Product Review: iS Clinical Active Serum

Reviews, Skin Care

is Clinical Active Serum ReviewIf you’re looking for something to generate dramatic differences in skin brightness and texture, look no further than iS Clinical Active Serum ($128.00,  The product contains skin-refining brighteners glycolic acid, lactic acid, and kojic acid – all in significant concentration, submerged in a water-butylene glycol base that penetrates well into the skin.  My only reservation?  iS Clinical Active Serum is not a miracle for everyone’s acne – only the acne that is not currently being treated with alpha hydroxy acids and/or salicyclic acid.  So don’t get it if you want a miracle for acne.  Get it if you want brighter, more refined skin and lightened sunspots over time.

About Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid

iS Clinical Active Serum contains the two key alpha hydroxy acids, glycolic acid and lactic acid. Glycolic acid peels smooth the skin, quicken the rate of cell turnover (which is reduced by up to 7% every ten years), decrease small wrinkles and increase the fibroblast proliferation of collagen.  They do this by exfoliating the top layer of the skin.  Unfortunately, glycolic acid can also initially thin the skin, though later on, increased collagen production supplements for this difference.

On the other hand, lactic acid does not thin the skin.  It has a larger chemical structure than glycolic acid, so it does not penetrate the skin as readily.  Instead, it gently exfoliates and actually hydrates the skin.  In fact, lactic acid is a humectant that increases the ability of the skin to hold onto water, as evidenced by the fact that lactic acid is the main ingredient in LacHydrin, an FDA-approved drug for the treatment of dry skin.

Despite popular belief, it seems that lactic acid and glycolic acid do not cause skin dryness or irritation; rather, it is often the formulation (i.e., the other ingredients) of the AHA treatment that is the source of discomfort, as found in a previously mentioned study by Yu et. al. A second study found that transepidermal water loss (TEWL) is not altered by application of AHAs.

One probable reason AHAs are commonly blamed for dry skin and irritation is because stronger peels, such as the deep phenol or medium depth trichloracetic acid (TCA) peels, often cause skin sensitivity and irritation. However, typical strength glycolic and lactic acid peels are actually considered “superficial,” usually without many of the side effects of medium-and-deep strength or laser treatments.

Kojic acid

When I think of potent skin brighteners, I don’t typically think of kojic acid.  However, in two studies by scientists Ellis and Garcia, kojic acid combined with glycolic acid has been found to be more effective than 10% glycolic acid or 4% hydroquinone for the treatment of hyperpigmentation.

In a third study, 2% kojic acid in combination with 10% glycolic acid and 2% hydroquinone also was found to improve melasma symptoms over a mixture of 10% glycolic acid and 2% hydroquinone alone.

In other words, even though we don’t think of kojic acid as one of the “big guns” in fighting hyperpigmentation, the data says we should.  While iS Clinical Active Serum contains only 0.5% kojic acid, in combination with the deep-penetrating formulation and alpha hydroxy acids, this is a potent age spot fighter indeed.

Bottom Line

iS Clinical Active Serum is a very solid product for fighting hyperpigmentation – age spots, melasma, and the like.  That said, I would not use it anticipating it to get rid of acne if I was already using alpha hydroxy acids and salicyclic acid to treat acne.

Product Rating:  8/10

  • High or optimized concentration of proven ingredients:  3/3
  • Unique formulation or new technology: 3/3
  • Value:  2/3
  • Sunscreen: 0/1

Ingredients: water, glycerin, glyceryl polyacrylate, butylene glycol, sd alcohol 40, 8% glycolic acid (sugar cane extract), 2% lactic acid (bilberry extract), triethanolamine, 1% arbutin, 2% salicylic acid (willow bark extract), 0.5% kojic acid (mushroom extract), menthol, phenoxyethanol


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  • Madeline

    This seems to be in conflict with another article published by you in 2009

    I currently use this product but am wondering about the concentrations of ingredients.In this article you say that there are good concentrations of the ingredients, but in the other you state there aren’t?

    Why the discrepancy? Did they change their formula?


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