Hollywood A-listers and the everywoman are increasingly turning to doctor-backed skincare brands to achieve complexion perfection. But are they all they are hyped up to be? Arissa Ha explores

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Skin doctors developing their own product lines—it’s a no-brainer. After all, these are the people who really understand the miscellany of skin problems, down to the ingredients that effectively treat them. That said, what place does doctor-developed skincare have in an industry already saturated with new products popping up every week?

Granted, there has been much noise surrounding doctor brands— 111SKIN created quite a buzz earlier this year when, backstage at New York Fashion Week, models from the A-list clan got runway-ready with its easy-to-apply face and eye masks for a quick skincare boost. But how much of that is white noise and how much is real?


The skincare industry typically categorises its products broadly—for dry, oily, sensitive, normal or combination skin. But the truth is, not everyone’s skin fits neatly into these clearly defined groups; there may be instances when your skin is dry, oily and sensitive all at once. Times like this, you’ll be hard-pressed to find mass market products that can address your needs.

The reason is simple: Big skincare companies often rely on volume to justify the creation of a new product. If there isn’t a large enough group of people with the same skin condition, it’s just not good business sense to create a product to serve a small clientele.

This is where doctor brands come into the picture. For Dr SK Tan, founder of IDS Skincare and IDS Clinic, the idea of developing his own skincare line was sparked by seeing patients who were either using over-the counter products that did nothing for their skin or prescription creams that are efficacious but sometimes come with undesirable side effects. “I felt that there was a place for products that would offer efficacy without side effects,” Dr Tan shared. “So I searched for credible formulators and manufacturers who were able to help me in this process.” What resulted was a partnership with a Stanford University-based research laboratory and the setting up of his own research labs, which culminated in the launch of his skincare line in 2014.

Dr Tan isn’t alone in this; we see the same story with other doctors. Celebrity skincare maverick Dr Erno Laszlo, for instance, created the Phormula 3 line to tackle his clients’ very specific issues. He developed Phormula 3-1 to treat Princess Stephanie of Hungary’s severe acne and Phormula 3-8 to heal a scar on Marilyn Monroe’s stomach.

There’s also Dr Yannis Alexandrides, who developed 111SKIN to aid in post-treatment skin healing. “As a plastic surgeon, I was researching products that would help patients heal quicker after surgery.” His research led him to outer space—specifically, its impact on astronauts, who experience an accelerated rate of ageing due to radiation and the lack of gravity. His intention was to create products that would help counter that. “In a way, space is like a perfect laboratory for studying ageing!” The research resulted in an ingredient that is used in his Theorem Repair Light Serum and other products in his range of skincare.

Likewise, Dr Dennis Gross’s eponymous skincare brand, sprung out of his clinical practice, was initially developed for his own patients. He notes that he has an advantage over the bigger boys: “Big cosmetic companies do not have a major 5th Avenue dermatology practice that serves as a living lab to develop products and learn how to formulate for all skin types.” His expertise, which combines clinical dermatology and his background as a biochemist specialising in skin cancer, allows him to formulate based on real-world skin concerns experienced by his patients, filling in gaps that big skincare companies miss out.


Key to efficacious products are active ingredients and a delivery system that will get those actives into the dermis where they can work their magic. While actives are found in both doctor-developed and mass market brands, the latter are often restricted by the need for stable formulas that can survive long delivery routes and have a longer shelf life. This means that ingredient strength tends to be kept low.

Doctor brands often have no such issues, thanks to selective retailing and smaller production batches. There’s also the responsibility that comes with putting one’s name behind a brand; for doctors, this translates into ensuring that their products have all the right ingredients at the optimum concentration for maximum efficacy. Doctors also usually have no qualms about using ingredients that are more expensive and offer better, longer-lasting results. Dr Gross put it best when he said: “I wanted to make skincare products that were results-driven and scientifically backed, and with pharmaceutical-grade ingredients that undergo clinical testing, so you know they’re going to really work.”

And as these skin experts are directly involved in the formulary process, there’s also less risk of incompatibility between the ingredients in different products. Which means you’re able to mix and match them for a skincare routine tailored to your needs. Moreover, instead of investing money in pretty packaging, branding and marketing materials, most of the money doctor brands make often goes back into research in order to create new formulas or enhance existing ones—a good thing for end-users.


