My feelings about laser treatments are bittersweet. I love them because they’re a speedy way to brighten, tighten, and lift my face. But this time of year, with UV indexes soaring through the roof, some derms have told me that it’s smart to pass on lasers because of sun sensitivity, meaning that derm-office radiance flashes before my eyes and inevitably fades.
With all of the innovations in skin care these days, though, we’re actually able to tap the potency of professional-grade treatments via beauty products that you can find on the shelves of your local drugstore or find a click away on Amazon. Within certain serum droppers or oil pumps or dabs of a cream, active ingredients join together to emulate what a laser can do to your skin, all without a dermatologist appointment or downtime.
It’s particularly a perk, because not all laser treatments are the best option for every skin tone or skin type. “People with darker skin tones can run the risk of some lasers, such as Fraxel, CO-2, and Erbium, causing increased or decreased patches of pigment, leaving them with uneven skin tones,” says Dennis Gross, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare. In addition, he adds that people with super sensitive skin are also not good candidates for lasers because they’re prone to irritation, which can show up in the form of redness, dryness, or pigmentation from the treatments. “I recommend active serums instead—firmer skin can be achieved using vitamin C and lightening dark spots is powerfully achieved by using something like my IPL serum,” which contains a combination of acids.
Here, I’ve rounded up the absolute most potent active skin-care products that are basically like an in-office treatment in a bottle. Keep scrolling for the MVPs to invest in, stat.
I’ve never emptied a skin-care bottle as quickly as I did with this one. Dr. Gross—who is also famous for his Alpha Beta Peel Pads ($88) which I also swear by—recently came out with this strong serum that’s meant for hyperpigmentation. Let me tell you: My post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (from lots and lots of acne gone-by) faded fast. My skin has never been brighter or more even than it is with this serum which I will sing the praises of forever.
This prescription-strength retinoid—which uses tretinoin—is smartly combined with uber-moisturizing hyaluronic acid so that you don’t experience that dryness that so often comes hand-in-hand with using certain strong retinols. My colleague Zoe swears she’s never had so many compliments on her skin—not only does the retinoid increase cell turnover like a pro, but makes your skin brighter and more even. Her skin does look amazing.
Biologique Recherche P50, price per retailer
Okay, okay: This one isn’t a serum, but I can’t round up laser treatment-level skin-care products without mentioning the iconic P50. The cult status acid toner—an incredibly effective skin-care category itself—has been praised by skin pros for good reason: It minimizes pores, helps prevent breakouts, and bestows your skin with an unparalleled radiance.
When you ask an esthetician or dermatologist what their fave vitamin C serum is, there’s a high probability they’ll sing the praises of this one, which combines a potent 15 percent L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C!) with tocopherol (vitamin E, which is hydrating) and ferulic acid (which helps stabilize the vitamin C and fend off free radicals) to make for an even more superstar-level antioxidant serum. The magic’s in that three-part ingredient combo, which work more radiance-boosting magic when used together.
From dermatologist Howard Murad, MD himself comes a brand spankin’ new treatment serum that specifically targets acne scars—especially those that leave little pits (which are always so freaking hard to get rid of). So while it works to fade discoloration, it’s plumping up post-acne textural imbalances with an active combo of salicylic acid, antioxidants vitamin C and hydroxytyrosol, tiger grass for barrier repair, and a blend of light diffusers and blurring powder to hide those scars. The best part? Despite major hype and glowing reviews, it’s still affordable.
Bioeffect EGF Serum, $160
My skin’s never been so plump—using this incredibly hydrating serum restores more elasticity to my complexion. And it actually uses epidermal growth factor, AKA the stuff in your skin that’s responsible for repair. That, combined with hyaluronic acid, make for a gentle yet effective restorative and moisturizing superstar of a product.
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