If you’ve developed a recent obsession with skin care à la Cassie from euphoriayou’re not only in the right place, but far from alone. Countless beauty buffs changed their ways over the past few years specifically, trading in products providing purely aesthetic perks for those that benefit their skin’s health. As a result, the skin care industry increased by nearly 60% in market value (a number that’s expected to grow by an additional 30% in the next five years), officially surpassing that of traditional makeup.
That said, shopping for skin care is no easy feat, and can be especially challenging when you’re looking for medical-grade skin care. It’s not just difficult to discern what differentiates “medical-grade” from over-the-counter products, but it can feel daunting to guess which of thousands of available products can really deliver the results they promise.
Fortunately, as noted above, you are not alone. Bustle asked dermatologists for their favorite medical-grade products, so next time you’re confused by which cosmetics to add to your cart, you’ll know what to do. Below, see 11 medical-grade skin care products dermatologists love and recommend.
We only include products that have been independently selected by Bustle’s editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
Dr. Snehal Amin, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. He is co-founder and surgical director of MDCS Dermatology, and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Weill-Cornell Medical College.
Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at New York City’s MDCS Dermatology. She is an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell – New York Presbyterian Medical Center.
Dr. Audrey Kunin, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in Kansas City. She is the founder of DERMADoctor Skincare, chief product officer at NovaBay Pharmaceuticals, and author of The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual.
Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, MD, is a double board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa in Boston. She is an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Peter Young, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Boston. He is the medical director of the clinical skin health platform Facet.
What Is Medical-Grade Skin Care?
Wondering what medical-grade skin care actually is, and how it differs from other types of skin care? According to Dr. Snehal Amin, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist, surgical director, and co-founder of MDCS Dermatology, “medical-grade” skin care products can be defined by three primary characteristics: potency level, clinical testing, and where they are sold.
“Medical-grade skincare lines have higher potency and concentrations of active ingredients [than others],” Amin tells Bustle. He adds that medical-grade products undergo clinical testing and evaluation that adheres to FDA regulations, which is why medical-grade skin care tends to be more pricey.
Finally, medical-grade skincare can only be purchased from a dermatologist’s office, medispa, or authorized vendor because a medical director is required for authorized sale, so you won’t find them at drugstores (sadly).
Derms’ Favorite Medical-Grade Skin Care
For An Anti-Aging Powerhouse
If your primary concerns are wrinkles and fine lines, Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology, recommends Medik8’s night serum, which is formulated with superstar anti-aging ingredient retinaldehyde.
“Retinaldehyde actually helps to fight wrinkles and fine lines quicker than other commonly used retinols, because it only requires one conversion to retinoid acid, the active form of vitamin A,” Garshick explains, adding that the products’ double-encapsulation system and incorporation of glycerin and hyaluronic acid ensure that its gentle on the skin as well.
For A Complexion-Brightening Boost
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin, MD recommends this retinol, ferulic acid, and Vitamin E complex hybrid, clarifying that the 1% retinol works as an especially effective non-prescription form of vitamin A. “It helps improve fine lines, wrinkles , pore size, and skin discoloration,” Kunin continues, noting that because it’s also blended with dermatologist recommended levels of vitamin C and E, and ferulic acid, “this formulation delivers a single, desert island anti-aging formulation.”
For A Skin-Quenching Treatment Cream
If your skin is in need of some serious moisture, Amin suggests this ceramide-rich treatment cream, formulated with palmitoyl oligopeptide — aka, a synthetic tripeptide that helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, human fibroblast conditioned media (SkinMedica’s famous TNS ), and hydroxypropyl bispalmitamide MEA, a ceramide that promotes and maintains moisture in the skin while improving its texture.
For Lightweight Hydration
If you prefer hydrating serums over creams (and/or are prone to oily skin or breakouts), Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, MD, double board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa tells Bustle that this is her favorite moisturizing serum.
“With a combination of silicium and hyaluronic acid,” it feels great when applied to the skin,” DeRosa says. As a bonus, it contains both high and low molecular weights of hyaluronic acid for optimal absorption.
For A Peptide-Infused Neck Cream
Worried about tech neck? If so, this Garshick-approved neck cream is for you. “One of my go-to options for a neck cream, this is a great option for those with signs of moderate to advanced aging on the neck,” Garshick tells Bustle, explaining that it combines technology to utilize the microbiome, peptide blend Smart Antioxidant Technology, and red microalgae extract.
“This helps the skin appear more firm and lifted, while smoothing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” she says.
For An Acne-Combating Cleanser
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Peter Young, MD advises anyone struggling with acne to use this face wash as it contains infamous acne combatant benzoyl peroxide.
“Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most common medical-grade acne fighters available,” Young tells Bustle, adding that it helps control acne breakouts by unclogging pores and eradicating the bacteria within them.
For A Multitasking Serum
Garshick is also a fan of the DefenAge 8-in-1 Bioserum, as it’s formulated with the brand’s exclusive retinol alternative Age-Repair Defensins, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid. Thus, Garshick asserts that this lightweight serum works to rejuvenate and smooth the skin, improving the overall appearance of redness and boosting the skin barrier.
“The key to this product that makes it stand out is that it contains five times more defense molecules than any other formula,” she adds.
For A Restorative Eye Treatment
If you’re seeking something topical to treat under and around your eyes, DeRosa recommends Alastin’s Restorative Eye Treatment for the job. “The TriHex Technology helps support the production of new healthy collagen and elastin, while also containing ingredients like niacinamide to help brighten the skin around the eye,” she tells Bustle (aka, it addresses both puffiness and dark circles).
For An Intensive Antioxidant Serum
Both Garshick and Amin are fond of Skinceuticals’ beloved CE Ferulic serum, explaining that it’s considered to be the gold standard for vitamin C. Its potent combination of vitamin C, which protects skin against free radial damage while brightening the complexion, works synergistically with moisturizing vitamin E and ferulic acid, which is known to increase the benefits and stability of vitamins E and C, according to Garshick.
“By helping to protect the skin against free radical damage, this product can help reduce signs of skin aging including fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, brown spots and more,” Garshick adds. “When it comes to skincare, antioxidants are often a place where it can be worth the splurge in order to know that the product you’re using is backed by science and will be stable and effective.”
For Barrier-Boosting Moisture
If your skin barrier is in need of some protection and/or repair, DeRosa recommends this vitamin A-spiked moisturizer. “Its contains vitamin A — think retinoids — and vitamin E, plus stem cells and enzymes to help reduce signs of aging and defend against free radicals and environmental damage,” DeRosa tells Bustle.
But the best part of all? It helps to restore the skin’s natural barrier and hydration.
For A Sensitive Skin-Friendly Retinoid
Finally, Garshick recommends this cult-favorite cream, which combines a retinoid and lactic acid. “This retinoid and alpha hydroxy acid work together to enhance efficacy and boost collagen production without causing irritation,” Garshick tells Bustle, explaining that in combination with glycolic acid, this helps improve the overall appearance of skin texture and tone. What’s more, Garshick adds, is that this overnight serum simultaneously delivers powerful antioxidants and moisturizing ingredients to the skin — such as ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid — to minimize irritation.
“This can be a great option for someone looking for an effective retinoid option but cannot tolerate a prescription strength product,” she says.