Why should I NOT purchase skincare products through Amazon and other retail outlets?

As a dermatologist, I always want the very best for my patients. I want to educate them on issues related to their health and well-being, while staying attuned to the fact that everyone, everywhere has a budget to maintain. When it comes to skincare, I truly believe there are huge differences to what are “cosmetic” products, which make claims about moisturization or the reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and “cosmeceutical” products.

Cosmecueticals involve actual research and development so that when they make a claim about hydration or actual reduction of lines and wrinkles (not just the temporary appearance of!), they have scientific facts to prove out their research. Thus, what they claim, you as the consumer can actually believe. No, it is not a miracle in a bottle, but rather it a product that, many times has been tested in living cells hundreds of times. In the case of some manufacturers of cosmeceuticals, they don’t simply stop at the answer to the question “does it do what the bottle says?” These labs go on to further test the elegance of products, so that when they are applied to the skin, they feel good. They are not sticky or greasy after being applied to the skin surface. As a female dermatologist who uses a six step regimen both morning and night, it is important that the products I apply are not only doing their job, but they feel nice while they are doing it! Finally, fewer labs go on to a third stage of extensive testing that includes looking at variability in environments that the products may be exposed to on their way to your skin. How does it react in heat? How does it react with extreme cold? High pressure or low pressure situations? What if it sits in the bottle for a year or two before it is actually purchased and applied to the skin? Does it still work? Does it change the consistency of the product in any way?

The one company I am fully aware of that performs all three levels of testing, in hundreds of specimens, is Allergan’s SkinMedica. I make it a point to research information regarding many different cosmeceuticals, as I will be the primary educator for all things skincare related to my patients. When I say “I”, I mean my office. I spend a tremendous amount of time learning, as well as turning around and teaching my staff about what is important to message to patients regarding skincare. They now become the expert as well!

One of the things that always amazes me, is when a patient comes to my office for the health and beauty of their skin, but then turns around and spends a considerable amount of money on products they purchase at locations such as Walgreen’s or Sephora. These stores are definitely not inexpensive. They carry such as wide of array of products, it is impossible to know what actually works and what does not. How many times have you purchased a product that you were told would work on a skin condition, only to be disappointed in the lack of results? Do you ever return to that store and discuss the disappointment with the employee that sold the product to you? Are they even still employed there? Why would someone continue to trust the knowledge of a store employee who may have received, at most, 1 week of training on a vast array of products and lines when you can attend your dermatology office and get the truth (and many times at a lesser cost!)? This is baffling to me as both a physician and consumer.

I also am amazed at the entire “black” marketplace. I am a huge on-line consumer. I do not have time to run to various shops, stores and malls. I do not need to do that with the invention of the internet. One of my favorite vendors is Amazon. Who would not love to click on a purchase, and then have it arrive the next day, 7 days even until the late hours of the evening?! ME! However, as a dermatologist I also see some of the traps associated with sites such as Amazon when it comes to specific products. More specifically….skincare. I have had patients ask me why is that they can find extremely cheap prices on high dollar goods such as the SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum. Unfortunately, the hero product in the line is more costly to manufacture and so we must pay a higher price as the consumer for this good. However, the price stands on its own just as the product does. Why put 3-4 anti-aging products on your face that add up to more than the Essential Serum for a non-result? Now you are paying even more for the lack of results.

Another downfall to Amazon is that the vendor is not a licensed vendor. Remember that Amazon is essential a huge clearing house or middle man. They do not “vet” their vendors. As a result, a consumer has no idea if the product is 1) genuine or 2) still efficacious. On the first point, I can tell you the lengths that people will go to sell a fake Essential Serum are mind-boggling. Using dyes on other products and placing them in bottles that are almost identical in every way to the real product, can be very misleading to patients. I think of these products as super-fakes, similar to the handbag industry. Additionally, some of these products are, in fact, genuine, but have been sitting in a 150 degree storage facility for a year or have been acquired through a fire sale. (I mean a real fire!)

I was naïve to much of these facts until I was forced to investigate this arena over the last 2-3 years. My patients are the most important thing to me. Without them, I am a physician with potential but no productivity. Out of my concerns for things I have learned through my patients, I have done this research and learned a lot along the way. I recommend as their dermatologist to use only approved cosmeceutical retailers for all of your skincare products to get the best proven results.