The lustre of glossy white walls and product consultants dressed in black may be attractive, but the department store may not always be the best place to shop for skincare. Often times one can find more researched, proven, and less expensive products from the science-based brands in ugly packaging, and though it may be boring, these are the brands who treat skin with fact rather than marketing.
Now, first things first; NeoStrata in Canada is very different than NeoStrata in any other country. Canada has its own exclusive formulations, often with different technology. Nevertheless, NeoStrata is brilliant no matter the country. In Canada they were the first to introduce glycolic acid, stem cells, retinol with peptides, and L-ascorbic acid. They use external, independent and clinical evaluations to judge their products for efficacy, and focus on skin concern rather than fancy marketing and packaging.
Signature technology: Glycolic acid, retinol, L-ascorbic acid, PhytoCellTec fruit stem cells, Matrixyl 3000 and New Matrixyl peptides, Genowhite brightening peptide, epidermal growth factors, and hyaluronic acid.
Iconic product: Purifying Solution, because of 8% glycolic acid at a proper pH level for exfoliating.
Newest release: Anti-Aging Peel Solution, because of a 25% blend of glycolic acid, gluconolactone, papaya, and 1.5% peptides.
Personal favourite: All-in-One Night Serum, because of 0.30% retinol, 5.0% New Matrixyl peptides, and 0.05% hyaluronic acid.
Who the brand is for: Mature skin wanting steady results, blemish-prone skin, or those with uneven skin tone and texture.
Price point: Generally under $50, though nothing is more than $150.
Where to find it: Shoppers Drug Mart or Rexall in Canada for the mentioned products, everywhere else in the world will have other products which are different though still brilliant.
Another one with a very country-focused product offering, La Roche-Posay is one of the many iconic French pharmacy brands in the industry which focus more on soothing and calming rather than aggressive treatment. The primary differentiator in La Roche-Posay products is the inclusion of thermal spring water containing bicarbonate, calcium, silicate, magnesium, strontium, selenium, zinc, and copper¹. The result of including this specific thermal spring water is a demonstrated antiradical, anti-inflammatory, and protection against ultraviolet B-induced skin damage. Is this a miracle ingredient, no, but it does have merit in skincare.
Signature technology: Thermal spring water.
Iconic product: Thermal Spring Water, because of its purity, mineral content, and ability to soften and soothe skin.
Newest release: Toleriane Double Repair Moisturizer, because of its simplicity in formulation and inclusion of soothing prebiotic technology, glycerin, and niacinamide.
Personal favourite: Toleriane Purifying Foaming Cleanser, because of its cushy cream-to-foam texture and EDTA to balance skin challenged by hard water.
Who the brand is for: Anyone fed up with aggressive active ingredients who wants a soothing, steady routine.
Price point: Generally under $50.
Where to find it: Shoppers Drug Mart or Rexall in Canada, Ulta or Target in America, essentially any proper drug store in the world.
Those poor Millennials, being targeted by every industry to no end. NIA (Not Into Aging) was crafted by StriVectin to better suit the needs of those under 30; preventing the signs of aging and correcting present damage. It features the same NIA-114 technology as StriVectin but with a more approachable price and more focused product offering.
Signature technology: NIA-114, borrowed from parent company StriVectin, is a patented lipid-soluble version of niacin (which is typically water-soluble). This means it can permeate through the stratum corneum more effectively to repair DNA at the cellular level.
Iconic product: Tech Neck, because it gets the conversation started on neck care.
Newest release: The entire line.
Personal favourite: Fake Awake triple-action eye gel, because of NIA-114 to prevent damage, sodium hyaluronate to hydrate and smooth, and the pairing of film-former technology and soft focus powders to give you the immediate sense of being flawless.
Who the brand is for: Those with dull but otherwise good skin that are looking to stave off the visible signs of aging as long as possible.
Price point: Under $50.
Where to find it: Exclusive to Ulta in America, Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada.
Conceived as a brand with low-effort but high-result products, Indeed Labs is a small but powerful company that takes a science-first approach to development. They are not focused on creating routines, but rather offering targeted products to fix an issue; say you want to support collagen, they have a serum specifically for that. My only complaint is that, through this perspective, some obvious holes exist in their portfolio including the lack of a cleanser or a good eye treatment.
Signature technology: Sodium hyaluronate, hydroxypinacolone retinoate, Polysilicone-11 (blurring agent found in Nanoblur), L-absorbic Acid, Matrixyl, Syn-Tacks.
Iconic product: Hydraluron Serum, because it is an affordable, lightweight, simple formula to maintain epidermal moisture levels.
Newest release: inDefense30, because it is a serum-textured chemical-and-physical daily sunscreen and hydrator.
Personal favourite: Retinol Reface, because of its inclusion of hydroxypinacolone retinoate, retinol, and a peptide which mimics retinoids not to mention the retinoids are microencapsulated to minimize irritation.
