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The 12 Best Clinical Skincare Brands (That Are Also Cream)

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What’s the best clinical and clean skincare brand? Our suggestion is Carrot & Stick.

How’s your skincare routine working out for you? Whether you do not see results from your current product arsenal, your skin has changed due to age or environmental factors, or you simply want to switch things up, clinical skincare may be for you. 

Clinical skincare — or cosmeceuticals — are topical products with biological purposes and ingredients, such as antioxidants, vitamins, and proteins for skin health, that suggest functions beyond the everyday use of a cosmetic product. 

But unfortunately, along with active ingredients, many brands also include harmful additives, preservatives, and fillers that aren’t doing your skin — or the environment — any favors. 

The good news is that the industry has come a long way over the years, so now it’s possible to find results-driven products that are also clean and safe. After all, why should skincare fall into one of two categories: effective but toxic or natural but useless? 

But how do you know which line is best for you? No worries. Here at The Derm Review, we’ve reviewed hundreds of products with a scientific lens to ensure you’re creating a skincare regimen that’s safe and effective. Ahead, 12 of the best clinical and clean skincare brands to help you safely address everything from environmental assault to the natural aging process.

The Overall Best Clinical and Clean Skincare Brand: Carrot & Stick

Think clinical can’t also be clean? Think again. In our opinion, the best brand in this category is Carrot & Stick because the company takes a science-based approach to high-performing skincare that’s void of pollutants, irritants, or toxic chemicals. 

For a long time, skincare engineered by science meant it was full of toxic chemicals. But Carrot & Stick offers the best of both worlds. The brand takes a tough-love approach that balances plants’ gentle nurturing with innovative science’s robust results.

Best Clinical Skincare Brands: The List 

Carrot & Stick

Formulyst

Deep Science

Murad

SkinCeuticals

Skinbetter Science

GlyMed Plus

Augustinus Bader

Peter Thomas Roth

Dr. Dennis Gross

CosMedix

Opulus Beauty Labs

What Defines Clinical Skincare? 

Also referred to as dermatological skincare, clinical skincare is formulated to target specific skincare concerns such as acne, sun damage, and premature aging — but on a deeper and more effective level than mainstream over-the-counter products. Clinical skincare typically provides increased cosmetic benefits. Let’s take a closer look. 

A Higher Concentration of Active Ingredients

While clinical skincare may come with a slightly higher price tag, it typically boasts a higher percentage of ingredients than more mainstream over-the-counter products, thus producing better results. 

If you spot an ingredient percentage on the front of the box or insert, the ingredient and its applicable percentage have been regulated by the FDA. However, if it’s slapped on the front of the package, the brand is claiming marketing purposes. 

Often, the ingredient percentage is not listed next to the ingredient. In that case, a pro tip is to check where the active falls on the label. The FDA has specific packaging rules for declaring ingredients for all cosmetic products. 

  • Any ingredients that make up more than one percent of the formula are listed in descending order. In other words, the closer to the top the element is, the higher the concentration. If a so-called active ingredient is at the end of the list, you’re likely not reaping its benefits. 

Here are some active ingredients to look for:

  • Glycerin is an excellent hydrator and an affordable alternative to hyaluronic acid, though HA is also a clinical skincare staple.
  • Ceramides may help replace lipids lost due to chronic dryness, environmental factors, aging, and skin damage caused by certain skin conditions.
  • Retinol (vitamin A or retinoic acid) is used to improve the appearance of the skin. Studies have suggested that vitamin A may help to reduce visible fine lines, pigmentation, and blemishes and may help to improve skin cell turnover — this is why retinoid products, like retinol, are so widely used.
  • Vitamin C — L-ascorbic acid — helps maintain skin barrier integrity, fights pigmentation, may be involved in inflammation processes in the skin, is involved in collagen production, and protects against sun damage.
  • AHAs and BHAs – Hydroxy acids have several benefits that can help transform your skin. There are alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid and lactic and beta hydroxy acids like salicylic. Depending on your use, they can help smooth uneven texture, tighten skin, and brighten your complexion.
  • Peptides can help in various ways, from supporting hydration and collagen production to wound healing. The benefit of the peptides is dependent mainly on the type used.

