Although I’ve had some pretty good success over the years with big-brand skin care products that can be found easily in any drugstore — like this moisturizer from L’Oreal and this lip care line from ChapStick — the onset of perimenopause a couple of years ago brought with it some significant changes to my skin.
From solving adult acne issues to brightening dulling skin and smoothing fine lines in the absence of regular Botox appointments (thanks, self-isolation), I’ve been putting the professional skin care lines featured below to the test for quite some time. Some I’ve used more or longer than others, but I’ve given each one at least three weeks to get the job done. Or not.
Make no mistake: professional skin care lines aren’t cheap, and some require an appointment before you can purchase them (usually because these are medical-grade products). But the good news is that you often get what you pay for, and an investment in your skin is the gift that keeps on giving.
You’ll note that I’m not linking individual products below, and that’s because if one is discontinued or the link changes down the road, I want to help prevent the frustration that comes with following a broken link. Instead, just use the brand link in each section and then the search functions on each website to find a specific product.
And, three more things before I dive in… First, this list is alphabetical and will grow over time as I try new professional skin care brands. Brands are NOT listed according to any kind of preference.
Second, what’s my skin type? That might be useful so you know if your skin has a better likelihood of reacting to these professional skin care lines the same way mine does, right?! For the most part, I have normal skin with mild sensitivity. That is, until my hormones kick in and then I have classic combination skin that really enjoys making me look like a spotty teenager with the inevitable dry patches that come with aging skin. Fun times! My elasticity is probably slightly better than the average 45 year old; that’s down to good genes and a commitment to facial sunscreen/hats/sunglasses since my 20s. All of this means in the span of an average month, my skin can run the gamut of typical problems YOU might face, too.
Third, since medical-grade skin care doesn’t come with a budget price tag, you might be wondering how to make the most of an investment — especially during potentially troubling financial times. If you have to choose just three products to improve your skin, most beauty experts agree on this combo: vitamin C, retinol and sunscreen.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Every selfie I share in this post is unedited, unfiltered and makeup-free.
Professional skin care lines: AlumierMD
AlumierMD price range: $42 to $380
Where it’s made: USA and Canada
Products I’ve tried:
- EverActive C&E + Peptide
- Retinol Resurfacing Serum 0.25
- Sheer Hydration Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 40
My overall review: The AlumierMD line is available in some select dermatology clinics or you can order online — provided you first connect and have a free consultation with one of its skin experts. Mine took place via FaceTime and lasted about 30 minutes, after which point the expert suggested three products that she thought would make a big difference: a vitamin C serum for the increasingly dull skin I complained about, a light retinol because of a run-in last year with a retinol from Drunk Elephant (long story short, a Sephora employee gave me a sample but told me it was moisturizer; it was freaking retinol and I ended up with a chemical burn); and a moisturizer-sunscreen hybrid because she gleaned from our conversation that I’m busy and don’t mind combining steps to save time.
I absolutely love every product I tried and really wish I could report on the entire line from cleanser to nighttime moisturizer because I think the results of using everything in concert would be incredible. The EverActive C&E complex has a 15% concentration of vitamin C, which is pretty high, and the vitamin C crystals are actually kept in a totally separate container and only get mixed into the serum bottle the first day you use it, which — according to the brand — keeps the C “optimally active.” My only complaint about this product is that if you don’t use it all within about six to eight weeks (which, if you use it daily, you will), it takes on an unpleasant smell. I tested it for three weeks, loved it and set it aside to move on to another skin care line, only to come back to it a few weeks later and peeee-ew! In normal circumstances, you’re likely to use it all before this ever happens since the bottle is small.
The retinol comes in different concentrations, with the 0.25 being the mildest. And it was a really good, gentle way to come back to retinol after my previous experience. By the end of the three-week testing period, I was able to use it nightly without any problems and my skin was in beautiful shape each morning.
Of course, if you’re using retinol, you absolutely must use a daily sunscreen. I even learned during my consultation that we should be wearing sunscreen INDOORS, too, because some UVA rays can actually penetrate windows. And with that comes my favourite of the three AlumierMD products I tried — Sheer Hydration. Not only is it a time-saver since it’s a (really good) moisturizer and SPF (40!) in one, but it also makes my skin look like porcelain. Without fail, every time I put it on and come downstairs, Miss Q — a nine year old who’s only somewhat interested in makeup so far — asks me if I’m wearing foundation.
Hopefully, I’ll have an opportunity to add more to my AlumierMD arsenal soon.
