Why “Clinical” Isn’t a Bad Term When It Comes to Your Skincare Routine

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clinical skincare benefits guide
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During our lifetimes, it’s predicted that we will spend upwards of AED825,000 on products that promise to give us better skin and to turn back time. But what if we told you that all those fancy creams and pricey serums are only treating the top layer of your skin, which – to make matters worse – consists only of dead cells?

Yes, that’s right — you could be spending hundreds of dirhams a pop at your local beauty megastore, and all those products are doing is sitting on the top layer of your skin, which happens to be dead. It’s little wonder that studies have shown we throw away four in ten products because they don’t alleviate specific skin concerns.

clinical skincare guide medik8
Photo: Courtesy of @officialmedik8

“When you buy a cosmetic that doesn’t pass through the skin, you’ll buy it on the “high-street”. This is defined as a department store or somewhere like Sephora, that doesn’t have a clinic attached to it”, explains clinical aesthetician and skincare expert Pamela Marshall. “Essentially, in order for an ingredient to pass through the outer dead layer, it has to be low molecular weight and formulated at a low pH – much lower than the pH of our skin. Take glycolic acid, for example, which has a low molecular weight of 76. If you have it at a pH of 5, the only thing it will really do is exfoliate. But the reason we use glycolic is to build collagen, and in order for it to do that, it has to be a lower pH. That’s when it becomes clinical!”

There’s a reason why celebrities including Jessica Alba and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley swear by iS Clinical’s products, or that the SkinCeuticals ‘CE Ferulic’ serum cleans up at every beauty awards (Savoir Flair’s included), and that’s because they’re clinical products – meaning they penetrate deeper into the skin to actually change the way it functions. Here, our Beauty Editor-at-Large talks all things clinical skincare with Marshall as we reveal why it might be time to switch up your beauty routine…


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In a nutshell, what exactly is clinical skincare?
There’s no defined answer or definition of “clinical”, because everyone is starting to use it now. You can see in beauty stores, some brands will say “a clinical serum” or something like that, but is it? No. Because it’s on the high-street and it’s not allowed to be! Cosmeceutical is a word we used for clinical or medical-grade skincare back when I first started, but now everyone uses it as a marketing term.

Clinical skincare could be considered a marketing term, but there’s no other way to describe it. You could call it ‘low pH skincare’ or ‘low molecular skincare’, and it is medical grade and is going to penetrate into the skin. Clinical skincare is available in a clinic or a mediclinic; it won’t be on the high-street. By definition, if you can buy it on the high-street, it’s most likely not clinical — that’s the baseline.

Why should we be switching to clinical products?
Clinical skincare can actually change the functionality of the skin. We have skin issues because our skin isn’t functioning well. Think of your skin as an engine. In order for it to be happy it has to function well, so we prescribe ingredients and products and tailor those to each individual to spark that fire in the engine room and get it working better. Unfortunately, for the most part, high-street products cannot do that. And the reason I say for the most part is because if you take a 16-year-old boy who has slight acne, and you put him on a gentle cleanser and moisturizer and tell him to use them twice a day, it’s likely that they will help a lot, but that’s because he wasn’t doing anything before!

If you take someone who is quite vascular and is using loads and loads of AHAs in skincare that they’ve bought at a beauty store, and ask them to stop using those products, they will see a change, because those products have been seriously stressing their skin out. So sometimes, it has to do with what someone is doing or not doing.

If someone is completely parched on the outer layer and they start using a lovely cream, is it going to make that outer layer feel soft? Yes, it is. But it’s not going to change the functionality of the skin; the skin still has to be dealt with underneath, and only clinical products can do that.

Photo: Courtesy of Jeremy Zaessinger for Savoir Flair

Can everyone benefit from clinical skincare?
The level of testing and the clinical trials that these brands do is fierce – it’s long and arduous. They have to do this because certain ingredients will pass through that top layer into the skin. They will almost always use synthetic ingredients, which is good news for those with allergies. For example, if you were allergic to almonds and wanted to use a natural form of mandelic acid, which is made from bitter almonds, you couldn’t. But you could use and benefit from the synthetic version. There are a lot of natural ingredients that can wreak havoc on the skin.

So, I would say that clinical skincare is far less reactive and better for you. Can you misuse it? Absolutely. But therapists will teach you how to use it properly. That’s why they’re not on the high-street, because someone will sit and explain how to use it and when you should and shouldn’t use it — unlike with high-street products, where we’re all slapping on a billion different things which are often doing more harm than good! Therefore, I find it much, much safer. I always say, on the surface go synthetic, on the inside, with your food supplements and diet, go natural.

