What dermatologists really think of these 12 cult skin care products
No fluffy reviews or BS here.
Content Producer / July 07 2023
We'll be the first to admit that the skin care world can be a tad overwhelming. The market is saturated with products strutting their stuff, sauntering around and flaunting promises of transforming your skin into something extraordinary.
But let's be real: sometimes they're just gimmicks full of empty promises. Whether they're fresh-faced rookies or seasoned veterans, it can be hard to tell whether they're over-hyped, or if there's some real magic behind those chic bottles.
Let's also not forget the importance of scrutinising ingredients, especially if your skin has its own unique set of concerns. The last thing you want is to drop a fortune on a product that does nothing for your skin type (or burns it to pieces).
Thankfully, we've sought advice from the skin care gods themselves - Complete Skin Specialist's Principal Dermatologist and Director, Dr Cara McDonald, as well as All Saint Clinic's Cosmetic Doctor, Dr Yalda Jamali. Because who better to guide us through this labyrinth of lotions and potions than experts who live and breathe all things skin?
So buckle up, because we're about to uncover the secrets behind some of the world's most popular skin care products.
Frank Body Original Coffee Scrub
To say this one's a cult product is a bit of an understatement. In fact, with over 4,000 five-star reviews, this is the coffee scrub that made Frank Body famous.
Although Dr McDonald isn't a huge fan of physical exfoliation and finds them messy and irritating to use, she does admit the Frank Body Original Coffee Scrub is perfect for those of us who love an exfoliating scrub.
"This product has a pleasant fragrance and a combination of moisturising ingredients that leave your skin feeling smooth and refreshed."
Dr Jamali agrees, saying: "It's the perfect mechanical and chemical combined body exfoliator. A small amount goes a long way."
$20 at Frank Body
Alpha-H Liquid Gold
Can confirm: Alpha-H's Liquid Gold is worth its weight in...well, liquid gold.
This little guy is a very popular exfoliating serum containing a blend of glycolic acid and other AHAs, which are effective in removing dead skin cells and stimulating new cell turnover.
"Most people will notice a significant difference in their skin tone and texture by adding in a good quality exfoliating serum such as this product," Dr McDonald says.
"It can be irritating for those with sensitive skin, but most people will tolerate it if introduced gradually and followed up with a moisturiser to support the skin barrier and strict sun protection."
$74.95 at Alpha-H
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
Here at BEAUTY/crew, we're big fans of The Ordinary. Finding affordable skin care that still delivers the goods? Almost impossible.
So, how does the brand's best-selling niacinamide serum stand up to the hype?
"We all know that niacinamide is one of the superstar skin care ingredients for its ability to decrease inflammation, support the skin barrier and protect against environmental damage," Dr McDonald says.
And even though she personally finds the texture a little too sticky, she says the price is hard to beat, and you'll no doubt get good value for money.
Starting from $9.50 at Myer
Augustinus Bader The Cream
This luxe cream is another indulgent pick that seems to get people hooked, Dr McDonald notes.
"The ingredients are mostly antioxidants and hydrating constituents, which are promoted as providing an improvement in the skin’s texture, firmness and overall radiance."
She does think the cream absorbs well and leaves skin feeling smooth and hydrated, without feeling greasy. "Undoubtedly the luxury element factors more into the cost than the efficacy, but for those happy to invest, they seem very impressed by this product."
Dr Jamali, on the other hand, says it's definitely not something she'd invest in. "It's not one for me. Given the price, you’d expect miracles, which I did not see."
She recommends opting for something like the ZO Skin Health Daily Power Defence, which is less than half the price of the Augustinus Bader cream and contains a whole bunch of good-for-you ingredients.
$437 at Augustinus Bader
Rationale #1 The Serum
Yep, another niacinamide-based serum...but this time at the more luxurious end of the spectrum.
"This elegant serum contains a high concentration and quality of Vitamin B3, as well as antioxidants and peptides, providing noticeable hydration and brightening of the skin," Dr McDonald says.
"As mentioned previously, niacinamide is a skin care powerhouse with numerous benefits for improved skin quality and barrier function, and this product doesn’t disappoint."
Although, it's fairly obvious the price point does target those who like the finer things in life, as well as people who see indulging as part of their self-care routine.
$196 at Rationale
La Mer Crème de la Mer
Okay, so this baby is undeniably luxurious (and we personally love it), can you really justify spending a week's worth of rent (give or take) on a moisturiser?
"For those where money is no object, this product is very popular, but there are plenty of other rich, luxurious barrier creams at a fraction of the cost," Dr McDonald says.