Professional skin care lines: Biologique Recherche
Biologique Recherche price range: $34 to $825
Where it’s made: France
Products I’ve tried:
- Lait VIP cleansing milk
- Lotion P50
- Collagene Marine Serum
My overall review: I first heard about Biologique Recherche about five or six years ago when a magazine article called its P50 toner “Jesus in a bottle.” Intrigued, I tried to track it down in the Toronto area and — at the time — there was only one place I could find it. I called this medical spa to inquire about buying a bottle and they told me I had to book a facial first.
Their resident aesthetician also happens to be the Canadian trainer for Biologique Recherche and not only was her facial the longest and most expensive I’ve ever had in my life, but all these years later, it’s still the best. And three hours later (!!!), I left with the three products she recommended most for my skin. Mostly because I couldn’t afford more and I asked her to prioritize the best three based on our time together.
It turns out I hate cleansing milks like Lait VIP. I get zero gratification from anything that does’t foam and I really didn’t find that it removed makeup well. But it was gentle and hydrating. The collagen is still probably one of the most expensive skin care products that I’ve ever bought, and I can’t really say I noticed a huge difference when I used it and then stopped and later resumed, so it’s also one of my biggest regrets. It could be that I just wasn’t using it with a good moisturizer, but I wasn’t impressed for the $100+ it cost me.
The P50, on the other hand, is a WOWer. It’s every bit as great as the celebrities and skin gurus and beauty editors say it is. You have to tread gently at first while your skin gets used to it, and it will make your face smell like a salad thanks to the apple cider vinegar in it, but it tones, exfoliates, brightens and even seems to shrink pores. It may not be Jesus himself inside, but to call it a miracle in a bottle isn’t an exaggeration.
Professional skin care lines: Caudalie
Caudalie price range: $14 to $179
Where it’s made: France
Products I’ve tried:
- Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Essence
- Vinoperfect Radiance Serum
- Beauty Elixir
My overall review: First off, although I don’t normally like facial skin care products that are scented (in part because “fragrance” can be a dubious ingredient since it’s not regulated in Canada, and in part because some are so strong that as they’re applied, it’s a bit of an assault on the sniffer), the Caudalie products I’ve tried have a lovely, faint orange-y scent that layer beautifully. The brand is also committed to using as many “natural” ingredients as possible and every product in the line is free of parabens, phenoxyethanol, phthalates, mineral oils and animal-derived ingredients.
The Brightening Essence is essentially a toner that’s designed to prepare skin for the Radiance Serum, which contains “Viniferine” — a proprietary ingredient the brand claims is 62 times more effective than vitamin C at boosting radiance. I will tell you that you could use these two ingredients in combination and notice a real difference in the even-ness of your skin tone in a night or two. They really do what they say they do.
The star of the show for me, though, is the Beauty Elixir. I love it so much that I keep a full-sized Elixir on my bathroom counter and keep a travel-sized one in my carry-on. Well, you know, when we aren’t mid-pandemic and travel is part of my everyday life. It can be used in a few different ways, making it one of the most versatile beauty products you’ll find, acting as a toner, primer and makeup setting spray. It’s also perfect for a quick facial pick-me-up if you’re running from the office to drinks in Normal Times. More often than not, I’m using it to set makeup and I swear it helps my face paint stay in place twice as long if I’m under bright lights or in a hot, sweat-inducing environment. This stuff is gold.
Professional skin care lines: Glo Skin Beauty
Glo Skin Beauty price range: $10 to $150
Where it’s made: USA
Products I’ve tried:
- Glycolic Resurfacing Cleanser
- Phyto-Active Toning Mist
- Conditioning Mist
- Daily Power C+
- Daily Hydration+
- Renew Serum
- Rentinol+ Resurfacing Serum
- Phyto-Active Light Moisture
- Hydra Radiance Moisturizer
- Conditioning Hydration Cream
- Phyto-Active Eye Serum
My overall review: I’m not sure I could love this brand any more. It took me a good three weeks to figure out the best regimen for my skin, so I ended up extending the testing period for Glo Skin Beauty to six weeks as a result, and there’s a reason “Glo” is in its name — because my skin was GLOWING with regular use. It’s definitely in my top two overall favourites (tied with SkinCeuticals, which I’ll get to at the end thanks to the alpha-listing). But for the products’ more accessible price points, I think they pack a great punch for the average consumer. My only disappointment was opening the Phyto-Active Light Moisture and finding a defective pump. First-world problem, I know.
