“My patients are disbelieving, when I tell them Olay’s Regenerist Night Serum measures up to the priciest dermatologist wrinkle fighters and it is as good as and has the same active ingredient as the much sought after StriVectin, at $135 a tube,” says Joely Kaufman, MD.
Does Doctor Know Best? Are dermatologist's products better?
Celebrity dermatologists such as Nicholas Perricone captivated a niche of women willing to spend hundreds on cosmeceuticals for the promise of eternally youthful skin. The latest physicians-turned-cosmetologist trend is mainstreaming doctor-brands by partnering with big companies that buy and sell in volume and keep retail prices low, so now inexpensive offerings are as close as the corner drugstore.
Great skin shouldn’t be a luxury. “That price determines quality is a beauty industry induced misconception, so my credo is Dermocracy, all skin created equal.” says Patricia Wexler, MD, New York’s most sought after beauty doc (Her $500 consultation requires a six month wait). Her skin care line, Patricia Wexler MD, is sold at Bath & Bodyworks.
In a similar fashion, Yale University dermatologist Jeffrey Dover teamed with CVS for his anti-aging line, Skin Effects by Dr. Jeffrey Dover. “CVS, the world’s largest drug chain, allows me access to the best ingredients, chemists and packaging that money can buy,” he says. “I could sell 1,000 bottles of wrinkle serum for $100@ at Sephora or 10,000 bottles of the same exact product for $10@ through CVS, and I prefer women pay less.”
Are dermatologist’s products better? “Dermatologists know what helps the skin and what doesn’t,” says Deborah Sarnoff, MD, Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Dermatology, NYU Medical Center. Yet if a skin care product really works miracles -- or at least does what a dermatologist can do with lasers and injectables – it would be classified as a drug and not a cosmetic. Like all “cosmeceuticals,” doctor’s products don't require FDA approval and needn't prove their claims, so there’s a lot of puffery in ads and on packaging.
So there’s no guarantee a doctor’s product is superior. “While some brands claim to use unique technology or stronger formulations, there is a ceiling on how much active ingredient you can add to any product without making it unappealing or irritating to the skin,” Dr. Sarnoff explains. “There are also only so many buzz word ingredients … antioxidants, hydroxy acids, enzymes, peptides -- and the latest and greatest are used in dermatologist and regular products today.
Joely Kaufman, MD, Director of the Aging and Geriatric Skin Center, University of Miami School of Medicine, agrees. “A dermatologist may not be able to offer more in a jar than popular brands like Neutrogena or Olay,” she says. Yet she notes exceptions such as Sheldon Pinnell, MD, of Duke University, founder of Skinceuticals: “He discovered that topical vitamin C, formulated as L-ascorbic acid, provides antioxidant protection against skin damage and aging from the sun, which is about the most you can expect from an OTC skin care product today,” she explains.
Dermatologists have a hard time competing with the technology behind giants like Neutrogena, Olay and Estee Lauder, with hundreds of experts at research facilities world wide. Since compounding a cosmeceutical from scratch is complex, many dermatologists sell an existing product with a personalized label, and a consumer can’t differentiate if the doctor actually formulated it.
Named or not, dermatologists help formulate just about every skin care line anyway, a protocol that originated in 1968, when NY dermatologist Norman Orentreich developed the Clinique brand for Estee Lauder.
“The consensus seems to be that you needn’t spend a bundle to get good skin care, unless you believe a product works better if it costs more,” says Dr. Kaufman. “People tend to think they’re getting more when they pay more, but much of the price tag of an expensive product is related to marketing and packaging, not to the actual contents,” she adds. “If you compare labels you’ll find products on the market with the exact same active ingredients, yet one sells for $20 and the other is $120.”
It’s human nature to put more trust in a brand that has a doctor’s credibility behind it. Bottom Line: If you have more faith in a dermatologist’s brand chances are you’ll use it more, and if price has been a deterrent in the past, the new mass market doctor-brands fill a niche.