A Chemists’ Guide to Skincare That Works
Stem cells and snail slime are not on the list
The amount of skin care options available to slather on your face is dizzying. There are lotions, serums, masks, oils, and acids as well as stem cells, snail slime, charcoal, and even diamonds. And with complicated ingredient lists, it can feel like you need a chemistry degree to purchase a basic moisturizer.
Navigating the $134.8 billion global skin care industry is made even more confusing because many dermatologists have skin in the game. They might be paid consultants for cosmetic companies, sell high-end nonprescription products at their private practices, or even have their own skin care lines they want to promote.
“If these products work so well, number one: You wouldn’t see dermatologists aging, and you do,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr. Fayne Frey, author of FryFace, a website aimed at demystifying skin care. “Number two: You wouldn’t see all my cosmetic dermatology friends offering laser treatments and peels,” she continues, because if the products worked well, doctors wouldn’t have to rely on more complex treatments.
So what do impartial cosmetic chemists and dermatologists like Frey recommend? And what’s overpriced junk that will just fill up your pores while emptying your wallet? Read on.
The three basic tenets of skin care remain the same: Wash your face, use sunscreen during the day, and apply a moisturizer at night. But if you’re looking to go beyond the basics, it helps to have a little insider knowledge about the industry. Every skin care product you can buy online or at a drugstore is technically a cosmetic, meaning it could potentially change the appearance of your skin, but it cannot, by definition, change the skin cells themselves. Only drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are allowed to alter the structure or function of your skin.
“Anything that’s regulated as a drug is going to have the most evidence behind it,” says Michelle Wong, a PhD chemist and science educator who moonlights as the beauty blogger Lab Muffin. (Wong is not affiliated with any brands, although she does occasionally receive free product samples and writes sponsored posts. She takes special…