And while it certainly has a beautiful texture that leaves your skin feeling plump and hydrated, she stresses it's quite heavily fragranced, which is less than ideal for anybody with inflamed or sensitive skin.
$570 for 60ml at La Mer
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Invisible Spray 50+
We don't know about you, but when we think of sunscreen, we always think of La Roche-Posay.
The brand's Anthelios Invisible Spray SPF 50+ is a popular product formulated to create a light, invisible and refined sunscreen texture for comfortable wear.
"My all-time favourite sunscreen is one with the highest quality; it must provide broad spectrum UVA/UVB SPF50+ protection," says Dr McDonald.
"A sunscreen like this will reduce the risk of skin cancer and prevent premature ageing. A huge bonus is that it's easily absorbed and fragrance-free, so it can be used by all skin types, including on children."
$39.95 at La-Roche Posay
Lucas' Papaw Ointment
Ask any Aussie and they'll probably tell you Lucas' Papaw changed their life growing up. Okay, maybe we're being a bit dramatic, but hey, it's been a staple in many homes for decades.
Mainly because it can be used to treat minor open wounds and heal inflamed, chapped or broken skin. Oh, and did we mention it only costs $6.99?!
"This is a cult product due to its convenient packaging and multipurpose use," Dr McDonald says. "Ultimately, it is a greasy ointment containing some fermented papaya extract, which has been known as a natural therapy with healing benefits."
Although, she's quick to note that just because this product contains natural ingredients, that doesn't mean they're completely safe or 'better' (than other products) to use on inflamed or irritated skin.
"Although uncommon, it is possible to be allergic to some ingredients in this product and not all ingredients are listed, which can be tricky for those with known allergies."
$6.99 at Chemist Warehouse
Weleda Skin Food
Beauty experts rave about this cream on the reg, singing its praises for quenching dry, flaky skin (among other things).
Luckily, we don't have to toss ours in the bin, because Dr McDonald is totally on board with it, too.
"This product is a simple, rich, thick, greasy moisturiser, which is ideal for using on very dry skin or as a hand cream. It's great value for money and very popular."
It is however fragranced, so if you've got sensitive skin or a history of eczema, you should opt for fragrance-free moisturisers specifically designed for inflamed or irritated skin, she says.
$27.95 at THE ICONIC
Bioderma Sensibio H2O Soothing Micellar Water Cleanser
Okay, so we knew the Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water was in a league of its own, but it's nice to have validation from the experts.
"I absolutely love this product," Dr Jamali tells us. "It's perfect for taking off makeup, including eye makeup. It's also fragrance and alcohol-free, making it super gentle, non-irritating and great for sensitive skin."
Dr McDonald backs her up, revealing it's an absolute favourite amongst dermatologists and makeup artists, simply because it's a whiz at removing makeup, old skin care products and refreshing the skin in preparation for moisturiser or active ingredients.
Was $32.99, now $24.69 at Chemist Warehouse
Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment
Promising to give you the 'skin of your dreams' pretty much overnight, Sunday Riley's Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment markets itself as a game-changing exfoliating serum that reveals brighter, fresher and younger-looking skin.
Dr McDonald says it's very popular due to its good results. "The product contains lactic acid, which helps shed dead skin cells and improve skin turnover, as well as a number of botanical lightening ingredients, such as liquorice extract, for improved skin brightness and tone."
Most people will notice their skin looking smoother and more radiant, she says, but it can cause some irritation, particularly in those with sensitive skin.
Final word of advice? Pair it with a good quality barrier cream to support the skin barrier and strict sun protection. And remember to take care if combining it with other actives, such as retinols.
$147 at ASOS
Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
This bad boy is Paula's Choice's number one product worldwide. It's designed to quickly unclog pores, smooth wrinkles and even skin tone with its powerhouse formula.
So does it live up to the hype? Yes, says Dr McDonald; this clinically-proven product offers great value for money as a gentle, yet effective exfoliant for acne-prone and congested skin.
"BHAs are drawn to the oil in the pores, helping break down the dead skin cells and clear out the pores. This liquid product is fairly well tolerated, and with continued use it will help clear blackheads and reduce the appearance of pores."
It also has Dr Jamali's seal of approval. "It's one of the best, fairly priced BHA toners on the market. The only issue I have is that it's often overused, compromising the skin barrier. I would only use every other day at a maximum," she reveals, stressing the importance of applying moisturiser afterwards.
$45 at Paula's Choice
Tiarne is BEAUTYcrew's Content Producer. Between crafting narratives about all things beauty, you might catch her indulging in an endless stream of TikTok videos and obsessing over her dog. Her words have also appeared across other mastheads such as Better Homes & Gardens, New Idea, Now To Love, Bounty Parents and more.