Like many of you out there, I don’t exactly have fond memories of my skin in my teenage years. While youth all but guarantees softer and more supple skin, those benefits are often outweighed by that most cruel and pernicious monster, the very one that causes every teen untold amounts of existential angst and dread: acne. I know I certainly struggled with it growing up. At one point my skin resembled a depressing lunar landscape, only redder, angrier, and with even more craters. It was miserable, and my lackadaisical approach to skincare only worsened matters. To this day I’m still dealing with the fallout from the acne scars I have leftover from this period. Hell, I’m still dealing with the acne!
So when the people at BioClarity reached out to offer to send me their Clear Skin System to review, I gleefully accepted after doing some research. The kit itself is composed of three easy steps: Cleanse, Treat, and Restore, with the products developed and tested by dermatologists. BioClarity notes that its system is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive. It’s also oil-free, cruelty free, and vegan — huge bonuses for any brand in my book (although I’ve obviously come around on oils). Rather than bombarding your face with harsh cleansers and exfoliants, BioClarity emphasizes a gentle, more natural approach to clear skin, with no benzoyl peroxide included in any of the ingredients. In an 8-week, 30 participant clinical trial with young adults, 90% agreed that the BioClarity system “reduced the number of blemishes on [their] skin.” (source)
Sounds pretty promising, right? Let’s go through the kit step by step!
Step 1: BioClarity Cleanse
Water, sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate, cocamidopropyl betaine, cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, acrylates copolymer, glycereth-2 cocoate, glycerin, cucumber fruit extract, green tea leaf extract, chamomile flower extract, phenoxyethanol, sodium hydroxide, benzoic acid, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone
This ingredient list is kind of a mixed bag overall. I appreciate that it’s fairly minimal — especially for a cleanser, which can sometimes have ingredient lists that read more like an essay — and that there are some nice extracts mixed in as well. However, there are also several ingredients included that I find problematic. Here’s some more info on those listed in bold:
- Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate – When I was first researching BioClarity prior to accepting their offer, seeing this as the first thing listed in the ingredients wasn’t terribly encouraging if I’m being honest. This is a cleansing agent but due to the presence of gamma sultones it may be sensitizing or irritating to some, particularly those with damaged skin. It may also irritate the eyes more easily than other surfactants. (source)
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine – Another surfactant, and one with a reputation for being very mild and gentle. It’s generally considered to be nonsensitizing, although issues can occur when impurities result during the manufacturing process. Apparently it’s a molecule called a “zwitterion” — this means absolutely nothing to me, but that is a fantastic word. (source)
- Cucumber Fruit Extract – A skin-conditioner and emollient, Cucumis sativus fruit extract also functions as an antioxidant. A CIR review of the safety of cucumber-derived ingredients found almost no issues with irritation and sensitivity, including when they tested it in a facial cleanser containing .00055% cucumber fruit extract. (source)
- Green Tea Leaf Extract – Green tea, or Cameillia sinesis, is one of the most beneficial ingredients for skin that I’m aware of. It’s loaded with polyphenols, chemical compounds which improve skin elasticity and provide photoprotection from UV radiation. Green tea has noted anti-inflammatory properties and functions as a powerful antioxidant. (source, source, source)
- Chamomile Flower Extract – Rich with phenolic compounds, chamomile has considerable anti-inflammatory effects as well as being a good antioxidant. (source)
- Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone – The bottom half of the ingredients for the cleanser are mostly preservatives, which is fine, but these two ingredients have something of a negative reputation. While they are effective preservatives, they’re also known to be quite sensitizing, even when present in very small amounts. (source, source) It helps that they’re listed last and that this is a product you rinse off, at least.
