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Medical-grade Skincare versus Over-the-Counter Skincare

I know that the price tag on medical-grade skincare can seem very daunting… but you have to look at it in terms of investment. Investing in your skin is a long-term commitment that will benefit you in the future --- just like red wine, the longer it ages, the better it gets. Staying consistent with medical-grade skincare will help your skin do battle against the inevitable effects of aging and environmental damage. Here is why I believe skincare is worth the investment, but I'll also look at some products it’s okay to go OTC with.

The amount of money and time invested in trying various products to achieve your desired results could be better allocated to a single medical-grade product, cutting the time needed to achieve your goals in half. With medical-grade skincare you also are using less product since the active ingredient concentration is higher than the comparable OTC product, so ultimately the cost per use is paying for itself. The trial and error with drugstore brands can also add up, both financially and in terms of your skin’s health. Makes sense...right? It is true that you got what you paid for at the end of the day when the products don’t deliver results as expected.

Medical-grade products yield more effective results

At this point, you’re either feeling discouraged or motivated to make changes. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Although medical-grade skincare is - generally speaking - better, you can totally buy certain OTC products. Here are my suggestions for where you can spend a little less and yield similar results.

Side-by-side Comparison of Medical-grade versus Over-the-Counter Products

When it comes to drugstore products, think simple and basic --- Such as your face washes, everyday moisturizer, and SPF (mineral of course). OTC products sit on the top layer of your skin (the epidermis) because they are designed to work as a “one size fits all” solution for the majority of the population. The result is that the concentration of the active ingredients is relatively low. Some OTC products that I recommend are:

  • Cocokind | Oil to Milk Cleanser | It’s a probiotic cleanser that supports healthy microbiome (a fuel to keep your skin and body balanced), and it’s gentle and non-disruptive to the skin barrier.

  • Honest Beauty | Magic Gel to Milk Cleanser | Great for removing makeup and nourishing, especially for dry skin. Gives dewy, glowing skin and is very soothing due to the rose water!

  • Any CeraVe Moisturizer | Developed by dermatologists and used on all different skin types, they're created with ceramides to restore the skin's protective barrier. They're allergy tested and provide beneficial ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamides.

  • La Roche Posay | Mineral SPF 50 | A great alternative to a comparable mineral sunscreen from say, SkinBetter, as it includes zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, two essential ingredients for reflecting and protecting your skin from the sun's rays! While the percentage may not be as high as medical-grade SPF, it still provides protection for your skin and is more affordable.

True, OTC products allow individuals to self-diagnose their skincare concerns and buy products accordingly. They may also provide temporary relief or superficial results, but the long-term issue with these products is that by design, they lack the potency to effect lasting change, especially for specific skin conditions that require a more tailored set of ingredients to address the underlying problem.

DEEP DIVE: If you want to learn more about how to choose the best SPF for you, read our "Summer Sun is Coming" blog (5min read) that details why sunscreen is a must-use, and how to choose between chemical and mineral sunscreens. 

OTC Products to Avoid: Retinols, Vitamin C, Pigment Inhibitors

Below is a diagram of how deep your products are really going in your skin. As you can see, your medical-grade skincare reaches the dermis, allowing the high potency active ingredients to work their magic at the root of the problem, making the results of regular product use longer lasting.

OTC products sit right on the top layer of your skin, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when your are thinking in terms of how you want your products to help certain problem areas you can see how over the counter products might not be as effective. For example, your everyday SPF: its primary goal is to help protect your skin against harmful UV rays, so it's fine not getting down into your dermis. Your retinol, though, you want all of the benefits it provides—helping with fine lines, improving skin texture, boosting name a few.

DEEP DIVE: Skin is complex - like really complex. If you are interested in learning more about the science behind why medical-grade skincare works better than more OTC products, check out our "Why Science-based Skincare will do More for Your Skin [PART I]" blog (4min read).

In the end, where you splurge and where you save should be based on your skincare goals, but we will stand by the time-tested "Buy the medical-grade product, you'll thank us later." You only get one face, so let's take care of it and love it.

Come in and see us for a complimentary consultation, where we will take a deep dive into your skincare needs and chat about the best treatments and products for you and your desired skin health!


Disclosure: We are not compensated by SkinBetter Science to promote their products - we just believe in these products and have used them ourselves. We do receive compensation when products are purchased in our office; however, the purpose of our blog is NOT to sell product. Our blog is intended only as an educational tool.

Disclosure: Estelle Lowery is a Licensed Medical Aesthetician; however, this blog is not intended to substitute for legitimate medical guidance that should occur with your primary care provider or dermatologist when determining which products to use in conjunction with chronic medical conditions, or in conjunction with any long-term treatments. This blog is intended for informational purposes only.

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