Scrolling through Instagram posts of beautiful product flat lays and celebrities touting their favorite skincare is like being suckered into a late-night home-shopping broadcast: Maybe you aren't necessarily in the market for anything, but you'll be damned if you don't pull your credit card out fast enough. Many brands undeniably package and market their launches with social media in mind, flipping the attention-grabbing curb appeal you'd find window-shopping on its head. Pretty bottles, eye-catching formulas and textures, and witty marketing are arguably more alluring than medical-grade products or cosmeceuticals, but attractive as they may look on a phone screen, we often wonder how scientifically efficacious an internet-famous product really is.
So, we decided to conduct our litmus test in which we had three dermatologists examine the contents of top-selling products from three brands constantly popping up on our feeds: Glossier, Glamglow, and Herbivore. Their thoughts, below.
The product: This exfoliating toner has actually been clinically- and dermatologist-tested (though, we wouldn't be doing our due diligence if we didn't ask derms who weren't vetted by the brand for their unfiltered thoughts.) Byrdie editors have tested it, praised it, and even likened it to that of Biologique Recherche P50.
What dermatologists think:
"This amazing liquid exfoliator by Glossier is said to transform skin in four weeks. I am, and have always been, a big fan of liquid/chemical exfoliators. This skin perfecter contains a mixture of alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, and polyhydroxy acids. These acids work together to unclog blackheads, reduce appearance of smaller pores and, most importantly, leave the skin softer and smoother. It promotes a healthy glow by removing the dull top layer of the epidermis. This is a very effective way to exfoliate.
I recommend not to go overboard with this product because it could lead to irritation." — Anna Guanche, MD
"The product says it has all those ingredients, but if you look at label, it says the active ingredient is salicylic acid 0.5. Other acids and good stuff that is marketed is [listed] in 'inactive ingredients,' so it can’t be that much. This is likely similar to other cheaper drugstore salicylic acid products." — Shari Sperling, DO
"This toner uses AHAs, BHAs and PHAs to chemically exfoliate the skin. Chemical exfoliants work to weaken lipid bonds on the top layers of the skin, which reveal healthy younger cells underneath. The difference between these acids are particle size. AHAs are the smallest [such as] glycolic acid, then BHAs (salicylic acid) and then PHAs which are the largest (best for sensitive skin). Acids can help treat acne by killing bacteria, removing waste and dead skin cells, dissolving sebum and improving hyperpigmentation caused from acne.
"My only wish is that I knew the exact breakdown of the 10% concentration of acids, as this product could cause over-exfoliation if it’s comprised of mostly AHAs and has only a small component of PHAs. Over-exfoliation will expose skin, weaken skin-barrier function, and in some cases trigger inflammation. If the barrier function is damaged, skin becomes vulnerable to infection from microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungus, and leads to sensitivity and irritation. Even if the barrier function isn’t visibly damaged, the skin may experience a low amount of inflammation (called chronic inflammation), which, over time, prematurely ages skin.
That said, I feel Glossier does a great job formulating products. They place appropriate focus on skin science, efficacy, and tolerability. I think this would be great for acne-prone or oily skin and would counsel for those with sensitive or dry skin to use this product only two to three times per week. — Dendy Engelman, MD
The product: This editor is a huge fan of this cult-loved pore-clearing treatment. It's a blend of six acids (salicylic, glycolic, lactic, mandelic, pyruvic, and tartaric), helping to exfoliate and clean pores of buildup for a noticeably clearer, more even complexion. It's so potent, though, that we wonder if the minty tingle it and the cement-like dryness it leaves behind is actually harming our skin.
What dermatologists think:
"This highly popular mud mask is a balanced mixture of six different acids that work together to unclog pores and freshen the complexion. This mask also includes activated charcoal which “removes toxins" from the skin. In addition, the mask also has Kanolin clay, which is designed to trap excess oil and helps it easily get washed away while cleansing.
"The packaging seems to be adequate. However, each time the clay mask is opened, it would be exposed to air, so I would be concerned about it drying out over time.
"This mask is great for oily skin and problem skin/acne prone skin." — Guanche
"I like the ingredients and love that it’s oil fee. It’s great that there are no parabens, [which is] good for people with allergic skin. Patients are loving charcoal washes, masks and scrubs." — Sperling
"This mask uses AHAs and BHAs to exfoliate the skin. The benefits will be similar to Glossier. This also includes activated charcoal and clay. Activated charcoal contains carbon molecules which act like a magnet to attract and absorb dirt and oil. When dirt and oil in your pores come in contact with the carbon, they stick to it and then get washed away when you rinse. Clay does a great job at absorbing excess oils, but if you put it on for too long, you will notice that your face will become really dry.
The goal is to absorb excess oil but not absorb so much that your skin is dry and overcompensating by producing extra oil. Therefore the goal should not be to prolong the time the product is on your face but to stick to the recommended time or when you start to feel tightness from the mask, you should plan to rinse it off in three to five minutes (this mask recommends 5-20 minutes). Personal note: I have used this mask and love it." — Engelman
The product: Herbivore was born out of Seattle by two founders who wanted to make ethically-sourced, naturally-derived skincare products free of filler ingredients that are fun to use. It's known for its beautifully-colored formulas and minimal packaging—the type of bottles begging to be photographed. Given Herbivore's commitment to organic, food-grade ingredients, we were curious how its famous blue facial oil checked out in a medical office.
What dermatologists think: "This brand has a few great face oils to chose from. Lapis Lazuli Oil contains blue tansy, which gives this oil a deep blue color. This oil has been said to have been used in ancient Egyptian times. It contains a compound called azulene, which soothes dry, irritated skin, reducing the appearance of redness and balancing the skin. Great for irritated, red skin and those who are acne prone.
"Although it seems counterproductive to use oil to treat oily, acne-prone skin, with many acne treatments, we tend to over-dry the skin and our oil glands secrete oil to compensate. Therefore, this oil (derived from plants) hydrates and moisturizes the skin—even oily skin needs moisture!
"This oil contains no fillers that are often found in creams and lotions. The oil layer traps in moisture and delivers antioxidants and other vitamins to the skin. These products are also vegan and are cruelty-free products.
"Lapis also has rosa damascena in it. Some people are sensitive to rose compounds and should watch for irritation or allergic rash.
"Since this oil doesn’t contain vitamin C (which is not stable when exposed to sunlight), it seems acceptable to be in a clear container which shows off its blue beautiful color." — Guanche
"[You] need to be careful, because someone with already oily skin doesn’t want to add more oils, which can increase acne breakouts." — Sperling [Ed. note: Oils should serve as a protective layer to lock in moisture rather than serving as your sole moisturizer. While this dermatologist warns against using oil on acne-prone skin, some experts will recommend you pat a few drops lightly onto your skin after applying a water-based, hyaluronic acid-rich moisturizer to keep the hydration from evaporating.]
"I love face oils to provide intense hydration for the skin. Jojoba seed oil helps protect from environmental aggressors as well as improve skin hydration and soften fine lines and wrinkles. It is easily absorbed, so benefits are seen instantaneously. Rose oil has anti-inflammatory properties which are great for calming redness and sensitive skin. The similarity of squalene to our own skin design allows it to penetrate the skin completely and synthesize quickly (2mm per second), so it won’t clog pores or leave a greasy residue behind.
Vitamin E helps to increase healing by improving skin elasticity deep within." —Engelman
Opening image: @pickychic