I’ll start by telling you that the Glycolic Resurfacing Cleanser just does NOT work for my skin. At all. I tried on three separate occasions during the course of three weeks to use it and every time I did, my skin became red, super-dry and very flaky for days afterwards. Yes, glycolic acid is a mega-exfoliant and turns over skin cells to help resurface skin over time, and some redness and a bit of flaky skin is to be expected, but this was not OK. Either the 10% concentration in this cleanser is just too high for me or the way it’s delivered stresses my skin out. I used my trusty Warsh Cloth instead to clean my skin and as soon as I removed this product from the lineup, I fell in love with Glo Skin Beauty.
Every morning on clean skin, I’d spritz my face with the Phyto-Active Toning Mist before applying five drops of Daily Power C+ — which features an incredible 20% vitamin C blend — and three drops of Daily Hydration+, a hyaluronic acid that can keep an incredible amount of hydration locked into your skin (it holds 1,000 times its own weight in water). Then I usually turned to the Hydra Radiance Moisturizer for even more vitamin C and the tiniest hint of highlighter. Sometimes my skin tingled but it was a good tingle and never came with any kind of redness or irritation.
By night, my routine looked like this: clean skin, a couple sprays of Conditioning Mist, then every other night I’d apply either of the retinol serums (starting with the milder product, Renew Serum, in the first week or two, and then alternating with the stronger Retinol+ Resurfacing Serum thereafter) and wait 30 minutes before adding a pump of Conditioning Hydration Cream. On the nights I didn’t use retinol, I’d skip straight to moisturizer and call it a night.
The Phyto-Active Eye Serum felt really nice but I still found that I needed a more moisturizing eye cream (which makes sense, because a serum isn’t necessarily a hydration boost). I liked using it on my lips even more than my eyes, I think!
All said and done, when I look back at some of the photos I took of my face while I was testing these professional skin care lines, my no-makeup Glo Skin Beauty face is definitely the brightest and clearest of the bunch:
Professional skin care lines: Ole Henriksen
Ole Henriksen price range: $11 to $98
Where it’s made: Denmark
Products I’ve tried:
- Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum
- Goodnight Glow Retin-ALT Sleeping Creme
My overall review: I’m sorry, Mr. Henriksen, but your Glow Cycle Power Duo system absolutely does not work for me! Maybe it’s because your products use bakuchiol — a plant-based retinol alternative — and that doesn’t agree with my skin, or maybe it’s the addition of AHAs, but you and I are breaking up for good. Not only did I NOT see results while using the Power Serum and Sleeping Creme combo, but my skin consistently broke out when I did. Even during a hormonal cycle when I wouldn’t normally have any acne! Uhhh, no thanks.
I guess if you’re vegan and looking for vegan retinol-like, cruelty-free products, this might be an option, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. It does deserve an honourable mention for being free of sulfates SLS and SLES, parabens, formaldehydes, formaldehyde-releasing agents, phthalates, retinyl palmitate, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclosan and triclocarban, though.
Professional skin care lines: Rodan + Fields
Rodan + Fields price range: $50 to $200
Where it’s made: USA
Products I’ve tried:
- The UNBLEMISH regimen (comes with Refining Acne Wash, Clarifying Toner, Dual-Intensive Acne Treatment and Invisible Matte Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 30)
- Active Hydration Serum
- UNBLEMISH Clarifying Mask
- REDEFINE Multi-Function Eye Cream
- REDEFINE Lip-Renewing Serum
My overall review: Brought to you by the two doctors who first created another well-known acne treatment line back in the ’90s, I turned to the UNBLEMISH regimen when perimenopause sent my skin into an acne-prone tizzy two years ago. I was breaking out in unpredictable patterns (i.e. not just the days leading up to my period) and had worse acne than I ever had as a teenager; and none of my regular go-to products could nip it in the bud.
I ultimately needed to layer in the Active Hydration Serum (which, by the way, is delivered in a precise pump that measures each “dose”) after the toning step to prevent my skin from getting too dry, and I didn’t like the SPF as a moisturizer at all so I changed that out, but within two weeks of using the rest of the UNBLEMISH line morning and night, my skin did a complete 180. I kept it up religiously for another two weeks and that was the last time I had to use acne products. I’ve since read other accounts of people who needed to use it only temporarily to combat their bout of adult acne and then — POOF! — never again. It’s like it fixes whatever underlying problem you’re having…kinda like magic.
If I have a pimple coming on, I’ll use the Clarifying Mask and that’s usually enough to get everything balanced again.
I also quite like the R+F Multi-Function Eye Cream. As eye creams go, it’s a nice mid-weight cream that absorbs well and keeps my eye area well-hydrated until the next application.
