If you are A: Obsessed with skincare, or B: Reside in Sydney or Melbourne, you have likely heard of Rationale. The skincare brand was founded by Richard Parker who, after living with his own skin issues of sun damage and acne, set out to create products that married cosmetic qualities with medical science (and quite simply, worked). Fast forward a few years of scientific research and working with dermatologists, and the Rationale brand was born.
There's no denying the brand is exclusive and mysterious (they say that once you try Rationale, you'll never go back)—and the fact that it's available only through brick and mortar stores, the Rationale website, and selected medical clinics only adds to the buzz.
Enticed by stories of incredible skin transformations, I decided I needed to give it a go. One week later, I found myself booked in for a consult at the Mosman Clinic. And now, after four months of diligent use, I've documented my entire experience (along with some insights from Richard himself).
Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about Australia's most talked-about skincare brand.
The first step is to head to one of the clinics for an in-depth consultation (I wouldn't recommend buying straight off the bat without talking to a trained therapist first). I saw Ellie at the Mosman Clinic in Sydney, who was an absolute angel, and extremely thorough when it came to explaining what was going on with my skin, and how specific ingredients were going to work to fix it (also, her facial massage skills are top knotch).
To provide a little context on my skin concerns, I have had what I would call pretty good skin for most of my life—I had a few breakouts during puberty, a little bit of oiliness, but nothing to ever cause me serious grief. But about 11 months ago, I stopped taking the contraceptive pill and everything changed. I had sore, cystic pimples popping up, as well as smaller whiteheads that wouldn't heal for weeks (and once they did, the scarring was bad). I tried a bunch of methods, but nothing worked. I eventually went back on the pill, but even months after, my skin texture and clarity just wasn't the same. I had scarring, and at least two blemishes constantly. It knocked my self-confidence, and I was praying for a cure.
Now back to the Rationale consultation—what you can expect is a very detailed form to be filled so the therapist can gauge concerns, as well as a chat about what you're currently using, and what you hope to achieve. I basically wanted skin that was clearer, calmer, and more refined (also, less grease). An assault on the early signs of ageing was another area of focus.
After significant image testing (as seen below), Ellie concluded that my skin was by no means "bad", but I had high levels of inflammation, and impaired barrier function—meaning that my skin wasn't able to protect itself or heal, resulting in acne, horrible pock marks, and uneven skin tone. I did have some irreversible sun damage (I almost cried, but apparently everyone living in Australia does), and my skin was generally too alkaline (who knew?). Also, I was showing early signs of rosacea (funny, as two other therapists have told me this in the past). Ellie suspected I was overdoing it on the acids (true), thus stripping my barrier, and leading to high levels of inflammation. I was a little surprised, because my skin rarely shows signs of redness, but apparently my olive skin tone masked this. The conclusion was that I was already using a lot of good skin ingredients like hyaluronic acid, AHAs, and Niacinamide (a B group vitamin), but perhaps in the wrong concentrations, or they weren't arriving where they were needed within my skin (in short, products with a poor delivery system).
The imaging itself was fascinating. It showed us everything from individually blocked pores and inflammation, to over-production of oil, to fine lines and wrinkles. Also, please take a second to appreciate the fact I'm sharing this less-than-flattering image of my mug on the world wide web (hey, it's all for you, dear reader).
Once we were through with the heavy consulting, Ellie cleansed my skin and had a look under fluorescent light, noticing that I also had minor dehydration around my eyes, and forehead. One lush facial and LED session later, it was time for my at-home prescription.
Rationale is most famous for its "Essential Six"—a line of six products to be used in order every single day (three in the morning, and three at night). The brand does however have a few products outside of this that can either be swapped in in place of another, or added as an extra step. The Essential Six consists of two antioxidant serums to be worn in the morning, and a day cream, plus a ceramide-enriched cleanser for evening (fact: the regime only involves cleansing at night, which I enjoyed), an AHA serum, and Vitamin A night cream (more on specific ingredients and below). Extras like the brand's sunscreen, eye cream, and cleansing oil can be added if you desire.
Ellie explained to me that most patients won't start using the complete regime from the start, only because the active ingredients can be too much all in one hit. Instead, she might start them on the morning routine and the cleanser, before slowly introducing the evening products in weeks to come.
