MD FORTÉ is a medical grade cosmeceutical line owned by Allergan (makers of Botox) and is physician dispensed -  meaning it is sold exclusively in dermatologist offices or medispas. The star ingredient in this line is glycolic acid, which is chemically derived from sugar cane. Glycolic acid is the most potent of all the naturally occurring alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) due to the small size of the molecules which enable quick penetration into the skin. This makes glycolic the go-to acid for dry, mature skin and anyone desiring rapid results. However, the high bio-availability of glycolic acid also makes it a potential skin irritant. Irritation effects include dryness, heightened skin sensitivity and peeling. It is generally too strong for all but the most resilient skin types.

MD FORTÉ products contain up to 2–3 times higher levels of glycolic acid than similar products at comparable prices. The product formulations have a pH close to the skin’s natural pH of approximately 5.5. While a higher pH may reduce irritation, the trade-off is lowered product penetration. MD FORTÉ has addressed this through a proprietary time released mechanism called “partial neutralization”. High concentrations of glycolic are slowly released over 2 phases which allows for a partially pH adjusted glycolic level enabling higher toleration and reduced irritation from the potent levels of glycolic acid. (You can read more on the importance of pH balance and glycolic).

While I do have issues with some of MD FORTÉ’s product offerings, I think the products overall are generally well formulated and I am a fan of the cleansers which are free of soap and oil. An excellent cleanser is especially important for acne prone skin as it helps to manage the level of sebum that is overproduced by oily skin. However, most cleansers made to address actinic skin contain soap; a harsh detergent that strips the skin of essential elements, which further aggravate already inflamed skin. As the MD FORTÉ products are soap free, the skin’s pH is maintained during cleansing. Moreover, a glycolic cleanser is a good choice for anyone with ultra sensitive skin who normally cannot tolerate the potency of glycolic. The glycolic ingredient has a relatively brief interaction with the skin during the cleansing process. This abbreviated interaction combined with regular use, yields excellent results use over time. It’s important to remember that good results will take some time and to manage expectations as such.

The 5 products encompassing the MD FORTÉ cleanser line are company bestsellers and are offered in a cream or gel base. Per MD FORTÉ, the facial cleansers contain a proprietary "Glycolic Compound" which is a pH balanced blend of glycolic, ammonium glycolate and a “higher-molecular-weight oligomer (a smaller type of polymer)of glycolic with an approximate activity level of 60%”. The cream based Facial Cleanser range of I, II and III are available in glycolic concentrations of 12%, 15% & 30%, respectively. The company recommends starting with Facial Cleanser I ($25-8oz) for 4-6 months and then graduating to Facial Cleanser II ($28-8oz). MD FORTÉ recommends consulting a physician before using the Facial Cleanser III ($30-8oz).  The gel based cleanser,  Glycare Cleansing Gel ($25-8oz) has a 15% glycolic concentration and is an ideal choice for anyone with oily, actinic skin.

Lastly, MD FORTÉ offers a glycolic free cleanser called Replenish Hydrating Cleanser ($30-8oz). Why bother making a glycolic free cleanser if the product line is glycolic based? MD FORTÉ recommends using the glycolic free cleanser in combination or alternating with the glycolic based cleansers to minimize irritation for extremely sensitive skin types.

As a licensed clinical esthetician who works with clients suffering from conditions ranging from acne to dry, dehydrated skin, I have recommended the various MD FORTÉ Cleansers to clients as part of their home care regimen. Many clients who don’t tolerate glycolic well have had tremendous success with the cleansers when incorporated into an appropriate skin care regimen. Almost all skin types can benefit from the cleansers when using the cleanser specified for their skin type.  However, this product will not help manage cystic acne.

I recommend starting with the lowest concentration and gradually going higher - but only if needed. Some clients who have increased their tolerance to glycolic (slowly, with regular use) can even leave the cleanser on for a few minutes to obtain quicker results. Another approach is to potentially use it as a mask. First, cleanse with a gentle “non-glycolic” cleanser and then apply a thin layer (thin, being the operative word here) of the MD FORTÉ cleanser on clean, dry skin for a few minutes. This mask method should be applied with care as the product can tingle. Please don’t let the tingle turn into a burning sensation before rinsing it off! It will only result in irritated, aggravated skin and delay the use of the product. The skin must be restored to a healthy state before the cleanser can be used again. It’s also important to point out that some can experience accelerated breakouts when they first start using the cleanser. This is a type of skin “purging” and I believe if you persist with it, you are likely to see an improvement in your skin over time.

The use of glycolic acid renders the skin more sensitive to the sun so I like that MD FORTÉ recommends using an SPF in combination with their products. I don’t like that they recommend an SPF of only 15 or greater. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a"broad spectrum" SPF of at least 30 or greater for maximum protection from sunburn, early skin aging and skin cancer. These cleansers should not be used on the eyes and I recommend using a separate eye makeup remover. Lastly, glycolic should not be used in combination with a retinol or retinoid so be sure to rinse the cleanser off very well and wait a few minutes before applying another product. This gives the skin time to calm down from the effects of the glycolic.

Ingredients in MD FORTÉ Facial Cleanser I, II, III (12%, 15%, & 20% glycolic compound, respectively): Purified Water (Aqua), Ammonium Glycolate, Cetyl Alcohol, Glycolic Acid (12%), Stearyl Alcohol, Sorbitol, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Methylparaben, Propylparaben

Ingredients in MD FORTÉ Glycare Cleansing Gel (15% glycolic compound):

Purified Water, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, Glycolic Acid & Ammonium Glycolate, Glycerin, Disodium Cocamphodiacetate, Ammonium Cholride, Propylene Glycol (and) Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Methylparaben (and) Propylparaben

Ingredients in MD FORTÉ Replenish Hydrating Cleanser: Purified Water (Aqua), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Glycerin, Disodium Cocamphodiacetate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sucrose Cocoate, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocate, PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Glycol Distearate, Allantoin Glycyrrhetinic Acid, Bisabolol, Citric Acid, Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate.