Performance Ready

Uncovering the secrets behind high-performance skincare.


“High performance skincare includes products with ingredients that make a change in your skin on a cellular level,” says Sarah Akram, founder of Sarah Akram Skincare, a luxury skincare boutique in Alexandria. So, the short answer is yes. 

“The products you use depend on what your skin needs—if you’re looking for anti-aging products, high-performance skincare can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” Akram says. “If you’re looking to even out your skin tone, certain products have ingredients that help lighten hyperpigmentation or age spots on the skin.”

The products themselves contain active ingredients that address specific issues and, according to Akram, have a regenerative effect, allowing new cells to develop that look and feel younger the longer you use the products. And the products themselves lend the skin a moist, dewy look immediately after they’re applied. In other words, your face becomes the donut in question, and the products are the glaze.

But with this type of skincare, TikTok trends excluded, the objective is not to layer on a bunch of goop that’s going to just clog your pores, but rather to accomplish the goal of clear skin by means of the correct use of certain skincare lines that put their resources into research rather than wrapping, in escalating degrees. 

The product lines that Akram uses herself and sells in her boutique have been around for longer than this past summer—and they are not brands launched by Hailey Bieber or Kylie Jenner. Akram, who has tended the skin of her fair share of A-list celebrities, as well as Washington elites and TV personalities, says, “I’m always looking for the leaders in the skincare industry, for lines that have dedicated all of their engineering and research to the science of skincare.” 

If you haven’t heard of Biologique Recherche—established in 1970 by team of researchers and lauded as the holy grail of skincare by its rabid, cult-like following—it’s the uber-pricey French skincare line that the company allows a select few retailers to carry. There are spas throughout the U.S. that use Biologique Recherche products in their treatments, but Akram’s boutique is one of the few on the East Coast to offer their products to the public. She also carried other similarly restricted lines like Environ, Vintner’s Daughter, and Auteur

“New lines that are just coming out can’t hold up to their history,” she says. Akram, who has performed more than 80,000 facials in her career using these products, adds, “before I carry any line, I ask how much research went into the product.”

And, the lines that Akram carries were developed by research teams dedicated to the care of the skin, the body’s largest organ. It is also curious to note that the products Akram represents don’t, for the most part, come in incredibly fancy packaging. They come in pared down presentations that let the products speak for their purpose. But what about products you can get from the drug store?

Ryan Donnell

Photography by Ryan Donnell

“You get what you pay for,” says Akram. “There are different brands of cars—you can get a Toyota and then you can get a Mercedes, or you can get a Maybach. Skin care is the same: the ingredients get more sophisticated, and there’s a better formulation when you’re getting products with the cleanest ingredients, that are more concentrated and environmentally friendly.”  

And then there’s the dermatologist. If a boutique like Akram’s is better than a drug store, wouldn’t scheduling a visit with the derm be the next logical step up? Not always.

“I wouldn’t start in a very extreme place,” she says. “I think dermatologists are more comfortable prescribing something, and saying, ‘you may go through a bad period but you’ll get over it.’ I really believe in the integrity of the skin, and I believe in building up the cells, not breaking them down and annihilating all the cells in the skin. I have a more conservative approach, and I want to see how your skin responds. I let your skin tell me what direction to take.” 

And if that direction takes you to high-performance skincare, it’s probably better for your overall health than a trip to the local donut shop. 

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