When I spoke with BioClarity they reported that the pH of the cleanser was 5.7, and the brilliant Graceful Face Blog tested the cleanser with her pH strips for a result of 5.5. This indicates the cleanser is slightly acidic, which is perfect for our needs. Our skin is naturally somewhat acidic — somewhere around a 5 on the pH scale — which creates a welcoming environment for all the bacteria and fungi that calls your skin home. (I promise it’s better than it sounds.) A low pH cleanser helps to keep the pH of our skin nice and balanced, which in turn supports our moisture barrier. The moisture barrier, otherwise known as the acid mantle, is responsible for locking in moisture and keeping nasty interlopers out, like the P. acnes bacteria. Having a healthy, functioning acid mantle is important to overall skin wellness, but it is particularly important for those who struggle with acne. A compromised barrier makes you more susceptible to the incursions of acne-causing bacteria.
The cleanser itself is a scentless, clear gel that comes packaged in a simple white 90ml tube that features the ingredients on the back. The tube dispenses the product well, and I find you only need roughly a quarter-sized amount to give your face all the love and attention it clearly deserves. This isn’t so much a foaming cleanser as it is a gently bubbling cleanser; it lathers up quite easily, but it doesn’t create a massive pillow of foam like some other cleansers I’ve encountered. Sometimes I don’t feel like smothering my face with overblown clouds of bubbles, so I actually think this works in the product’s favor.
The BioClarity cleanser never stripped or dried my skin, and despite my reservations about a few of the ingredients I never had any issues with sensitivity or irritation. I would, however, recommend caution when using the cleanser around your eyes; while I never experienced any stinging, it’s better safe than sorry with sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate. I found the cleanser was strong enough to remove my sunscreen layer, but I suspect it is too mild for makeup. My advice would be to purchase a separate cleanser for the heavy duty stuff. Believe me, BioClarity’s cleanser pairs great with oil cleansers and balms!
Step 2: BioClarity Acne Treatment Gel
Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid 2%
Other ingredients: Water, butylene glycol, glycerin, ethoxydiglycol, neopentyl glycol dicaprylate/dicaprate, lactic acid, sodium lactate, hyaluronic acid – sodium salt, oat kernel extract, squalane, bisabolol, panthenol, lauryl lactate, methyl glucose sesquistearate, ergothioneine, hydroxyethyl acrylate/sodium acryloyldimethyl taurate copolymer, phenoxyethanol, polysorbate 60, disodium edta, xanthan gum, carbomer, sodium hydroxide, potassium sorbate
- Salicylic Acid – Otherwise known as BHA (beta hydroxy acid), this is a potent acne-fighting ingredient that exfoliates dead skin cells. It also helps to dislodge the oil trapped in our pores, further preventing and treating acne. This is because BHA is oil soluble and able to exfoliate within the pore itself. Particularly well-suited for those with oily and acneic skin, salicylic acid may also be calming and hydrating. (source)
- Lactic Acid – An AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) that was originally derived from milk, although from what I understand most sources are synthetic these days. AHAs are typically used for their anti-aging benefits. It is an effective exfoliant at concentrations between 5% to 12% so long as the formula sits at a pH between 3 and 4. At lower concentrations it helps water bind to the skin. (source)
- Hyaluronic Acid – Naturally present in the tissue of our bodies, hyaluronic acid (HA) hydrates the skin, helping to keep it bouncy and elastic. (source) This molecule has an incredible ability to trap massive amounts of moisture; supposedly, a molecule of HA can hold up to 1000 times it weight in water. HA has demonstrated a potential to improve wound healing in clinical trials and may be an effective treatment for wrinkles. (source) Sodium hyaluronate is a salt derived from hyaluronic acid.
