Ever wonder what a dermatologist thinks when they walk into a Sephora? With endless rows of serums and creams to choose from, what would someone with years of knowledge and experience in skincare actually spend their money on—and what would they definitely skip?
We asked Dr. Claire Chang, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York, and Dr. Mona Gohara at the Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut, to share the things they would never buy and the one product that they always have on hand.
1. Physical exfoliants and scrubs
“I do not buy (and actually discourage my patients from using) physical exfoliants and harsh scrubs, which can do more damage than good to the skin,” says Chang. “It can cause too much irritation, inflammation and trauma, which can lead to dry, red skin and worsened breakouts. Instead, I recommend chemical exfoliants that contain glycolic acid or lactic acid to exfoliate the skin and increase skin cell turnover without causing irritation.”
Shop the products: Versed Skincare The Shortcut Overnight Facial ($20); REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic ($38); Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel ($88)
2. Alcohol-based toners
“Toners that have alcohol in them can dry out the skin and leave it feeling tight,” explains Chang. “Instead, I look for toners that are alcohol-free, pH balanced and have calming, hydrating ingredients, like niacinamide and aloe vera, or those that have brightening ingredients, like AHAs and BHAs.”
3. Expensive moisturizers
“There is no need to spend hundreds of dollars on expensive face moisturizers,” says Chang. “I buy drugstore brand moisturizers and focus on whether or not they have essential hydrating ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid,” she explains. “I would rather spend more money on products that are packed with higher concentrations of active ingredients, like antioxidant serums or a high-quality retinol.”
4. Neck cream
“Why use a separate neck cream? I use the same products that I use on my face on my neck—including the antioxidant serums, retinols and moisturizers I just mentioned,” explains Chang.
5. Face mist
“A face mist may feel refreshing, but it’s not an essential step in my skincare regimen,” says Chang. “It doesn’t really add anything that I can’t already get from my serums and moisturizers,” she adds. “The only exception I’ll make is during a long flight.”
6. “Pore-reducing” products
“Pores are a natural part of our skin anatomy and cannot be eliminated or reduced in size with skincare products,” explains Chang. “What products that claim to shrink pores actually do is help remove the contents of blackheads, including oil and other impurities, which can temporarily make them appear smaller. However, you can’t actually reduce the size of your pores and consumers should not expect these results.”
The One Must-Have
“I like using a retinoid that can be used on my entire face (including my eyelids), neck and the backs of my hands,” says Gohara. “A retinoid eliminates the need for buying any special eye and neck creams,” she adds. “I look for products that specially formulated for ‘sensitive’ skin so they can be used on the more reactive areas, like around your eyes and on your neck, without causing irritation.”
Shop Dr. Gohara’s top pick: Avène Retrinal 0.1 Intensive Cream ($70)