Which Gives You Better Skin? We’ve Got the Deets on OTC vs. Medical-Grade Skincare

is dermatologist skincare really better than OTC skincare
Some stats just for fun: Americans spent over $89.7 billion on beauty, skin, and personal care in 2018. And the number of beauty brands is practically countless—but would you believe 182 name brands are owned by the 7 biggest companies in the arena? The point is, there are So. Many. Products.

Even though some OTC products contain ingredients you see in medical grade skincare, they aren’t allowed to increase potency to the level needed for a highly effective product.

If you’re fed up with with figuring out what skincare products you really need, and don’t know what’s up with professional vs. over-the-counter skincare, we get it. Our Granite Bay skincare experts help patients finally get to the bottom of this question every day, and today we’re sharing our insider info with you. Here’s the scoop.

The down & dirty on OTC skincare (including the pricier stuff)

OTC skincare is like an all-you-can-eat buffet: there’s something for everyone, but it’s not the best version you can find. Products are engineered to be fairly harmless even if used poorly, last on the shelf for awhile, and it’s on you to choose what seems good. More specifically:

  • It has to be safe for anyone to use without doctor supervision, so active ingredients are in low concentrations.
  • Products must appeal to a broad base of consumers, so they’re not as specific in their action
  • OTC products are made in huge batches that stay on the store shelf for a long time, so they often contain preservatives and other fillers that aren’t in professional skincare.

Even though OTC products may contain some of the same ingredients as medical grade, they won’t have the same high concentration or formula. And, because OTC skincare isn’t allowed to be as strong, it’s also not regulated to the same strict degree as medical grade products—meaning you cannot rely on a product being consistent from one batch to the next. In some cases, you can’t even rely on the product containing what’s listed on the bottle!

What may surprise you is that this isn’t only the situation for cheaper OTC skincare. Luxury “cosmeceutical” brands sold in boutiques or through your friend/brand rep may use better quality ingredients than the generic bargain version, but they are still not going to equal medical grade skincare in terms of potency. Effective concentrations are simply not allowed in a product that anyone can pick up and slather on their skin without guidance.

Medical grade skincare is designed to achieve a specific result—and can save you money in the long run

Medical grade products are available only through a physician because they are so potent that if used incorrectly, they could do harm. Compared to OTC, medical grade formulas contain a much higher concentration of active ingredients, along with smaller particles that penetrate deeper into the skin where they can enact real change (OTC products mainly sit on the skin’s surface, which is safer if used incorrectly but also much less effective).

Medical grade formulas not only contain a much higher concentration of active ingredients—they also use smaller particles that can penetrate deeper into the skin.

This doesn’t mean medical grade skincare is dangerous. On the contrary, their high potency and specificity are what makes medical grade products work so much better than OTC to treat wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, acne, skin laxity and other common concerns.

Which brings us to another huge benefit of medical grade skincare: when you get your skincare through an experienced plastic surgeon like Dr. Clark, you’re automatically getting professional guidance in your skincare plan. This benefits you in several ways:

  • You’ll know exactly what skincare products you need. This will save you a lot of money over the long run, because you won’t have to guess—or fall for fancy marketing of products that won’t measure up.
  • You’ll know how much and how often to use each product, and what products can be used together. This is essential with medical grade skincare, because it is so effective that using too much could be a problem.
  • You’ll have an expert to help you adjust your skincare routine as needed. The skincare products you swore by in your 20s probably aren’t going to work as well in your 50s. Having medical guidance will ensure your skincare is safe and effective through pregnancy, aging, changes in medication, etc.

Finally, medical grade skincare is developed, manufactured, and distributed using a very similar process as other pharmaceuticals. Reputable lines such as SkinMedica, SkinCeuticals, and ZO Skin Health are developed by MDs based on peer-reviewed clinical research, and their products are made in smaller batches and rigorously tested by a third party to ensure quality control.

In short, with medical grade skincare and a trusted professional’s guidance, you know that you’re buying only the products you need, that are right for your skin type and concerns, and will work safely to get you the results you desire.

So which skincare is more worth it: OTC or medical grade?

OTC skincare is sold over the counter for a reason: it’s foolproof. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t ever a good option. If you have no specific skin conditions to treat and are just looking for the basics (i.e., a general moisturizer or sunscreen), then a good quality OTC product may be just fine.

However, if you have specific skin concerns such as acne, sun damage, fine lines, or texture problems, and you want noticeable improvements in your skin, it’s best to go with medical grade.

Moreover, a medically guided skincare program will help you be proactive about your skin’s health—helping you prevent signs of aging as well as treat them and even postpone the need for more expensive procedures later on. This can translate to huge long-term savings.

Want to find the best skincare for your needs? We can help.

Hopefully this has helped you understand the real and important differences between OTC and professional skincare. If you have questions or are ready to meet with an experienced skincare expert, reach out to us by phone at 916-242-2662 or contact us online. We love helping patients transform their skincare routines—and their skin—through smart, cost-effective care.

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