Refinery29 Interviews Dr. Swann


Read This Before Investing In Skin Care

Ask a group of people what they feel when they hear the word “exclusive,” and you’ll get a range of emotions. For some, the idea of committing to one S.O., one job, even one cell phone carrier, provides a sense of security. For others, a feeling of suffocation.
The same could be said for your skin-care routine. Sure, it may feel satisfying to complete your one-brand routine each morning and night, but do you ever wonder what else is out there?

Not to get all Carrie Bradshaw on you, but we can’t help but wonder: Is your medicine cabinet really a place for exclusivity, or should you be cheating? Luckily, the answer is surprisingly black-and-white.

Why The Pros Want You To Cheat

The pros have spoken and the answer is clear: You should be cheating, with one exception (but more on that later).

“Honestly, buying a one-brand, multi-step system is for the lazy person,” Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, board-certified dermatologist and member of the American Academy of Dermatology, says. “If you’re willing to do your homework and shop around, you’re probably going to put together a better skin-care regime for yourself than that of a package deal.”

Why? In short, you’re getting a lot of stuff you simply don’t need and could be missing out on the things you do need from different brands. No surprise here: Not every line is the best in every category.

According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michael Swann, when you buy into a full line, you’re probably getting filler products. And what’s worse, things that are doing more harm than good for your skin. “Every successful product line looks at their market, just like any good business does,” Dr. Swann explains.

That means, if something like a face mist or a peeling agent is having a moment in the industry, the big lines try to create something to fill that category in order to go after that customer. The product gets stuck into a pre-existing line. “The problem is, you’ve got these lines that have tons of different things that your skin may or may not need,” he says. “I’m not saying they don’t all work, but buyer beware.”

Every successful product line looks at their market, just like any good business does


How To Cheat The Right Way

Instead of committing to a full line without giving it much thought, Dr. Swann prefers a “skin typing” approach to creating your own unique routine. It’s simple: Determine what your skin type is (you may need the help of a dermatologist or aesthetician for this) and what your goals are (to prevent fine lines, breakouts, dullness, or just keep the status quo with the right protection, for example). Then, look for products that fit your needs and are suited to your skin-type. Dr. Swann recommends cherry-picking from lines that do clinical testing for efficacy, like Obagi, SkinMedica, and Elta MD. Skinceuticals, which releases studies on their efficacy, is also a good one to explore. But before you get overwhelmed, heed Dr. Tanzi’s advice. “Skin care doesn’t have to be complicated,” she says. “You just need three steps.” That is: cleanse, treat, and protect with sunscreen in the morning; cleanse, treat, and moisturize at night. Disclaimer: This isn’t to say that some lines aren’t a great base for your research. There’s no denying that you will find great products packaged together, but don’t feel obliged to go all in just because the brand is marketing them as a line — think of trying a range a bit like dating, not every person product is going to work with you and your needs, no matter how alluring they are. [Ed. note: For me, face mists are like bad boys, they seem like they’ll be fun and invigorating, but they just dry out my skin.]

Honestly, buying a one-brand, multi-step system is for the lazy person.


Monogamy Has Its Benefits

Of course, this isn’t totally black-and-white. “There are some advantages to using a single line of products,” Dr. Swann explains. “If a company that is manufacturing the products does a lot of testing, they’re probably testing the products together.” That translates to “elegance of use,” Dr. Swann says, which doesn’t mean more effective, just more pleasant (one product won’t pill on another and everything will feel and smell good together) and easier to use (the order and time of day is often mapped out for you).

Dr. Tanzi also notes that for people who don’t prioritize their skin-care routines, or are simply way too busy to put some thought into things, sticking to a line is their best bet. Translation: You may be spending more money and not getting maximum results, but it’s certainly better than not caring for your skin or adding to the stress of your already busy life. (We feel you.)

For people with incredibly reactive skin, finding a line that works for you can be a godsend, because after all, if it’s keeping your skin clear, balanced, and healthy, that’s all that really matters. For example, we’ve heard countless tales from editors and celebrities alike who swear by the power of complete lines like Somme Institute (seen above) and Biologique Recherche. Proof positive that sometimes, shopping around isn’t worth it when you have a good thing going.

It’s quick and dirty, but better than nothing if you can’t shop around.


The Exception To The Rule: Acne

“Acne is a little bit of a different animal,” Dr. Swann explains. Using Proactiv as his example, he breaks it down like this: No ingredient in a typical acne kit is fancy or unique to that kit (acne lines are all basically made up of the same ingredients, but more on that in a second); but packaged together, they make it easy to feel like you’re doing something to help your breakouts.

And you are: “Around 90% of acne is main acne, or acne vulgaris. So, when someone sees results with a series of products, they’re going to stick with it,” Dr. Swann explains. Dr. Tanzi agrees. “There are a couple of key ingredients for acne that work: benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, plus something to soothe the skin, so it’s a little easier to get a good kit for acne than it is to get a kit for something like anti-aging,” she says. “I’ll have patients call me and say ‘I’m not in the country right now,’ or, ‘I just need something quick for my acne,’ and I tell them to go to CVS and buy La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar system,” she says. “It’s quick and dirty, but better than nothing if you can’t shop around.”

Lesson Learned

The moral of the story? If you suffer from acne, can’t be bothered to pick and choose, or have a good thing going, a pre-designed routine could be a great option for you, but don’t feel beholden to every product, since some could just be filler. As for everyone else? Playing the field is all it’s cracked up to be.

Scroll to Top