So should you only shop doctor brands then? While there are benefits to using doctor’s skincare, it pays to be discerning. Just because a doctor’s name is on the product doesn’t necessarily mean he or she was involved in the formulary process—it could be a case of endorsement of formulas that are produced by independent labs. On the flip side, there are excellent products formulated by big skincare companies with the resources to do research on innovative skincare ingredients that suit a wider audience.

The bottom line is, you should always do your research—about the ingredients used, their concentrations, the results of clinical studies—and be critical when it comes to purchasing skincare. And while your complexion woes may be skin deep, it’s definitely wise to look way past the surface when it comes to picking your skincare products. ■ 

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The skincare brands whose products are actually formulated by the doctors behind them


This home-grown brand’s greatest strength is the use of a patented technology, NEULASTIN (from the words “new” and “elastin”), which is designed to deliver active ingredients deep into the skin to stimulate collagen and elastin production for healthier-looking skin. Founder Dr SK Tan, who has a special interest in skincare technology, developed the DermaShield Serum, one of the first skincare products dedicated solely to countering the damaging effects of blue light (also known as high-energy visible light) on skin. His ability to spot skincare trends and anticipate the needs of his clients have made him the go-to for local celebs and influencers such as Julie Tan, Jayne Tham and Tricia Ong.
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We recommend: Intensive Moisturizer, $107 Rejuvenating Complex Plus, $417.30 DermaShield Serum, $105.90
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The OG dermatologist to the stars, Dr Erno Laszlo has treated Hollywood A-Listers such as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, who famously said: “I owe 50 percent of my beauty to my mother and the other 50 percent to Erno Laszlo.” He was one of the first to introduce the concept of double-cleansing—using a cleansing oil, followed by a cleansing bar to cleanse skin without drying it out. His brand expanded beyond his practice and he forged a partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City to launch his skincare brand in 1957. While the good doctor passed in 1973, his skincare legacy lives on in some of the products he personally formulated.
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We recommend: SeaHydra-Therapy Boost Serum, $168 Mud Deep Cleansing Bar, $60 Phelityl Night Cream, $215
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The namesake brand of New York-based dermatologist Dr Dennis Gross is widely credited with being one of the first to provide everyone with an accessible and easy way to exfoliate at home using a medical-grade chemical peel. The two-step Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel first uses a combination of five alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids and camomile to exfoliate, tone and smooth sans irritation. Then comes the second step, which delivers anti-ageing benefits courtesy of retinol and green tea extract, along with a hit of antioxidants for protection against environmental pollutants. The efficacious yet gentle-on-skin formulas in the brand’s arsenal—a winning balance of actives and soothing botanicals—have won support from stars such as Chrissy Teigen, Jimmy Fallon, Beyoncé, Constance Wu and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
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We recommend: Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel, $130 C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum, $115 Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting & Refining Serum, $99
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This is the brainchild of famed London cosmetic surgeon Dr Yannis Alexandrides, whose claim to fame is the patented NAC Y2 formula, which he created in collaboration with space scientists. Designed to stimulate antioxidant activity in the skin to repair and strengthen it, the formula was initially used exclusively in his Dramatic Healing Serum, which he prescribed to patients to aid skin recovery after trauma and laser treatments. The serum also helped with early signs of ageing, such as fine lines and moisture loss, and demand soon exceeded supply. Premium department store Harrods got wind of the serum and partnered with Dr Alexandrides to launch the brand in its stores in 2012, starting with select products from the Reparative range anchored by the NAC Y2 formula—among these was the Y Theorum Repair Serum, an improved iteration of the original serum. The brand has since garnered celeb fans such as Victoria Beckham, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Kim Kardashian, Bella Hadid and Lily Aldridge.
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We recommend: Meso Infusion Overnight Micro Mask, $198 for a box of four Celestial Black Diamond Serum, $720 Y Theorem Repair Light Serum, $380

“Doctors usually have no qualms about using ingredients that are more expensive and offer better, longer-lasting results.”