Increased Stability

The best clinical skincare is formulated with more highly stabilized ingredients — meaning they take longer to deteriorate — than mainstream products. They also have more excellent absorption, meaning these results-driven ingredients are delivered deeper into the skin. 

Low-Key Packaging

It’s not too often you see clinical skincare in flashy, bulky packaging as with the luxury sector. The focus is on simple packaging such as air-tight pumps and dark glass bottles, which protect the stability of the active ingredients. You’ll notice Carrot & Stick’s packaging is simple and streamlined — clear glass dropper bottles or solid white bottles with an air-tight pump.

What Defines Clean Skincare?

Clean skincare is safe for people and the planet and is void of toxins and harmful additives. Carrot & Stick calls the “Nix List,” which includes:

It’s important to point out that while some research suggests that the list mentioned above may be linked to some adverse effects, remember that a few studies don’t indicate a causational link — especially if many of these ingredients are still approved by the FDA. 

However, keep in mind that ingredients like triclosan and sunscreens, among others, also pose a threat to the environment. At the end of the day, why second guess what you’re putting on your face? With Carrot & Stick, you can feel confident knowing you’re using effective skincare without posing a risk to yourself or your earthly surroundings. 

Precautions When Using Clinical and Clean Skincare

Even if the formulas are clean and void of the aforementioned “Nix List,” if you’re new to clinical skincare, start slow. Your skin’s natural barrier is what protects your skin from bacteria, allergens, and moisture loss. Potent or concentrated active products can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier, resulting in redness, irritation, excessive dryness, and possibly peeling. 

While active ingredients like vitamin C and AHAs can be great for some types if they’re well-tolerated, remember that high concentrations of active ingredients or complex combinations of potent ingredients aren’t always best for your skin. 

Opt for brands that don’t use high concentration claims to boost their sales and instead look to those that focus on balancing barrier support and active ingredients — like Carrot & Stick. The brand uses a combination of active and natural ingredients at a safe yet effective level. Of course, it’s best to consult a physician before experimenting with a new routine if you have sensitive skin or a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis.

The Best Clinical and Clean Skincare Brands

Carrot & Stick 

Carrot & Stick takes a tough-love approach to skincare, bridging the gap between nature and science, resulting in clinically clean skincare that delivers radiant-looking skin that’s good for you and the environment. The brand doesn’t believe that you need a 20-step routine to care for your skin, which is why it offers three product bundles to target your skin’s specific needs. 

The formulas incorporate naturally derived ingredients such as plant proteins, stem cells, plant-based neuropeptides, and cannabis sativa. Other key active ingredients include vitamin C, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, sea buckthorn oil, and proven heavy hitters like mandelic and lactic acid (alpha hydroxy acids) and beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid. 

Carrot & Stick invests unlimited time, effort, and funds into researching and developing our plant-powered ingredients to avoid incorporating toxins into its highly effective skincare.

Formulyst

The team behind Formulyst comes from the dermatology world, so they know what works and what doesn’t — and that different skin types don’t always react in the same way to the same product. Formulyst incorporates several vitamins and antioxidants in its formulas, such as vitamins B, C, and E, and powerhouse ingredients such as retinol, the gold standard for tackling fine lines and discolorations. Other components include gentle but effective AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) and rosehip seed oil, a supercharged hydrator.

Deep Science

Deep Science is a skincare company that embraces effectiveness, simplicity, purity, and transparency. The products are formulated with pure ingredients that are the heavy lifters of a skincare regimen. These simple and powerful ingredients are free of toxic chemicals, so they’re gentle on the skin.

The ingredients in each formula are carefully chosen concerning the health of people, the planet, and all living creatures. Everything about Deep Science is intentional and carefully thought out, from the ingredients to the simplistic packaging. The brand’s mantra is “always gentle, never overcomplicated.”