- Oat Kernel Extract – Oats and oatmeal have long been used to treat various skin conditions, namely those associated with itching and inflammation. Everyone knows you take an oatmeal bath to soothe your skin after you stumble through a patch of poison ivy! This is because oats contain avenanthramides, a phenolic compound with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Oatmeal is also an excellent moisturizer, and it may also have antiviral, antifungal, and photoprotective functions. (source, source)
- Squalane – Squalene is an oil derived from plants (amaranth, olives) or animals (shark liver) with highly emollient functions that is also present in our sebum. Squalane, more specifically, is the hydrogenated form of squalene. A brief diversion (and please remember that my understanding is VERY limited!): hydrogenating is a process where hydrogen is added to a heated organic compound in the presence of a catalyst, typically a metal (source). The hydrogen breaks up the existing double bonds of the compound and saturates it; at this point things get a little too “science” for me and I glaze over a bit, but ultimately this process increases the shelf life of the ingredient, among other things. (source) Squalane, like squalene, is a hydrating ingredient that also functions as an emollient. (source)
- Bisabolol – Otherwise known as alpha bisabolol or α-(-)-bisabolol, this ingredient has anti-inflammatory, brightening, and soothing properties. It’s considered a very safe ingredient, although reports of contact dermatitis after exposure to it have cropped up once in a while. (source, source)
- Panthenol – A humectant which adds pleasant skin feel to a formulation, panthenol is derived from pantothenic acid, a form of vitamin B. (source)
- Ergothioneine – A powerful and efficient antioxidant, ergothioneine (EGT) may also have anti-inflammatory and anti-photoaging properties. (source, source, source, source)
Something worth noting about the ingredients: the website lists “hyaluronic acid – sodium salt” in a different position (8th) than it is listed on the tube (16th). I reached out to the people at BioClarity for some (bio)clarification and their response was as follows:
Ingredients in concentrations <1% can be listed in any order on label or marketing materials.
And there you have it! I love it when I learn something I didn’t know before.
Back to the Acne Treatment Gel, this is a 2% BHA (salicylic acid) spot treatment. Salicylic acid is a keratolytic, meaning it helps your skin shed keratin. Keratin proteins make up a vast majority of our epidermis, so regular, gentle exfoliation of these cells is essential to good acne treatment and care — otherwise they may create clogs in our pores that lead to acne. Texturally, this is a thin, white-colored gel that feels almost more like an emulsion or lotion to me. It spreads and absorbs with ease, which is always a plus, but I will note that this product has an unpleasantly synthetic fragrance and it is pretty damn powerful. I assume it’s just the raw smell of the ingredients, as fragrance is not listed among them, but hoo boy. It’s pungent. It fades after a few minutes, but I did find myself frequently scrunching up my nose with distaste while applying the gel. I just never got used to it, I suppose. It all comes packaged in a 30ml white tube with a flip-cap lid.
I’ve used 2% BHA spot treatments in the past and I’ve found them to be a real sweet spot for me: effective enough to handle my blemishes, but mild enough to never cause any flaking or peeling. I’m happy to report that BioClarity’s Acne Treatment Gel continues this pattern. I applied it to the parts of my face where I experience breakouts or was currently dealing with acne (namely my chin, jaw, and around my mouth) and found it did its job clearing up my blemishes within a few days. I will say I never had a single pimple last longer than 48 hours with regular use of BioClarity’s kit. I feel consistent application of this product played a significant role in that. As I mentioned, I never experienced any irritation with this product; the inclusion of multiple soothing and hydrating ingredients likely mitigates any potential harm from the BHA.
Overall, this is another nice addition that helps round out the lineup. The “fragrance” aside the gel performs exactly as I hoped, although it’s worth noting that I never had any deep or cystic acne to treat while using this kit. I’m not sure if this would be a strong enough treatment on its own for severe acne. I imagine with consistent usage you’d see results, but you’d have to be rather patient, and I understand firsthand how tempting it is to just want to nuke your face as soon as a nasty pimple embeds itself under your skin. If you’re looking for a gentler approach, however, a spot treatment such as the BioClarity Acne Treatment Gel is highly recommended.