Who the brand is for: Those with ‘easy’ skin issues like dehydration, minor discolouration, minor sensitivity, or the first signs of aging.
Price point: Under $50.
Where to find it: Indeed Labs in Canada and America, Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada, Boots in the U.K.
This one may only be for the Canadians, but oh this is a brilliant brand. Jouviance was founded to bring effective anti-aging products to patients of dermatology clinics. Their products are developed and manufactured in Canada and designed to complement one’s in-clinic treatments, though in my mind nothing about these products makes them only effective when used in conjunction with a round of clinical treatments. I appreciate the price point, the fact that they are a Canadian company, and their consistent use of active, proven ingredients.
Signature technology: Matrixyl 3000, glycolic acid, L-ascorbic acid, retinol, omegas, sodium hyaluronate.
Iconic product: Rejuvenating Anti-Aging Cream, because it has peptides, ceramides, omegas 3 and 6, and can be used day, night and as an eye contour cream.
Newest release: Night Serum Vitamin C paired with SPF 30 Lotion, for a 20% L-ascorbic acid serum to fight hyperpigmentation and a mineral sunscreen to prevent further damage.
Personal favourite: Restructiv Retinol, because of time-release retinol, Matrixyl 3000, Dermaxyl, omegas, ceramides, and sodium hyaluronate all to improve texture, radiance, fine lines, firmness, and the size of pores.
Who the brand is for: Those with aging concerns who want to tackle it all in a short routine.
Price point: Generally around $60, all under $100.
Where to find it: Jouviance and Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada, CVS in America.
Could I do a list of science-based skincare without mentioning the behemoth in the industry? Now, Clinique has many issues that need to be mentioned. That three-step system needs an overhaul, they need to start marketing their actives, Pep-Start should have been a series of strong essentials rather than gimmicky products that lack cohesion, and why does the men’s line even exist when most of the formulas are identical? Bearing all of that in mind, Clinique has some incredible products in their portfolio that really do exceed expectations.
Signature technology: Fragrance-free formulations, which is more important than you may think; if you already have problematic skin, why not remove an ingredient which may possibly contribute to sensitization?
Iconic product: Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm, because it removes every last bit of makeup, rinses clean, and does it all using only nine non-sensitizing ingredients.
Newest release: Moisture Surge Hydrating Supercharged Concentrate, because it floods the skin with water-based hydration in a water-gel base, and includes proven antioxidants vitamin C and E.
Personal favourite: Pep-Start Double Bubble Purifying Mask, because it brightens and reduces redness in skin for a fraction of the price of other bubble masks.
Who the brand is for: Those who want to strip their routine back to tested, proven, and simple formulations.
Price point: Generally less than $50.
Where to find it: Jouviance and Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada, CVS in America.
With this mention I am stretching the meaning of ‘affordable’ by quite a wide margin, though I do it with logic. For many people interested in a comprehensive skincare routine the number of products required reaches at least three, often five, and sometimes more. I find with Filorga that number of steps is often reduced; find an inexpensive, gentle cleanser from another brand and pair it with a face cream and eye cream from Filorga and I think you have a solid routine which focuses on a variety of concerns.
Signature technology: NCTF, which is a proprietary complex of vitamins, amino acids, coenzymes, nucleic bases, minerals, and an antioxidant. This complex is included across the range and focuses on improving cellular function, promoting elastin and collagen production, stimulating cellular communication, and defending against free radicals. All of this is encapsulated within chronospheres for enhanced penetration.
Iconic product: Time-Filler, because it is a face cream that targets contraction wrinkles, wrinkles caused by sagging, and wrinkles caused by dryness with a blend of peptides, sodium hyaluronate, and NCTF.
Newest release: NCTF-Intensive, because it contains an injection-worth of NCTF along with retinol and vitamin C all in one serum.
Personal favourite: Time-Filler Mat, because it offers the same benefits as Time-Filler but for more combination skin types and features NCTF, two forms of sodium hyaluronate, an exopolysaccharide to enhance the moisture barrier, an astringent to tighten pores, protease to exfoliate, and yet there are no silicones.
Who the brand is for: Those who are okay with spending more per product if they have to buy fewer products.
Price point: Generally around $85, though some products are much more expensive.
Where to find it: Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada, Nordstrom in America and Canada, Filorga in America, and LookFantastic internationally.
Honourable mentions go to StriVectin, Bioderma, Avène, and Vichy which all have a few good products in their range though all suffer from being rather mundane or old-fashioned in their formulations. StriVectin is a tad bit pricey though they have quite a few bestselling products, Bioderma has quite a few questionable claims for their SÉBIUM line though HYDRABIO is rather nice, Avène is all rather good though again their claims are a bit much for my taste, and Vichy’s vicious Normaderm acne line is so horrid I cannot recommend the brand at all though Mineral89 is rather innovative.