Of late, we're all listening to and trusting scientists more than ever. One of the ways that’s most evident (besides the obvious) is in skincare. The pandemic has made it so scientists have a much greater presence and authority in our daily lives. Jenni Middleton, the director of beauty at trends agency WGSN, says, “For months, we have had a daily diet of scientists' advice, so we’ve learned to trust those voices." This is having an effect on the beauty industry as well.
Perhaps it started with The Ordinary, Deciem’s ingredient-transparent skincare formulations that worked brilliantly for a fraction of the usual price. While we were once collectively focused on brand names, now it’s the scientists and ingredients taking center stage. As Middleton puts it, "Brands that highlight the active ingredients cut away the dressing around the [product] and make what it does really clear."
The Popularization of Dermabrands
The idea of "dermabrands" isn't particularly new, but the traditional definition has expanded. Previously defined as brands with a dermatologist backing, the moniker now encompasses any brand that puts the science or scientist behind the formulas at the forefront. To be clear, there isn't one set definition for this popularized concept. It is, in part, marketing. But it's marketing that is smart for the brand and helpful to consumer. See, we're all a bit less interested in pretty packaging and luxury branding and more persuaded by testing, transparency, and efficacy.
There has always been a veil of mystery when it comes to skincare—as many traditional brands rarely revealed their proprietary formulas, instead choosing to focus on packaging and promises. New brands are shaking up this old dynamic; as Middleton puts it: "There’s a plethora of new brands that take us behind the curtain." This includes letting consumers in on the formulations, the lab, and the ingredients. "Transparency is the name of the game, with consumers now increasingly educated about skincare than in the past," says Middleton.
The New Skintellectuals
Dr. Sam Bunting, a dermatologist based in London with her own dermabrand, is excited about the new wave of "skintellectuals." She says, “I think it’s brilliant—our customers are becoming more knowledgeable about active skincare and it’s pushing brands to be more innovative, honest, and transparent. The sharing of skincare knowledge and passion on the internet has really set the scene for this shift in what skincare means now. Closed facebook groups and Reddit’s Skincare Addiction are the new beauty counters." We want to know our skincare is effective, especially while money to spend on luxuries is in short supply.
Brands like Dermatica and Skin + Me offer expert diagnosis and solutions to skincare concerns, with regular dermatologist check-ins and advice. This gives us increased control over our skin during a time when we have very little control. Beauty has always offered us routine and comfort; haven’t we all found some peace after a busy day as we do our skincare routine in front of the bathroom mirror? It’s a space of time carved out entirely for self-care, and dermabrands offer extra reassurance we know what we're putting on our faces.
We’re moving away from legacy brands and brands that lean on pretty packaging, towards ingredient-focused and scientific skincare. Dr. Sam’s brand is one example, which she created after presenting on the TLC show Extreme Beauty Disasters. “I realized there was a big gap in the market for a simple, effective way to treat [adult acne and aging]—adults who are still prone to breaking out but find that teen solutions are too harsh and lack sophistication. And, at the same time, they’re faced with their first fine lines, but traditional anti-aging skincare breaks them out. And I understood the problem first-hand as I shared those issues with many of my patients. I like to say the essence of my brand is removing all the guesswork.”
Science-led brands are the future, while still retaining the fun and luxury associated with skincare. Where once buzzwords adorned our skincare bottles and tubes, brands like Drunk Elephant and The Ordinary put their active ingredients front and center. They know their consumers are educated about skincare and eschew the need for too much fluff.
The Future of Skincare
Dermabrands aren’t going anywhere. However, sustainable skincare is expected to be much more of a focus going forward. We’re reducing our plastic consumption and many are switching to plant-based diets in an effort to protect our planet, but how often do we think about the impact of our skincare? Middleton suggests biotechnology may be the answer. “We have to ask ourselves: Is it right to use a tiny bit of this plant and throw the rest away—all to create a serum? Or, should we find a more sustainable way of creating that active ingredient? That will probably be biotechnology. People will want to see brands do more of that.”
For a very long time we’ve been fed the idea that natural products are best, but now, as we increasingly trust what science can do, the possibility of bio-engineered active ingredients in skincare instead of wasteful consumption of organic matter is likely to be part of our skincare concerns in the future.
Dermabrands aren’t going anywhere, and as we all educate ourselves more and more around skincare we’re able to understand the ingredients we should be looking out for in our products. If you don’t know your AHAs from your BHAs, you probably will soon, as science is now a huge part of how we talk about beauty.