The truth about pharmaceutical-grade skincare

Many dermatologist offices now offer super-strength products. Here’s what you should know about these exclusive brands

The truth about pharmaceutical-grade skincare

Source: Best Health Magazine, January/February 2010

If you’ve seen products named Alyria, VivierSkin, Revaléskin and SkinCeuticals, more than likely you were in a dermatologist’s office or a medispa. They’re skincare brands that are sold there for a variety of reasons, including distribution costs and formula strength.

‘Generally, brands that are sold in drugstores and department stores contain lower amounts of active ingredients so they’re irritation-free for a broad consumer base,’ says Lucy Papa. She’s executive vice-president of Canderm Pharma Inc., which manufactures Alyria, a derm-exclusive line, and NeoStrata, sold in drugstores.

Health Canada has legal restrictions on the amount of active ingredients in products sold at mass retailers. For example, 10 percent is the highest concentration of glycolic acid allowed in skincare products sold outside dermatologists’ offices and clinics. Compare that to Alyria Exfoliating Cream Level 3, for example, which contains 30 percent. With potent products, ‘you want a physician to prepare the patient for possible side effects, such as irritation and sun sensitivity, and to oversee the treatment,’ says Papa.

But not all brands that are sold exclusively at doctors’ offices have high levels of active ingredients, she says; another reason why you can find some products only there is because ‘it’s actually less costly to distribute through a doctor’s office than through a large retailer.’

Darren Praznik, president and CEO of the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, says the decision to sell a skincare line through a dermatologist can simply be marketing strategy. ‘The manufacturer may believe that the product is best served with a dermatologist to explain its use.’

That means skincare products purchased at a doctor’s office do not necessarily guarantee faster results. ‘If the products are comparable, results will appear at the same time,’ says dermatologist Dr. Sheldon Pollack, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. He sells Alyria, and points to supporting clinical studies of efficacy and safety as the key factor in what he decides to carry. But, he adds, ‘we also stock La Roche-Posay and Avène, both of which are available in stores.’

Victoria dermatologist Dr. Mark Lupin sells Revaléskin, with up to 1.5% coffeeberry as its primary antioxidant ingredient, and VivierSkin, which has vitamin C. ‘I like pharmaceutical-grade products that substantiate claims with independent studies,’ he says. ‘Both Revaléskin and VivierSkin are proven to penetrate the skin and deliver results.’

What about price? Alyria ranges from $20 to $115, and Revaléskin costs $40 to $135. That puts these derm-exclusive brands in a high-priced category. However, some luxury brands in stores cost more. So your decision may come down to whether you like the idea of a doctor’s supervised regimen’or the freedom of shopping the aisles.