18 Medical-Grade Skin Care Products Dermatologists Swear By

Plus, what differentiates medical-grade products from others.

Originally Published: 
We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

If you’ve developed a recent obsession with skin care à la Cassie from Euphoria, you’re not only in the right place, but far from alone. Countless beauty buffs changed their ways over the past few years specifically, trading in products providing purely aesthetic perks for those that benefit their skin’s health. As a result, the skin care industry increased by nearly 60% in market value (a number that’s expected to grow by an additional 30% in the next five years), officially surpassing that of traditional makeup.

That said, shopping for skin care is no easy feat, and can be especially challenging when you’re looking for medical-grade skin care. It’s not just difficult to discern what differentiates “medical-grade” from over-the-counter products, but it can feel daunting to guess which of thousands of available products can really deliver the results they promise.

Fortunately, as noted above, you are not alone. Bustle asked dermatologists for their favorite medical-grade products, so next time you’re confused by which cosmetics to add to your cart, you’ll know what to do. Below, see 18 medical-grade skin care products dermatologists love and recommend.

The Experts

Dr. Snehal Amin, M.D., F.A.A.D., is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. He is co-founder and surgical director of MDCS Dermatology, and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Weill-Cornell Medical College.

Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist at New York City’s MDCS Dermatology. She is an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell - New York Presbyterian Medical Center.

Dr. Audrey Kunin, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist based in Kansas City. She is the founder of DERMADoctor Skincare, chief product officer at NovaBay Pharmaceuticals, and author of The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual.

Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, M.D., is a double board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa in Boston. She is an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Peter Young, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist in Boston. He is the medical director of the clinical skin health platform Facet.

Dr. Jeanine Downie, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey.

Dr. Lauren Penzi, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist with MDCS Dermatology.

Dr. Brendan Camp, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist with MDCS Dermatology.

What Is Medical-Grade Skin Care?

Wondering what medical-grade skin care actually is, and how it differs from other types of skin care? According to Dr. Snehal Amin, M.D., F.A.A.D., board-certified dermatologist, surgical director, and co-founder of MDCS Dermatology, “medical-grade” skin care products can be defined by three primary characteristics: potency level, clinical testing, and where they are sold.

“Medical-grade skincare lines have higher potency and concentrations of active ingredients [than others],” Amin tells Bustle. He adds that medical-grade products undergo clinical testing and evaluation that adheres to FDA regulations, which is why medical-grade skin care tends to be more pricey.

Finally, medical-grade skincare can only be purchased from a dermatologist’s office, medispa, or authorized vendor because a medical director is required for authorized sale, so you won’t find them at drugstores (sadly).

Derms’ Favorite Medical-Grade Skin Care

For An Anti-Aging Powerhouse

If your primary concerns are wrinkles and fine lines, Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology, recommends Medik8’s night serum, which is formulated with superstar anti-aging ingredient retinaldehyde.

“Retinaldehyde actually helps to fight wrinkles and fine lines quicker than other commonly used retinols, because it only requires one conversion to retinoid acid, the active form of vitamin A,” Garshick explains, adding that the products’ double-encapsulation system and incorporation of glycerin and hyaluronic acid ensure that it's gentle on the skin as well.

For A Brightening Boost

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin, M.D. recommends this retinol, ferulic acid, and vitamin E blend, clarifying that the 1% retinol works as an especially effective non-prescription form of vitamin A. “It helps improve fine lines, wrinkles, pore size, and skin discoloration,” Kunin continues, noting that because it’s also blended with dermatologist-recommended levels of vitamin C, E, and ferulic acid, “this formulation delivers a single, desert island anti-aging formulation.”

For A Skin-Quenching Treatment

If your skin is in need of some serious moisture, Amin suggests this ceramide-rich treatment cream, formulated with palmitoyl oligopeptide — aka a synthetic tripeptide that helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, human fibroblast conditioned media (SkinMedica’s famous TNS), and hydroxypropyl bispalmitamide MEA, a ceramide that promotes and maintains moisture in the skin while improving its texture.

For Lightweight Hydration

If you prefer hydrating serums over creams (and/or are prone to oily skin or breakouts), Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, M.D., double board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa, tells Bustle that this is her favorite hydrating serum. “With a combination of silicium and hyaluronic acid, it feels great when applied to the skin,” DeRosa says. As a bonus, it contains both high and low molecular weights of hyaluronic acid for optimal absorption.

For A Peptide-Infused Neck Cream

Worried about tech neck? If so, this Garshick-approved neck cream is for you. “One of my go-to options for a neck cream, this is a great option for those with signs of moderate to advanced aging on the neck,” Garshick tells Bustle, explaining that it combines microbiome-friendly ingredients, peptides, and red microalgae extract for the skin-smoothing job. “This helps the skin appear more firm and lifted, while smoothing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” she says.

For An Acne-Combatting Cleanser

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Peter Young, M.D. advises anyone struggling with acne to use this face wash as it contains the all-star acne combatant benzoyl peroxide. “Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most common medical-grade acne fighters available,” Young tells Bustle, adding that it helps control acne breakouts by unclogging pores and eradicating the bacteria within them.

For A Multitasking Serum

Garshick is also a fan of the DefenAge 8-in-1 Bioserum, as it’s formulated with the brand’s exclusive retinol alternative, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid. Thus, Garshick asserts that this lightweight serum works to rejuvenate and smooth the skin, improving the overall appearance of redness and boosting the skin barrier. “The key to this product that makes it stand out is that it contains five times more defensin molecules than any other formula,” she adds.