My all-time favourite Rodan + Fields product, though, is its Lip-Renewing Serum. I actually tried these little capsules for the first time more than a decade ago when a friend in the States started selling R+F and she sent me a pack of these little wonders. (Yes, it’s MLM; but you can also buy products online directly if you prefer. No, I don’t sell them.) With key ingredients like vitamin E, peptides and shea butter, the gel tingles a bit when it first goes on and has the glossiest shine ever. So glossy that sometimes I use it in the mornings, too, instead of gloss. This is a product I would buy again and again.
A nice selling point is that all R+F products come with a 60-day money-back guarantee, even if your bottles are totally empty.
Professional skin care lines: SkinCeuticals
SkinCeuticals price range: $41 to $185
Where it’s made: USA
Products I’ve tried:
- Simply Clean
- C E Ferulic
- Retexturing Activator
- Retinol 0.5
- Physical Matte UV Defense SPF 50
- Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50
My overall review: The first time I heard of SkinCeuticals, my mom and I were watching TV together (I’m embarassed to recall that it was Dr. Oz on Oprah, back when Dr. Oz wasn’t just a shill), so this was a long time ago. Long before L’Oreal purchased it. And this also marked the first time I’d ever heard the term “cosmeceuticals” and learned that there were highly professional, medical-grade products that were available “over the counter” for regular folks who didn’t have fancy dermatologists.
That day, I scoured the GTA to find the Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 — a truly weightless, tinted facial sunscreen that was my first foray into physical/mineral-based sunscreens. You have to shake it really well before applying and I found over time it separated even more, but I loved that sunscreen enough that I bought it many times over, despite it being well out of my budget range in those early days.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago when I started using all of the other products listed above, and I swear (hand on heart) that I noticed a difference overnight. ONE NIGHT!
I’ll start with the Simply Clean cleanser because — whoa — it’s the best cleanser for my face that goes through so many weird hormonal cycles these days. It removes makeup really well (though I always do a second round with a Warsh Cloth just to make sure), doesn’t dry out my skin at all but keeps it super clear, and it also foams up really nicely thanks to glycine and coconut oily fatty acids. I use this in tandem with my Clairsonic Mia II once or twice a week for an extra-deep clean.
I was most excited to try the award-winning C E Ferulic, and it didn’t disappoint. I only use 4 to 5 drops and that’s enough to do my face and neck; and I love the way it absorbs into my skin, leaving no residue behind even after just a couple of seconds. Boasting 15% pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), 1% vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) and 0.5% ferulic acid (a powerful antioxidant that boosts the performance of other antioxidants), I didn’t just see my skin get brighter but it got noticeably firmer, too. This isn’t something I can show you in a series of selfies, so you’ll just have to trust me: I felt a difference.
The Retexturing Activator has the resurfacing power of a 20% glycolic acid treatment, but has never once irritated my skin. Maybe it’s because it works in concert with hyaluronic acid so it balances any potentially drying effects with excellent hydration? I don’t know, but I’ve used it in combination with the Retinol 0.5 and I wake up with darn-near-perfect skin. I only use it at night and I love the way it glides across my face.
Retinol 0.5 has the benefit of 0.5% pure retinol paired with chamomile-derived bisabolol, making it a nice night cream, too. It’s gentle enough that I can use it every night if I want to.
Emollience is a gorgeous moisturizer that I can see using year-round, provided I’m not skiing in the mountains. It may be a touch too light for the winter conditions that tend to cause extra-dry skin, even though the brand says it’s “optimal for high altitudes and cold, dry climates.” It’s rich, but time will tell this winter if it’s enough to combat ski-face.
Finally, I tried the Physical Matte UV Defense SPF 50 and much preferred it to the Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50. You don’t have to shake it, it doesn’t separate, and its whipped texture goes on beautifully. It’s slightly tinted so I’m not sure how it would look on darker skin tones but it’s undetectably on mine and goes on more like a primer. It has great staying power and I trust it enough to put retinol on my face the night before and wear this sunscreen the next day for a big bike ride in the sun. It hasn’t let me down yet.
At SkinCeuticals, studies are conducted on commercially available formulations; other skin care brands may only assess efficacy based on a single active ingredient — often at a much higher strength than the concentration found in the final product. Like many professional skin-care lines, this brand is backed by science and is worth every penny. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s tied for my favourite pro line to date.
DISCLAIMER: Some, but not all, of these products were provided for testing and review purposes. This is an unpaid compilation of professional skin care lines that I have personally tried in order to facilitate this post. All opinions are my own.