Step 3: BioClarity Restore Gel
Water, isopentyldiol, witch hazel water, ethoxydiglycol, niacinamide, butylene glycol, cetearyl alcohol, chlorophyllin-copper complex, bisabolol, squalane, ergothioneine, glycerin, cetearyl glucoside, licorice root extract, pentylene glycol, centella asiatica extract, micrococcus lysate, lecithin, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, caprylyl glycol, allantoin, ceteareth-20 phosphate, hexylene glycol, hydroxyethyl acrylate/sodium acryloyldimethyl taurate copolymer, phosphatidylcholine, polysorbate 60, decylene glycol, sodium ascorbate, carbomer, poylsorbate 20, xanthan gum, dicetyl phosphate, phenoxyethanol, aminomethyl propanol, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, simethicone
There are a few repeat ingredients here in bold that I won’t go over, but here’s what I could find on the other ingredients of interest:
- Isopentyldiol – This one was a right nightmare to find information about, but I hadn’t encountered it before in an ingredient list so I decided I should research it. Near as I can tell it’s a solvent with moisturizing and emollient properties that is considered safe for use. (source, source)
- Witch Hazel Water – Derived from the Hamamelis virginiana shrub, witch hazel may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The tannins found within the plant, specifically hamamelitannins, are antioxidants that may also cause skin sensitivity with repeated use. However, based on what I’ve read, most tannins are lost in the distillation process. Witch hazel also has known astringent effects, meaning it causes the tissues in the skin to contract — this may be key to its soothing benefits. (source, source, source, source)
- Niacinamide – A multi-tasking ingredient with an impressive arsenal of practical uses, niacinamide (otherwise known as Vitamin B3, niacin, or nicotininc acid) improves uneven tone, overall dullness, the appearance of pores and wrinkles, and just generally does amazing things to your face. It can even help minimize transepidermal water loss and improve acne inflammation. It’s like the wunderkind of skincare. I LOVE seeing this ingredient featured high on a list. (source, source, source)
- Cetearyl Alcohol – The word “alcohol” might cause alarm for some of you out there, but this is a fatty alcohol composed of a combination of cetyl and stearyl alcohols. Unlike ingredients like SD alcohol or ethanol, cetearyl alcohol cannot cause any skin sensitivity. It’s an effective emollient that also improves the texture of a formula. (source, sorry this was the best one I could find!)
- Chlorophyllin-copper Complex – The star of BioClarity’s lineup, they advertise this ingredient as “Floralux” on their site. It’s a mixture of sodium copper salts derived from chlorophyll, the pigment that makes plants appear green. It may help treat photodamaged skin, and in one study showed potential to increase the level of hyaluronic acid in the skin. It also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which I assume contribute to its acne-fighting capabilities. (source, source, source)
- Licorice Root Extract – Often classified under its latin name Glycyrrhiza glabra, licorice has been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties thanks mostly to the presence of glabridin, an isoflavane. (source) Glabridin may also be an effective treatment against hyperpigmentation as it is believed to inhibit tyrosinase activity, leading to an inhibitory effect on melanin synthesis. (source)
- Centella Asiatica Extract – Centella has been traditionally used a medicinal herb in Ayurvedic medicine. It has noted antioxidant and wound healing properties, with one of its useful components (and it does have several!) — asiaticoside — working to increase collagen synthesis and decrease inflammation. (source, source) Its effect on collagen formation also make centella a useful anti-photoaging ingredient. (source)
- Micrococcus Lysate – An extract harvested from bacteria that live in the ocean which is capable of penetrating deep into the skin. I’ve seen it referred to as a “DNA repair enzyme”, which is an enzyme that works to repair damage in our DNA caused by exposure to UV radiation. A lysate is a liquid containing lysed cells. Lysis is the process of breaking down the membrane of a cell, allowing for things like DNA extraction and protein purification. Again, this all gets a bit too “science” for me, so I’m afraid that is the best explanation on this ingredient that I can provide at this point. (source, source, source)
- Allantoin – For some odd reason I had a lot of trouble finding good sources for this, but allantoin is known to be a safe skin-soothing and conditioning ingredient. It may be derived from certain plants — I’ve seen it associated with comfrey in particular — and it is effective even at low concentrations.