For A Restorative Eye Treatment

If you’re seeking something topical to treat the area under and around your eyes, DeRosa recommends Alastin’s Restorative Eye Treatment. “The TriHex Technology helps support the production of new healthy collagen and elastin, while also containing ingredients like niacinamide to help brighten the skin around the eye,” she tells Bustle.

For An Intensive Antioxidant Serum

Both Garshick and Amin are fond of Skinceuticals’ beloved C E Ferulic serum, as it’s considered to be the gold standard for vitamin C. Its potent combination of vitamin C — which protects skin against free radical damage while brightening the complexion — works synergistically with moisturizing vitamin E and ferulic acid, the latter of which boosts the benefits and stability of vitamins E and C, according to Garshick.

“By helping to protect the skin against free radical damage, this product can help reduce signs of skin aging including fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, brown spots, and more,” Garshick says. “When it comes to skin care, antioxidants are often a place where it can be worth the splurge in order to know that the product you’re using is backed by science and will be stable and effective.”

For Barrier-Boosting Moisture

If your skin barrier is in need of some protection or repair, DeRosa recommends this vitamin A-spiked moisturizer. “It contains vitamin A — think retinoids — and vitamin E, plus stem cells and enzymes to help reduce signs of aging and defend against free radicals and environmental damage,” DeRosa tells Bustle. But the best part of all? It helps to restore the skin’s natural barrier so that your complexion stays hydrated.

For A Sensitive Skin-Friendly Retinoid

Garshick also recommends this cult-favorite cream, which combines a retinoid and lactic acid. “This retinoid and alpha hydroxy acid work together to enhance efficacy and boost collagen production without causing irritation,” Garshick tells Bustle. In combination with glycolic acid, this formula helps improve the overall appearance of skin texture and tone, she explains. What’s more, Garshick adds, is that this overnight serum simultaneously delivers powerful antioxidants and moisturizing ingredients to the skin — such as ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid — to minimize irritation. “This can be a great option for someone looking for an effective retinoid option but cannot tolerate a prescription-strength product,” she says.

For A Collagen-Boosting Night Serum

If you’re on the market for a powerful night serum, consider snagging this dermatologist-approved elixir from Isdin. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jeanine Downie, M.D. is a fan of its multitasking roster of active ingredients that work to improve your overall skin’s health. “This is a restorative nighttime serum and oil with melatonin, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, bakuchiol, and retinol derivatives that builds collagen and decreases fine lines and wrinkles,” she tells Bustle. In other words: It does it all.

For A Nourishing Night Cream

Slather this cream on before you go to bed to wake up with firmer, glowier skin. “This cream contains retinol, peptides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid to moisturize,” says Downie. “It’ll help to hydrate the skin as it decreases fine lines and wrinkles.” It’s specially formulated to treat menopausal or estrogen-deficient skin, but anyone can benefit from it.

For Strong Sun Protection

Ask any dermatologist for their top recommended sunscreen, and there’s a high chance they’ll name this one. “This cult favorite SPF is a favorite of mine, especially for my patients with acne-prone skin,” says Dr. Lauren Penzi, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with MDCS Dermatology. “Not only does it protect from harmful UVA and UVB rays, but the formula also includes sodium hyaluronate to moisturize and lactic acid to clear pores and reduce shine. Even better, it comes in both tinted and non-tinted options.”

For A Dark Spot-Fighting Exfoliant

If hyperpigmentation is your biggest skin concern, do yourself a favor and try Sunday Riley’s wildly popular Good Genes serum. “This is one of my all-time favorite chemical exfoliators, as it deeply exfoliates the dull surface of the skin for instant glow and radiance,” says Penzi. “It also visibly brightens the appearance of dark spots and discoloration, and also helps to combat that appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.” Since lactic acid is one of the mildest forms of alpha hydroxy acid, Penzi notes it’s safe to use on sensitive skin.

For Skin-Plumping Moisture

Keep your complexion hydrated with a powerhouse hyaluronic acid serum like this one, a formula Dr. Brendan Camp, M.D., board-certified dermatologist, highly recommends. “In addition to hyaluronic acid, this serum contains ceramides to restore and repair the skin barrier and niacinamide to reduce inflammation and calm the skin,” he tells Bustle, so it moisturizes while being uber-gentle.

For Added Skin Radiance

Camp dubs this medical-grade serum a “workhorse” because it performs on multiple levels. “It helps address signs of photoaging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, promotes the production of collagen, and treats blemishes related to acne,” he says. That’s thanks to its combo of alpha and beta-hydroxy acids as well as arbutin and mushroom extract, all of which help brighten the skin.

For Smoother Under-Eye Skin

In the world of fine line-reducing eye treatments, Camp believes this one from Obagi reigns supreme. “This is a lightweight eye cream that helps correct the appearance of crepey skin,” he tells Bustle. “Using a proprietary mineral ingredient, it firms eyelid skin while softening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”

Studies referenced:

Boo, Y. C. (2021). Arbutin as a Skin Depigmenting Agent with Antimelanogenic and Antioxidant Properties. Antioxidants, 10(7).

Saurat, J.H. (1994). Topical retinaldehyde on human skin: biologic effects and tolerance. J Invest Dermatol. doi: 10.1111/1523-1747.ep12412861

Tang, C., & Yang, H. (2018). Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules : A Journal of Synthetic Chemistry and Natural Product Chemistry, 23(4).

This article was originally published on