Medically based brands are changing the face of cosmetics The skincare industry is experiencing an interesting shift. Whereas the best-known products used to be based on the personalities of beauty mavens such as Estee Lauder and Helena Rubenstein, today's brand stars come with more serious credentials: a medical degree. Notice the recent proliferation of skincare brands developed by dermatologists and plastic surgeons. Once dispensed only in medical clinics, they are now found on department store shelves. Their labels herald their cutting-edge proprietary formulations, the result of hi-tech medical research, and list their pharmaceutical-grade ingredients - all under the banner of cosmeceuticals. The trend shows no signs of abating. 'As customers become more educated and demanding of proof that ingredients work, there is an argument of who could be a better authority than a doctor,' says Dr Jessica Wu, a Harvard-trained, Los Angeles-based dermatologist whose products are scheduled to be launched in Hong Kong next month. One of the frontrunners in the field is Dr Howard Murad, who launched his clinical range in the late 1980s. But the one who arguably tipped the trend and elevated dermatologists to rock-star status was Dr Nicholas Perricone, whose book The Wrinkle Cure was on the New York Times best-seller list and spawned a cult following. He claimed to have unlocked the secrets of anti-ageing through a diet of 'life-changing' foods and the 'miracle' supplements of vitamin C ester and alpha-lipoic acid, two of the key ingredients in his product range. While such claims have been questioned by some in the medical community, this has not prevented new names from entering the small but fast-growing niche in the skincare market. They include Skinceuticals (by Dr Sheldon Pinnel), DDF (by Dr Howard Sobel), MD Skincare (by Dr Dennis Gross), Dr. Brandt (by Dr Frederic Brandt) and more recently, Dr Jessica Wu's eponymous brand. And niche is about to go mass. Bath & Body Works, a chain of mass market beauty apothecaries in the United States, recently commissioned Dr Patricia Wexler, the dermatologist of choice for New York's high- society set, to develop an exclusive anti-ageing skincare range. The move can best be compared to US retailing giant Target using the likes of Phillipe Starck and Isaac Mizrahi to bring a touch of class to their mass market brand. But are dermatologists' lines different from your regular store brands? Dr Wu says the lines developed by doctors are careful to use proven ingredients because they are under greater pressure to produce visible results. Proof of this is that nearly all the dermatologist-created brands boast a powerful cocktail of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, retinol (vitamin A) and its derivatives, peptides and proven sunscreen ingredients. They also have exotic ingredients and use advanced application methods that claim to benefit the deepest layers of the skin. Combined, these ingredients usually come in higher concentrations than in regular store brands and generally push the technology envelope to give more visible results. They all have one thing in common: anti-ageing properties, either through promoting cellular renewal, protecting the skin from sun damage or reversing the signs of ageing. In some cases, they address problems such as acne, rosacea and other skin conditions. But how can unsuspecting consumers be sure a doctor hasn't simply lent his name to a generic product? Dr Wu says one telling sign is how involved the doctor is in the development of the product range. 'As doctors, we are trained to diagnose skin conditions, but do not necessarily know about ingredients from a chemical perspective,' says Dr Wu, who worked closely with a chemist to formulate her brand's yin-yang fusion of 'Asian wisdom and western science'. Dr Wu had the advantage of working with a research scientist whose study of Chinese herbal properties proved the catalyst for her range. That the research scientist happened to be her sister was an added boon. Dr Jessica Wu Cosmeceuticals are based on a mix of Asian botanicals such as white peony and scutellaria extracts with the latest anti-ageing ingredients - vitamins, hyaluronic acid, retinol, green tea and superoxide dismutase. Dr Wu says while some in the medical community frown on the commercialisation of this trend, many dermatologists are earnestly researching their formulations and are constantly on the lookout for new ingredients. And by putting their names to their own skincare brands, doctors no doubt draw on the likelihood that consumers will trust their products because they have been medically endorsed. Dr Brandt Dr Fredric Brandt has earned the title 'Botox Baron' and the 'King of Collagen' because his brand is reputedly the largest user of both products in the world. Dr Brandt is clearly a darling of the beauty press. His skincare line is infused with vitamins, shea butter, green tea, grape seed extract, blemish fighting salicylic acid and other skin-saving ingredients. Available at Harvey Nichols. DDF DDF stands for Doctor's Dermatologic Formula. It was created by Dr Howard Sobel based on a 'cleanse, protect, treat' approach. The extensive range includes products for anti-ageing, acne and blemishes, sensitive and allergic skin types and hyper-pigmentation. The body range is equally impressive and the sun-care products are considered to be some of the best on offer. Available at Harvey Nichols. Skinceuticals Originally created under the guidance of Dr Sheldon Pinnel, the range is based on the use of a stabilised form of vitamin C, a powerful and popular antioxidant. Its patented vitamin C products use L-ascorbic acid, a key ingredient in the production of collagen. Available at select facial centres in Hong Kong. Tel 2976 8813 for a location near you. Environ Developed by South African plastic surgeon Des Fernandes, the brand was among the first to use vitamin A in high doses in its products. The brand's philosophy is based on the gradual introduction of retinyl palmitate (a vitamin A derivative) and the use of other essential vitamins to help repair the skin. The products are particularly effective in reducing photo-ageing, pigmentation, blemishes and scars. Available in select spas and salons in Hong Kong. For a list of stockists, tel 3101 8770. Dr Jessica Wu Said to be Hollywood's point person for pre-Oscar house calls, Dr Jessica Wu has developed a streamlined range of skincare products using Asian herbal extracts and active ingredients. Packaged in sleek red bottles, her east-meets-west brand has proven a hit with her celebrity clientele. Top sellers are the Anti-Ageing Brightening Complex and the White Peony Eye Contour. To be launched at Joyce Beauty outlets in November. N.V. Perricone Since his best-seller The Wrinkle Cure, Dr Nicholas Perricone has launched an extensive range of nutritional supplements for the skin using vitamin C ester, alpha-lipoic acid and DMAE, an antioxidant membrane stabiliser that tightens the skin. He says ageing is caused by low-level inflammation and advocates a total lifestyle approach to saving skin. Available at Joyce Beauty. Skin Doctors Developed by a consortium of doctors in Australia, the brand claims to provide 'clinical strength skincare without a prescription'. Pharmaceutical-grade ingredients treat everything from blemished skin to wrinkles. Key products include Relaxaderm, touted as an 'injection-free alternative to Botox' and Antarctyline, which claims to plump skin without the need for a collagen injection. Available at SaSa.