Overall the ingredients aren’t anything terribly exciting, but that’s because it’s all nice, safe, skin-loving goodness for the most part. I was very intrigued by this gel given it contained their proprietary ingredient Floralux, which I hadn’t encountered anywhere else. The research did seem promising, although I highly recommend doing a little digging yourself to see if this featured ingredient appeals to you. The packaging, I should note, is a little different this time around: the Restore Gel comes in a 30ml with a metallic pump, not a flip-cap.
This gel is certainly an eye-catcher with its jade hue. I’ve yet to encounter another product that is simply this green. Must be all the chlorophyll! Don’t worry, you’re not left looking like a patchy Hulk after applying it — the color disappears the moment it starts to sink into your skin. It’s a light and thin emulsion that pats in quite easily, although I do notice that it doesn’t have the best slip. BioClarity recommends two pumps of product and it certainly seems like a lot in your hand, but I find it’s not usually enough to provide me with what I feel is full coverage. The fragrance of this product is mild and slightly medicinal, almost antiseptic. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but I actually quite enjoyed the way it smelled — there was something vaguely sweet and spicy to it, almost like cinnamon. The aroma doesn’t linger, so even if you hate the way the product smells, you can take comfort in the fact that it dissipates in seconds.
In my experience, the Restore Gel had a soothing and refreshing effect on my skin. It makes a nice addition to the lineup for sure, but even for my oily skin and humid environment it just wasn’t enough moisture. Generally I could get away with skipping a second moisturizer and just applying a hydrating sunscreen instead, but I imagine if you have skin that leans towards dry this wouldn’t be an option. It’s light and refreshing, but at night I want a cream that makes my skin feel pampered and nourished — this isn’t that. Then again it’s not advertised as such! It’s a lovely emulsion, but I wouldn’t recommend making it the final step in your routine.
Final Thoughts: I think BioClarity’s “naturally better” approach is demonstrated in the products they have available. The ingredients they employ — with a few exceptions, most notably in the cleanser — are indeed gentle and effective means of treating acne. The lineup feels well-developed and well-formulated overall, and I enjoyed using the products themselves. I’ll admit, I experienced some of the best skin I’ve had to date while consistently incorporating BioClarity’s products into my routine. Are they entirely to thank? Certainly not. But I will say I had almost no active blemishes during my time using BioClarity — a little over four weeks — meaning the products didn’t irritate my skin or leave it sensitized. Perhaps it’s also worth noting that within two weeks of going off the products, some of the worst pimples I’ve had in months cropped up on my chin. Ouch. Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of the BioClarity Acne Treatment Gel leftover…
BioClarity’s Clear Skin System is available via subscription for $29.95 a month, including free shipping, on their website. That puts the price of each product at around $10. I honestly think it’s a bargain. These are quality products with some interesting science and research to back up their efficacy, and I enjoy the fact that it’s all so simple. No worrying or fussing, you just reach for the products that you know will work and smear it on your face. I found using BioClarity gave me something of peace of mind: even when I had blemishes appear, I knew the system would handle them.
Do I think BioClarity’s skincare regime will immediately solve all your skin woes? Of course not. Neither does BioClarity, for that matter! They seem to emphasize that theirs is a slow and steady approach when it comes to resolving acne issues, rather than throwing a bunch of harsh and potentially harmful ingredients at the wall and seeing what sticks. I doubt you’ll see instant results, but with consistent usage I would frankly be shocked if you didn’t see some kind of improvement to your skin’s overall tone and health. If you’re looking for a simple and effective kit to start treating your acne, I think BioClarity is a fantastic option to explore. Feel free to use this link or my code RACHEL50 to receive 50% off your first month if you’re curious about trying it yourself!