The iS Clinical Active Serum Is A Skincare Legend For A Reason

Or you want a quick look: About My Skin: Requires some maintenance

We put the iS Clinical Active Serum to the test after receiving a complimentary sample from the brand. Keep reading for our full product review.

The iS Clinical Active Serum is the stuff of skincare legend; a product celebrities use in secret while they’re fronting other brands. It’s loved by editors and aestheticians all over, lauded for its ability to clarify and brighten like nobody's business. 


The first time I tried it myself was about 12 months ago. I’d chased down a bottle when my skin was breaking out and my usual routine wasn’t working. I had high hopes (see the above) and desperately wanted it to live up to the hype. You see, I have acne-prone skin that easily marks, so it’s promise of brightening and clarifying really sounded like the serum holy grail. 

But did the little blue bottle with a big reputation do great things for my skin? Keep reading for a detailed review. 

iS Clinical Active Serum

Best for Normal, combination, oily, acne-prone, and dull skin types

Uses To exfoliate and brighten the skin

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Byrdie Clean? Yes

Price $138

About the brand: iS Clinical was founded in 2002 by Bryan Johns and Alec Call, who wanted to create a science-backed product line that delivered results. Now, the brand is loved by celebrities and dermatologists alike.

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About My Skin: Requires some maintenance

My skin is good when I look after it, but by default it’s prone to congestion, breakouts, uneven tone, pigmentation, and general dullness. I use a lot of exfoliating/brightening/clarifying skincare products (sparingly but regularly) to keep my pores clean, shine at bay, and skin tone bright. I guess you could say that a really good skin-clearing serum or treatment product is the cornerstone of my routine. 

The Ingredients: A potent blend

The Is Clinical Active Serum is a potent blend of botanical actives, namely arbutin from mushroom, bilberry, white willow bark (a form of salicylic acid), and sugarcane extract. There’s glycerin as well, to provide a little hydration. The serum does contain alcohol denat, an ingredient some skin experts claim as drying (however, the evidence is vague and I personally didn’t find it to be an issue).

The iS Clinical Active Serum is the stuff of skincare legend; a product celebrities use in secret while they’re fronting other brands.

Who It's For: Acne-prone and congested skin

The Active Serum is marketed as a product for both congested/acne-prone skin types and those looking to reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles. I get why this is (it has superpowers when it comes to resurfacing the skin), but I would definitely advise caution if your skin is dry, thin or sensitized. It’s a highly active product and has quite the tingle, and nobody wants to overdo it, do they? 

The Results: Calm, clear, and bright

Emily Algar/Design by Cristina Cianci

In my experience, the rumors were (and continue to be) true: This really is one of the greatest treatment serums I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. The bilberry and sugarcane really work to exfoliate dead, dull surface cells, whereas the willow bark functions as salicylic acid, unclogging pores and eliminating the severity and frequency of breakouts. The arbutin is a fantastic addition too, as it lightens dark spots, and in my case, reduced the look of post-acne scarring. It feels super fresh, sinks in quickly and gives results in as little as a week, too. 

Nowadays, I use the Active Serum two to three nights a week after cleansing and before moisturizer (I cycle it with a vitamin A). The directions state that you can use it daily, but this system has worked really well for me. Overall, I’ve got a calm, clear, bright complexion (most of the time), and I owe some of that to Is Clinical.  

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The Value: Consider it an investment

There’s no denying this is an expensive serum, but think of it as a serious treatment product. So if you’re looking to invest and hopefully change your skin, it’s absolutely worth it. You also only need a few drops, so it goes a long way. 

Similar Products: You've got options

Honestly, this is pretty unmatched when it comes to brightening and clarifying the skin, but similar options can be found below.

Cosmedix Simply Brilliant ($60): Like the Active Serum, this works to gently exfoliate the skin and brighten pigmentation, thanks to a mix of salicylic acid, lactic acid, whitonyl, and waltheria. It also has a cocktail of antioxidants inside, making it great in terms of protection, too. 

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA ($9): So this affordable serum champions arbutin, one of the hero ingredients within the Active Serum. Think of it as a specialized option for dark spots. It will fade their appearance and even things out, plus the addition of hyaluronic acid keeps it hydrating. 

Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defence ($129): This serum is similar in the fact that it can target breakouts and signs of aging at once, but Skinceuticals does so with a blend of salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and dioc acid. Try it if you’re suffering persistent adult acne. 

Final Verdict: It really is love

This is a product I’ll always use. It keeps my skin clear, bright and even, not to mention I’ve grown very fond of the menthol-y tingle. It’s not cheap, but considering my complexion isn’t great on its own, this is money well spent. [external_footer]

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