Medical Grade vs. Over the Counter Skincare

Not all skincare products are created equal. That’s hardly brand new information, as we’ve all become well-practiced at debating high-end vs value priced beauty products. Remember when you desperately wanted that deliciously fruity smelling hair spray that “scrunched” your hair to sweetly scented perfection? But your mom kept bringing home the way less expensive 3 liter can that smelled like expired Lysol and left a layer of gritty glue all over the walls and counter top. She insisted it worked just as well as the pretty, yummy smelling one. We had no choice but to hold our breath, squeeze our eyes shut and hope for a hair miracle. 

Now we’re all grown up and this choice is ours. Spend more money and get better results? How do we really know if this is actually the case? We research! Since skincare is our business, we can at least provide answers to these questions as they pertain to skin care products. 

Skincare products are identified by the FDA as either cosmetic (over-the-counter) or medical-grade. Cosmetic products are sold by any general retail source. Medical-grade products can only be sold by an establishment operating under a physician’s license such as a dermatologist’s office or medical spa. So, why choose medical-grade?

1. Your shopping buddy is a licensed professional. Many hours have been spent standing in the skincare aisle at Target reading labels, asking nearby shoppers if they know what hyaluronic acids or amino-peptides are, and do they know if our face will catch fire if we apply both of these products at the same time? When purchasing medical-grade products, a trained and licensed professional aids in selecting the product best suited to meet your skincare needs.

2. Medical-grade products are higher in potency and purity.  Higher concentrations of active ingredients are allowed because medical professionals are dispensing them, advising patients on how and when to use them. The concentration of active ingredients is limited in over-the-counter products to avoid harmful reactions. 

3. Medical-grade gets down deep. Many over-the-counter products only reach the superficial layers of skin. Products must delve into the dermal layer, beneath the skin’s surface to stimulate collagen and elastin. Medical-grade products are formulated to penetrate the surface and reach these cells, resulting in changes seen on the surface. 

4. They’ve done their homework, and then some. Medical-grade skincare products are backed by science and put through rigorous testing processes and clinical trials, over many years. Their findings are reviewed and approved by the FDA, confirming what they say is what we’ll get. The FDA’s requirements for over-the-counter brands is much less scrupulous.

Despite all these factors, the price tag on medical-grade cosmetics is still a strong deterrent. The thing is, while you may spend more on a product recommended by your physician or medical spa service provider, that product comes with expert knowledge, and is guaranteed to accomplish desired results. You will spend less on a product from a general retailer, but you’ll likely be back to try again and again with additional products, never really seeing the changes you’re looking for. 

It’s worth mentioning that while it’s tempting to shop for discounted medical-grade skincare, it is only guaranteed if purchased from a licensed seller. Otherwise, you run the risk of purchasing counterfeit product, old or expired stock, or product that has not been maintained at proper temperatures for active ingredients to remain effective. 

Those are all the practical reasons to choose medical-grade skincare. Next time you pump out your last drop of over-the-counter product, consider heading to your skincare professional to try a clinically licensed product. It’s likely the difference in cost will be less than you thought, and the difference in visible results will be far greater. We think you’ll probably come to the conclusion that the price tag for all that science and research is an investment that makes sense to you. Your triumphant skin will glow in gratitude.