I was prescribed the Essential Six minus the day cream. Instead, Ellie recommended the Immunologist Ultracream ($168) as the lighter texture was better for my oily skin. Alongside this, the B3-T Superfluid Sunscreen ($70) and Immunologist Mask ($188) were included. To start, I was only to use either the serum or night cream on alternating nights for two weeks, as they're both full of active ingredients, and it was necessary to build up a tolerance. The only other rule was that I was not to use any other skincare products. Not a SINGLE ONE. For a beauty editor, this is akin to asking Tiger Woods to only play mini golf for the rest of his life, but I was determined to do it right.
So off home I went, armed with a new routine and hope for my skin's future.
Did It Work?
In a word, yes! Within about a month, I had zero pimples—something that hadn't occurred in months. Also, my skin was so much more refined. It was smooth, even, and I woke up stoked every single morning that my face looked the way it did. The compliments rolled in—it was bliss. One of the other greatest things I noticed was just how much less reactive my skin was. Before Rationale, if I would (ahem) pick at a blackhead or congested pore even the tiniest bit, it would turn into a huge, red, wound that took weeks to heal, only then to be left with horrific post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (those red/brown marks you get after a whopping pimple finally subsides). Was this proof I had dramatically reduced the inflammation levels in my skin? I think so!
Below, I've shared some images of my skin before and after using Rationale:
How Is It Different to All Of The Other Brands Out There?
My thoughts exactly. So, I went straight to the source: Founder Richard Parker. Initially, I was confused as I was already using products with similar hero ingredients, but Rationale has a different approach when it comes to formulating: As Parker explains: "traditional skincare companies don’t work from the skin. Instead, they’ll discover some extract or wonder ingredient, and figure out how this can be incorporated into a product. At Rationale, I wanted to first look at the skin, and what it needs, and let that be the starting point for all of our products."
As for the Essential Six, the whole range (and brand in general) is based on the idea that the sun and its harmful effects are the main concern when it comes to skin damage, and thus what the skin needs by means of support. "Through research, we knew that 80 percent of ageing is caused by the sun, so we knew it was paramount we understand how the skin naturally protects itself, and then work on perfecting this process. The sun is the enemy and can cause so many issues, from inflammation to ageing. Obviously, there are other factors, but this premise became the basis for the Essential Six," added Parker.
While we were chatting about this, I asked Parker about my case. My number one concern was clearing up my acne, rather than reversing sun damage and sun-related ageing. Some are quick to pass off Rationale as simply a line for mature skin, but this isn't true. Richard so eloquently explained to me that because acne is an inflammatory disorder, the Essential Six products are bound to give results. "Because the products work so hard to reduce inflammation in the skin and support healthy skin function, those suffering from acne will see huge improvements," he explained. Makes sense, right?
Backpedaling to ingredients, while Rationale might use a lot of well-known, skin-loving inclusions, Parker made it very clear to me that not all products are created equal: "As for ingredients, we do things a little differently. As I mentioned, we prefer to look at processes the skin carries out normally, and then the ingredients naturally used in these processes, if that makes sense. For example, one of the processes we focus on is the skin’s natural immunity, and how it protects itself. There’s also the process of barrier function and repair (from all of the environmental assaults we all experience during the day), so our evening products are all designed to assist with this process. Generally, we use a broad range of ingredients like vitamin A, enzymes that work synergistically with the skin, ceramides, alpha hydroxy acids, and B-group vitamins, but it is never as simple as that. I see skincare brands pounce on a buzzy ingredient like vitamin A for example, but in isolation, it’s never enough. If it doesn’t support the skin’s natural processes, it will never yield results. That is where we are different."
Do You Need To Use The Entire Regime To Get The Results?
This was another question I took to Parker. In short, the answer is yes. If you want to see the full effects, you need to use the entire regime (it works as a whole system). Another danger he points out is that if a customer is using half Rationale, half other brands, there's no telling of the damaging effects the other brands may inflict, thus hindering results.
But, I will note that (as I mentioned earlier) it's rare to start on the entire six products straight up, especially if you aren't used to active ingredients like vitamin A. I also know many users who only use a few steps of the recommended six—or even others who skip out on some of the steps because they are so active. Your best bet is to chat to a Rationale therapist who will asses based on your skin type and concerns.
What's The Price Point?