Murad

Dr. Murad has developed a wide range of products formulated to deliver antioxidants, boast anti-inflammatory properties, and boost hydration. The serums are considered the workhorses, which Murad views as the heavy lifters of a beauty routine, and “have the power to change your skin.” Murad products use clinical–strength ingredients, and the formulas mix naturally derived extracts and lab-created ones.

Murad’s advanced formulas set a new standard in clean clinical skin care because the products are void of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, mineral oil, formaldehyde, oxybenzone, and even animal-derived ingredients. Murad carefully develops toxin-free skincare solutions, including various chemical-free cleansers, exfoliators, serums, moisturizers, and regimens. You can utilize an “ingredient checker” feature on Murad’s website to shop for products that are formulated without certain ingredients. 

SkinCeuticals

SkinCeuticals offers clinical skincare products backed by science. The brand’s website says, “SkinCeuticals carefully selects actives that have optimal effects, limiting the number of ingredients and keeping our formulations as effective and pure as possible. Our products contain minimal fragrances and preservatives and are dye-free and paraben-free.” Be sure to check the ingredient list of any SkinCeuticals product you plan on using. 

Dr. Sheldon Pinnell, the leading scientist behind the brand, has been called the “founding father of topical antioxidants,” the core of SkinCeutical’s extensive repertoire of products. Pinnell filed the very first vitamin C patent, a discovery that paved the way for a new skincare category: topical vitamin C. This effective ingredient can be found in many of the brand’s serums, such as the ever-popular  C E Ferulic, a potent antioxidant serum. 

Skinbetter Science

Skin Better Science believes remarkable results can be achieved simply through purposeful product innovation. The brand’s products are formulated to prevent and correct signs of aging, such as lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, and more. Skinbetter Science products are formulated using evidence-based and proprietary ingredients such as AHAs, retinol, and hyaluronic acid. Bonus points for being paraben-, fragrance- and dye-free.

GlyMed Plus

GlyMed Plus is a pioneer and industry leader in clinical skincare products. The brand’s products follow a four-step system to fight the effects of aging, acne, sun damage, pigmentation, rosacea, and other skin conditions. GlyMed Plus offers over 100 products, divided into five sub-lines: Age Management, Master Aesthetics Elite, Cell Science, Serious Action, and For Men. 

Advanced Drone Technology and fulvic acid are key ingredients used in the GlyMed Plus products. Advanced Drone Technology is a delivery system using encapsulated peptides to treat targeted skin cells directly. It is said to reverse, repair, and prevent future damage at the cellular level. GlyMed Plus products aren’t formulated with potentially harmful ingredients like fragrance, lanolin, phthalates, petroleum, denatured alcohol, and parabens. 

Augustinus Bader

Augustinus Bader is a premium, science-led skincare line. From clean ingredients to responsibly sourced materials, the brand says its practice ‘is guided by green values and driven by over 30 years of scientific research, resulting in our clean formulations and efficacious products.” Formulas contain high-quality ingredients ranging from high potency botanicals and clean actives to the brand’s proprietary TCF8 complex to soften fine lines and wrinkles, reduce the appearance of redness, and more. 

According to the brand, products are “100% free of parabens, fragrance, SLS, SLES, and DEA, heavy metals, talc, petrolatum/paraffin/mineral oil, and do not contain unnecessary preservatives, solvents, and emulsifiers. Ingredients are sustainably sourced, and clean, bio-engineered actives are used where possible to reduce environmental impact.”

Peter Thomas Roth

For over 25 years, Peter Thomas Roth has taken a clinical approach to beauty. While the brand started out offering healing Hungarian mud and mineral therapies stemming from Roth’s roots, today, the brand also uses cutting-edge and results-driven ingredients. 

The Peter Thomas Roth philosophy is “Breakthrough formulas. Astonishing results.” The product line currently consists of a comprehensive range of over 100 products sold worldwide.

