Easy wins: skip the cosmetics counter and put your doctor in charge of your skincare

From anti-ageing diamonds to topical collagen, I have witnessed a lot of wild claims and eye-watering price tags over a decade of dipping in and out of beauty writing. I’ve also fielded a lot of questions, from friends, family and coworkers. Well, just one question over and over: “What works?”

While there are certainly those who treat skincare as a hobby, most people just want something that delivers results, ideally affordably and without having to acquire a degree in organic chemistry to debug the messaging on the packaging.

When it comes to skincare basics like cleanser and moisturiser, pretty much everything on the market will clean your face or make it feel moist for a time, so finding something that works is largely down to personal preference about price; scent (or lack thereof); your subjective experience of texture; and how you’d like to use the product (a makeup remover you use in the shower isn’t going to make sense for someone who bathes at dawn).

But for products that deal with specific concerns like acne, redness and rosacea, dryness and signs of ageing like fine lines and sunspots, Australia has a regulatory framework to ensure some skincare products deliver on their promises. While cosmetic products in Australia are tested for safety but not efficacy, if your skincare is classified as a registered medicine, there has to be evidence that it works.

Some therapeutic skincare products are only available with a prescription, while others are sold over the counter. There’s a good chance you’re already using at least one – sunscreen, which is regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration if it’s got an SPF of 15 or higher. And if you’re not using sunscreen but you’re even vaguely interested in caring for your skin, please change that immediately – it’s the lowest hanging fruit on the tree.

Now that we’ve all slipped, slopped and slapped, let’s move on. Whether you’re concerned with pimples, rosacea or the overall appearance over your skin, look out for products that are registered as medicines on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. Typically, these are much cheaper than luxury skincare products.

While expensive, booking an appointment with a dermatologist will allow you to come up with an effective, active skincare plan suited to your needs (just don’t let them upsell you on pricey cosmeceuticals that aren’t actually medicine). There is also an increasing number of services that offer skincare consultations online and via telehealth that will deliver a tailored set of prescription-only products to you. But your first port of call should be your GP, who may well be able to offer suggestions, advice and even scripts.

This isn’t to say that skincare products that are not registered as medicines don’t work – just that they don’t have to work. Talking to a doctor is slightly more effort than showing up to the cosmetics counter and asking “what’s good”, but it is more likely to deliver results, which will ultimately save you time (on research) and money (on fancy creams that don’t work out).

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