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Doctor-backed beauty brands have the authority and aura of a white coat and stethoscope, but are they really using formulas that we can trust to be safe and effective? To find out the truth, I went undercover at the doctor’s office.
I spotted Dr. LeWinn by Kinerase Instant Dermal Wrinkle Filler ($34) while looking through the Good Housekeeping 2014 Beauty Awards. Dr. LeWinn is a plastic surgeon, and perhaps his clientele is motivated more by instant gratification than topical products with good actives. The main ingredient in the award-winning Instant Dermal Wrinkle Filler is a light diffusing polymer, polydodecanamideaminium triazadiphenylethenesulfonate. Instant effects are also provided by sugar syrup (imparting a glossy look) and pullulan, the stuff that’s used to make breath strips and included here because it forms a film over the skin. The rest of the formula includes silicones, PEGs, cellulose and preservatives. Of course, there’s the token kinetin, a plant hormone (or cytokinin) that regulates cell growth, and oat kernel extract. Overall, it's a decidedly mediocre offering.
Alternatives to Dr LeWinn by Kinerase Instant Dermal Wrinkle Filler:
For instant gratification without the nasties, there’s Hyalogic Episilk Instant Facelift Serum ($39.95 in the shop). In addition to pepha-tight (pullulan and algae), it also has hyaluronic acid. Our community reviewer, Miree, witnessed “surprisingly instant” effects with firmer skin and less visible wrinkles (and she got compliments!). Snowberry Rich Day Cream has our algae and pullulan combo as one of its dominant ingredients, and then there’s so much more with peptides, hard-working antioxidants and tons of botanical extracts (some from indigenous New Zealand plants). It’s a great day cream for winter months.
Dermatologist Alex Khadavi, MD, is behind Rejuve MD and its newly launched eye cream, Rejuve MD Complete Eye Treatment ($90). It contains most ingredients that you would expect from a high end eye serum. First and foremost is the expression line inhibitor acetyl hexapeptide-3 and a complex called haloxyl for dealing with dark under eye circles. Other good things include epidermal growth factors, vitamin C, rice bran and a couple of plant extracts. Unfortunately, Rejuve MD mars the formula with several PEGs, chemical fragrance and a ton of preservatives including every paraben known to man.
Alternatives to Rejuve MD Complete Eye Treatment:
In Rejuve MD, the most interesting ingredients — the growth factors — are tucked away at the end of the formula. In AQ Eye Serum ($99 in the shop), they are the star of the show and are derived from human conditioned media. It too has the dark circles targeting actives. Plus there is the collagen boosting peptides, matrixyl 3000. There is one preservative, phenoxyethanol, in a formula that is otherwise all about the actives.
Dove’s new DermaSeries product line for dry and troubled skin was supposedly created by dermatologists. Dove promises “leading technologies” and “caring ingredients,” but the products have nothing of the sort. Dove DermaSeries Ultra Caring Gentle Cream Face Cleanser is mostly a by-product of petrol with petrolatum and mineral oil. Meanwhile, the only active ingredient in Dove DermaSeries Intense Repairing Rough Patch Treatment and the Dove DermaSeries Intense Repairing Body Cream is dimethicone, which is a silicone.
Alternatives to Dove DermaSeries:
Nutra-Lift Blemish Defense Trio Pack ($29.95) has a cleanser, toner and lotion for dry and breakout prone skin. The formulas combine natural organic extracts, vitamins and ionic silver to treat blemishes and reduce inflammation, as well as hyaluronic acid to prevent dryness. And there are absolutely no nasties.
The perpetually tanned Dr. Perricone is to be thanked for introducing me to astaxanthin. This powerhouse of an antioxidant is more powerful than vitamin C and is present in the salmon that Dr. Perricone advocates eating once a day. I’ve always been disappointed that Dr. P sells astaxanthin as oral supplements but hasn’t used it in his skin care formulas. His signature ingredients include acyl glutathione, a “stable” form of the antioxidant glutathione, and copper. For example, the form of copper used in his Blue Plasma series is gluconate. Typically used for oral supplements, copper gluconate is not a signaling peptide of the kind used in wound healing. This is a good example of how Dr. Perricone’s products are almost there but don’t quite come off.
Alternatives to Dr. Perricone:
A doctor who does get my vote is Kenneth Mark MD, especially due to his Kenneth Mark MD Antioxidant Hydrating Cream With Astaxanthin ($120). In addition to astaxanthin, there are plenty of mineral peptides, including copper (a known wound healer), zinc, iron and magnesium. Medik8 CE-Thione- Rechargeable Vitamin C Serum ($150 in the shop) uses L-glutathione and vitamin E to give an antioxidant boost. Expect brighter, plumper skin with this product. Medik8 also has one of the best copper peptide serums (heck, it’s actually one of the best serums, period), Medik8 Firewall ($145 in the shop) with copper peptides, matrixyl 3000, liprochroman-6 and niacinamide.
Over the years, I’ve tried to come to terms with Dr. Hauschka’s approach, but I still don’t understand it. “Rhythmic processing” is used to grow plants and create botanical extracts, and there is a special Hauschka thing called WALA (warmth, ash, light, ash). I have no idea what this means or why it should be able to create a rose water extract that can remain stable for 30 years. Anyway, Dr. Hauschka’s many devotees probably don’t lose too much sleep over “rhythmic” ingredients and simply enjoy the products, which are mostly pretty nice. His Rhythmic Conditioner ($89.95) is actually rather good at helping red, inflamed skin.
Alternatives to Dr Hauschka:
Dr. Alkaitis is also a big believer in plants, but his mantra for formulating is a lot easier to understand: If you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin.” Dr. Alkaitis is a specialist in the medicinal powers of plants, and his therapeutic skin care products are supposed to support your body’s natural healing. There are no chemicals in his products. Dr. Alkaitis Organic Cellular Repair Mask ($55) is a perfect example. Designed to repair and regenerate damaged or aging skin, it contains organic berries and oats, including real strawberries.