Okay, by now you're thinking, this sounds like a miracle—what's the catch? It's fair to say that Rationale is not cheap, but it's also not fair to say that it's exorbitant, either. Prices are around $90 for the cleanser, while serums and moisturizers are around the $160 to $180 mark. So for the Essential Six, you're looking at around $1000. But, there's no way you would be expected to spend that all upfront on your initial visit, and the therapists are able to allow you to trial certain products if you're prone to sensitivity, so you can rest easy before you max out your credit card.
It's definitely an investment, so I firmly recommend a chat with a therapist beforehand is worth it. If you have perfect skin, you probably don't need to worry, but if you're suffering from pigmentation, acne, irritation, or signs of aging that are bothering you, it might just be the best money you'll ever spend. I for one, believe it's worth every single penny (I'd love to point out that I've used brands that cost triple the amount, and haven't seen half the results I've seen while using Rationale).
I have obviously made it pretty clear that Rationale completely transformed my skin. The clarity and texture is like nothing I've never experienced, and the routine is surprisingly simple. I haven't used a single other product since I started, with the exception of face masks, and I don't think I will. If you're still sitting on the fence, we took to Instagram to ask other users what they thought of the brand. Here are their responses:
"Make the change! It’s so worth it. I use all six plus the day eye cream and my skin has never been more consistent. It’s actually resulted in me going days without having to wear make-up which is a massive thing for me as I’ve struggled with acne for over ten years!"- @young_meredith_prm
"I’m a stage five cult-er (been using for four years) and I’ve found I had the best results when using all six, especially at the beginning when you want your skin to get used to the products and adapt and then turn you into a unicorn. But as it can get exxy, after a while you can scale back... you just don’t want to because your skin looks so flipping great."- @tarca
"Ahhhh it’s the BEST! Definitely get a consult, and you don’t need the full six steps to see results. The product that’s changed my life is the Catalyst Serum. I noticed a massive difference just adding this to my regime."- @alenadarcy
"I’ve been using for around four years. I started with the whole six step routine but these days I just buy the ones I really love (probably four of the six steps). You’ll definitely see results."- @jessie.lee.lifepics
My Prescribed Rationale Regime
This serum combines niacinamide (vitamin B3), amino acids, and adenosine triphosphate to boost skin immune responses and target pigmentation. Botanicals reinforce solar defences and fight free radicals. It's light and slippery, and three drops will cover your face and neck.
This formula uses vitamins A, C, and E with Australian botanicals to protect skin from oxidative stress and heal sun-damaged tissue. It also contains ceramides and lipids to replenish the skin's natural barrier. Like the Immunologist serum, I find three drops massaged in is plenty.
I was given this day cream in place of the normal 'Essential Six' option because of its lighter texture (I'm quite oily). It contains ceramides and lipids for optimum barrier function, and natural moisturizing factors to hydrate. It's also packed with B vitamins to reduce sensitivity, support the skin's immunity, and protect against sun damage.
Light and milky, this sunscreen glides on under makeup very nicely. It's packed with vitamins B3 (Niacinimide again), C, E, and green tea to protect skin from UVA and UVB damage.
I never thought I would love a cleanser so intensely until I found this one. It nourishes skin with ceramides, antioxidants, and Australian botanicals. I apply it to dry skin and massage in for a few minutes before rinsing. I find if I'm wearing light makeup, it's enough, but if not, I use a little micellar water first.
The most important thing to note is that I ONLY CLEANSE at night (this is the Rationale way), not in the morning. The exception to this is if I go to the gym in the morning, in which case I'll use it to cleanse all the sweat and grime.
This serum is a gentle blend of both lactic, citric, and malic acids (all alpha hydroxy acids) to gently exfoliate for skin that's clearer, brighter, more radiant.
Ah vitamin A, my old friend. This cream contains the power house ingredient to target DNA damage, and activate cellular regeneration (think less wrinkles, or, in my case, acne). It was tingly at first, but I can tolerate it fine now.
This iridescent mask can only be likened to magic. I'll have sallow, irritated, generally crappy skin, and this will fix it. It improves barrier function, hydrates, and gives skin a boost in terms of glow factor. If, for whatever reason, I feel the need to stop with the vitamin A, I massage a little of this in as a night cream. It's sticky though, so give it an hour to absorb before bed.