In interviews, Roth has said the cornerstone of his products is putting “the most effective ingredients in each product at the highest level possible that will create an astonishing result.” Products are labeled with the percentage of key ingredients — an extra labeling step you don’t see too often. The brand does offer an ingredient glossary on its website, but if you’re concerned about the specifics of a particular product, check out Skinsafeproducts.com

Dr. Dennis Gross

NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross created his namesake skincare line to deliver transformative results to patients without a prescription or office visit. While the products in his line address a variety of common skin concerns, the most popular products are within the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta peel pad range — the breakthrough that launched the brand over 25 years ago. The pads are formulated to improve uneven tone and texture with no downtime.

Based on Dr. Dennis Gross’ professional experience as a cancer researcher, practicing dermatologist, and formula innovator, the brand has eliminated more than 1650 ingredients due to concerns about their potential toxicity, safety, and ability to harm or irritate the skin. For starters, the formulas are paraben-, phthalate-, and sulfate-free.

CosMedix

Back in1998, a team of estheticians, chemists, and doctors had the idea to create clinical-grade skincare products that combined natural yet effective ingredients to address common skin concerns without irritating based on “chirality.” In laymen’s terms, their formulas have been filtered to contain only molecules that positively interact with the skin, resulting in less irritation and more concentrated formulas capable of real change. 

The brand also claims to be the pioneer of clean skincare, prioritizing which ingredients are used in its formulations. “To put it simply — we were clean before it was cool. Our skincare products exclude parabens, petrolatum, mineral oil, PEGs, sodium lauryl sulfate, hydroquinone, glycolic acid, formaldehyde donors, artificial dyes, and fragrances.”

Opulus Beauty Labs

You may have never heard of Dr. Robb Akridge, Ph.D., but you may be familiar with Clarisonic – he’s a co-founder. Akridge created a revolutionary device that allows you to freshly activate an at-home, spa-quality retinol or rejuvenating skin treatment like you’ve never tried before. 

You won’t find jars or bottles in this line — instead, the brand’s patent-pending two-layered Opule. The outside shell contains vitamins, ceramides, and botanicals, while the inside contains more potent, results-driven ingredients activated by the self-heating blending tool. 

Aside from being one of the most impressive at-home products — and product delivery systems —  we’ve ever seen, the clinical-grade Opule formulas are free from phthalates, parabens, and sulfates.

Best Clinical Skincare Brands: The Bottom Line 

The industry has come a long way over the years, so now it’s possible to find results-driven products that are also clean and safe. After all, why should skincare fall into one of two categories: effective but toxic or natural but useless? 

There’s no need to compromise when it comes to finding clinical and clean skincare that is effective and safe. Carrot & Stick takes a tough-love approach to skincare, perfectly balancing the power of plants with cutting-edge science. Not only is Carrot & Stick good for your skin, but it’s also good for the environment. 

Remember, even if a formula is clean and void of the aforementioned “Nix List,” if you’re new to clinical skincare, start slow. Potent or concentrated active products can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier, resulting in redness, irritation, excessive dryness, and possibly peeling. 

Opt for brands that don’t use high concentration claims to boost their sales and instead look to those that focus on balancing barrier support and active ingredients — like Carrot & Stick. The brand uses a combination of active and natural ingredients at a safe yet effective level. Of course, it’s best to consult a physician before experimenting with a new routine if you have sensitive skin or a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis.

Sources:
“Summary of Cosmetics Labeling Ingredients”,” FDA.gov.
Oliveira MB, do Prado AH, Bernegossi J, Sato CS, Lourenço Brunetti I, Scarpa MV, Leonardi GR, Friberg SE, Chorilli M. “Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:632570. doi: 10.1155/2014/632570. Epub 2014 Mar 19. PMID: 24772430; PMCID: PMC3977527.
Rosso JD, Zeichner J, Alexis A, Cohen D, Berson D. “Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin” Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology Practitioner: Proceedings of an Expert Panel Roundtable Meeting. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2016 Apr;9(4 Suppl 1): S2-S8. Epub 2016 Apr 1. PMID: 28936279; PMCID: PMC5608132.



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