industry already saturated with new products popping up every week? Granted, there has been much noise surrounding doctor brands –111Skin created quite a buzz earlier this year when, backstage at New York Fashion Week, models from Bella Hadid at Brandon Maxwell to Candice Swanepoel at Oscar de la Renta got runway-ready with its easy-to-apply face and eye masks for a quick skincare boost. But how much of that is white noise and how much is real?
Filling a gap in the market
The skincare industry typically categorises its products broadly – for dry, oily, sensitive, normal or combination skin. But the truth is, not everyone’s skin fits neatly into these clearly defined groups; there may be instances when your skin is dry, oily and sensitive all at once. Times like this, you’ll be hard-pressed to find mass-market products that can address your needs.
The reason is simple: Big skincare companies often rely on volume to justify the creation of a new product. If there isn’t a large enough group of people with the same skin condition, it’s just not good business sense to create a product to serve a small clientele.
This is where doctor brands come into the picture. For Dr SK Tan, founder of IDS Skincare and IDS Clinic, the idea of developing his own skincare line was sparked by seeing patients who were either using over‑the-counter products that did nothing for their skin or prescription creams that are efficacious but sometimes come with undesirable side effects.
“I felt that there was a place for products that would offer efficacy without side effects,” Dr Tan shared. “So I searched for credible formulators and manufacturers who were able to help me in this process.” What resulted was a partnership with a Stanford University-based research laboratory and the setting up of his own research labs, which culminated in the launch of his skincare line in 2014.
Dr Tan isn’t alone in this; we see the same story with other doctors. Celebrity skincare maverick Dr Erno Laszlo, for instance, created the Phormula 3 line to tackle his clients’ very specific issues. He developed Phormula 3-1 to treat Princess Stephanie of Hungary’s severe acne and Phormula 3-8 to heal a scar on Marilyn Monroe’s stomach.
There’s also Dr Yannis Alexandrides, who developed 111Skin to aid in post-treatment skin healing. “As a plastic surgeon, I was researching products that would help patients heal quicker after surgery.” His research led him to outer space – specifically, its impact on astronauts, who experience an accelerated rate of ageing due to radiation and the lack of gravity. His intention was to create products that would help counter that. “In a way, space is like a perfect laboratory for studying ageing!” The research resulted in an ingredient that is used in his Y Theorem Repair Light Serum and other products in his range of skincare.
Likewise, Dr Dennis Gross’ eponymous skincare brand, sprung out of his clinical practice, was initially developed for his own patients. He notes that he has an advantage over the bigger boys: “Big cosmetic companies do not have a major 5th Avenue dermatology practice that serves as a living lab to develop products and learn how to formulate for all skin types.” His expertise, which combines clinical dermatology and his background as a biochemist specialising in skin cancer, allows him to formulate based on real-world skin concerns experienced by his patients, filling in gaps that big skincare companies miss out.
Key to efficacious products are active ingredients and a delivery system that will get those actives into the dermis where they can work their magic. While actives are found in both doctor-developed and mass-market brands, the latter are often restricted by the need for stable formulas that can survive long delivery routes and have a longer shelf life. This means that ingredient strength tends to be kept low.
Doctor brands often have no such issues, thanks to selective retailing and smaller production batches. There’s also the responsibility that comes with putting one’s name behind a brand: for doctors, this translates into ensuring that their products have all the right ingredients at the optimum concentration for maximum efficacy. Doctors also usually have no qualms about using ingredients that are more expensive and offer better, longer‑lasting results. Dr Gross put it best when he said: “I wanted to make skincare products that were results-driven and scientifically backed, and with pharmaceutical-grade ingredients that undergo clinical testing, so you know they’re going to really work.”
And as these skin experts are directly involved in the formulary process, there’s also less risk of incompatibility between the ingredients in different products. Which means you’re able to mix and match them for a skincare routine tailored to your needs. Moreover, instead of investing money in pretty packaging, branding, and marketing materials, most of the money doctor brands make often go back into research in order to create new formulas or enhance existing ones – a good thing for end-users.
The big question
So should you only shop doctor brands then? While there are benefits to using doctor’s skincare, it pays to be discerning. Just because a doctor’s name is on the product doesn’t necessarily mean he or she was involved in the formulary process – it could be a case of endorsement of formulas that are produced by independent labs. On the flip side, there are excellent products formulated by big skincare companies with the resources to do research on innovative skincare ingredients that suit a wider audience.
The bottom line is, you should always do your research – about the ingredients used, their concentrations, the results of clinical studies – and be critical when it comes to purchasing skincare. And while your complexion woes may be skin deep, it’s definitely wise to look way past the surface when it comes to picking your skincare products.
This article first appeared in Harper’s Bazaar Singapore