What would you say to someone who thinks clinical skincare sounds harsh and intimidating?
It’s not as scary as it sounds! I think people get freaked out when I say clinical, but as I said it’s much safer and these products have been tested within an inch of their lives. A lot of high-street brands say they have carried out all these clinical trials on a certain ingredient, but 100 percent of the time, that clinical trial will have been done on that specific ingredient, but not necessarily within the formulation. So, there are lots of parameters you don’t know when it comes to high-street products. But clinical skincare companies carry out trials on the entire formulation as well as individual ones. Therefore, they’re safer, they’re more effective, and they work – so they save you money as you’re not buying loads of products that ultimately don’t do anything!

We are conditioned to purchase, purchase, and purchase, and we’re always asking, “what do I need next?”.  But if you’ve found your perfect solution with a clinical routine, you don’t need anything else! It has no plateau; it will keep working.

They’re safer, more effective, and they work – so they save you money as you’re not buying loads of products that ultimately don’t do anything!

For someone wanting to ease their way into the clinical skincare world, where would you start?
If we’re trying to make the skin function better, I always say the key products to make clinical are your serums and moisturizers. Those are the things that will make a difference. The other stuff is wonderful but superfluous, not necessary.

A cleanser is a cleanser. As long as it is gentle, you can use a non-clinical one as it’s not going to stay on the skin. What I don’t want people to do is use a gel cleanser or a foaming cleanser, as those will change the functionality of the skin. One of my favorite cleansers ever, besides Exuviance’s ‘Gentle Cleansing Cream’, is Emma Hardie’s Moringa Balm’, which isn’t clinical! You don’t have to be all clinical, so long as you’re getting that serum and treatment moisturizer, you’re really going to change the way your skin functions.

Shop the Best Clinical Skincare Brands Below

Save money and switch to products that actually work thanks to Savoir Flair’s edit of the top five clinical skincare brands.


Not only has Exuviance discovered some of the most pioneering ingredients in the skincare world, including glycolic acid, but it is known as one of the leading innovators in clinical skincare. Boasting over 100 patents and publications, its performance-based skincare brings together superior science with spa-inspired rituals to make for a skincare experience second to none. As the brand states, “We use clinical-grade ingredients, precisely blended at the optimal pH to deliver maximum efficacy while minimizing the potential for irritation. That’s why exuviation is beautiful, our formulas shed surface skin cells to reveal fresh skin while helping to renew skin for visible results.” Sold.


As Daniel Isaacs, Head of Research at Medik8 explains, “Clinical skincare is when topical products have biological purposes and ingredients, such as antioxidants, vitamins, and proteins for optimum skin health, that can have benefits beyond cosmetics.” And that’s exactly what these powerhouse products will bring to your beauty routine. Even better? Its aim is to be “the world’s most sustainable professional-led skincare brand”, so there’s no palm oil in sight, its formulas are 100 percent vegan-friendly, and they’re upping their use of post-consumer recycled glass and plastic.

Whether you’re after a super serum to help tackle pigmentation, an intensely hydrating treatment that won’t aggravate even the most sensitive of skins, or a vitamin A-packed night cream that works while you sleep to significantly reduce signs of aging, Medik8 has you covered.


Meaning “new layers”, NeoStrata does just as its name suggests – provides potent, low pH level skincare, packed full of super-strength concentrations of clinically proven ingredients, absorbed effectively and deeply into the skin to target the inner layers and the building blocks of the skin’s matrix. The result? Long-term, highly effective results you’d expect from a leading clinical skincare brand. Having discovered the major beauty benefits of AHAs way back in 1974, NeoStrata continues to invest in cutting-edge scientific research to create some of the most powerful products we’ve ever tried. The likes of Elle MacPherson, Ellie Goulding, and Poppy Delevingne agree.

iS Clinical

Speaking of firm celebrity favorites, iS Clinical definitely tops the list. We already mentioned that Huntington-Whiteley and Alba are fans, but so too are Gwyneth Paltrow, Shay Mitchell, and Sophie Turner. If that hasn’t got you convinced, how about the fact that the brand uses 95-98 percent botanically derived ingredients and results-driven ‘active level’ formulations to transform skin deep from within? The brand’s ethos comprises four key steps: cleanse, treat, hydrate, and protect with products in each category to treat all skin types. So, instead of loading on 10-plus layers of products that will just end up sitting on top of your skin, switch to just four heroes from iS Clinical and watch as your skin actually changes, for the better.


In 1994, SkinCeuticals emerged onto the market and was one of the first companies to actually partner with physicians to create skincare products for their clinics. And it was thanks to the pivotal research of founding scientist Sheldon Pinnell (M.D.) on vitamin C serums that an entirely new skincare category was born! Fast forward to today and SkinCeuticals is recommended by leading dermatologists around the world and is used in both professional spa treatments and in potent products that work to treat everything from redness and age spots to dehydration and acne, all in the comfort of your own bathroom. Their cult best-sellers include the iconic ‘CE Ferulic’ serum, which negates the harmful effects of pollution, free radicals, and blue light to boost skin defenses, and the ‘Hydrating B5’ serum, which harnesses the power of vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid to provide optimal hydration to even the driest of skins.

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