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5 Facts When Choosing Between Over-the-Counter and Medical Grade Skincare

By New You Editorial
Posted On Mar 22, 2019
5 Facts When Choosing Between Over-the-Counter and Medical Grade Skincare

By: Bobbi Del Balzo, Lead Medical Aesthetician at Deep Blue Med Spa


With hundreds of skincare brands out there promising great results at a ton of different price points, it can be difficult to figure out which products are worth investing in and which you can simply check off your list at your local drugstore. But how do you know when over-the-counter (OTC) brands will cut it, and when you need to take your skincare routine up a notch?

What’s Your Skin Type?


Your skin type can dictate whether to use drugstore products or medical grade formulas. In the drugstore, we often see the categories of “dry,” “oily,” “normal” or “sensitive,” but did you know that your skin’s type is actually a lot more complex than that? Redness, sun damage, clogged, tired, and acne-prone are just a few of the other qualities that contribute to your skin type.


If you’re not sure what your skin type is, you may want to consult an expert, or take one of the many online quizzes out there to help you figure it out. I’ve had clients with very mild acne who consider their skin “acne-prone,” but are using products that are too harsh or too drying for their skin (which can actually worsen the problem instead of making it better). So, really understanding your skin’s unique qualities and needs is the first step to taking care of it.


If you’re lucky enough to have skin with few problems, an OTC regimen of a mild cleanser, micellar water, and a light moisturizer and SPF may be enough to get you by. But if you, like many, find yourself with dry spots, enlarged pores, stubborn blackheads or any number of skincare woes, consult with a medical aesthetician to evaluate your skin and create a regimen that’s designed just for you. Not only will this personalized care give you a more effective regimen, it’ll also ensure that you’re not buying products that you don’t need and keep you from wasting money on products that won’t work (a win-win!).

What Are Your Skincare Goals?


Are you looking to maintain your skin, or are you looking to treat a specific issue like acne, sun spots or signs of aging (or prevent these issues from cropping up)?


If the latter, you may need to look to medical grade products in order to truly see the results that you want. Because OTC brands are designed to be used by the mass market, they have to be suitable for the widest amount of consumers possible. What this means is that in order to avoid irritating customers with sensitive skin, product manufacturers often can’t put enough active ingredients into their formulas to actually change your skin.


This is where medical grade skincare products come into play. Medical grade formulas contain a high enough percentage of active ingredients (like Retinol or Glycolic Acid) to make a real impact on the look and feel of your skin. They’re also designed differently from OTC products at a molecular level, which helps them penetrate the skin better and deliver results.


When Should I Buy OTC, And Which Brands Are The Best?

For the most part, gentle cleansers, micellar waters, makeup removers, SPF products, tinted moisturizers and hydrating eye creams can all be purchased over the counter. These products are designed more for hydration, cleansing, or another immediate effect, so the long-term effectiveness of the ingredients is less important.


Some of my favorite OTC brands include Neutrogena, Paula’s Choice and La Roche-Posay. All of these brands offer a ton of different skincare options at affordable price points. Another nice benefit of OTC products (aside from being wallet-friendly) is that they tend to have more preservatives in them than medical grade, which means a longer shelf life (and less restocking).


When Should I Buy Medical Grade, And Which Brands Are The Best?


Products that need to deeply penetrate the skin or that are designed to have some corrective feature should be purchased from a medical grade brand. This includes acne treatments, facial serums, fine line-fighting eye creams, or anything with an anti-aging ingredient (like Retinol) or a skin-retexturing element (like microdermabrasion products).


A few of my favorite medical grade brands are ProBLUEMD, ZO Skin Health, Neocutis, iS Clinical, Environ, and Revision. Most of these products are available without a prescription, making them more accessible than ever! You can buy most of these products online directly from the retailer, in-office at your medical aesthetician’s office or at your local spa.


But buyer beware: Although it’s tempting to purchase these products via Amazon or similar online retailers where the price tends to be lower, it’s impossible to be sure that you’re not receiving a counterfeit product, so stick to licensed providers to make sure you’re getting the real deal.

What’s the Price Difference Between the Two?


There can be a significant difference in price when it comes to over-the-counter products versus medical grade, with medical grade products having a heftier price tag. Although this can sometimes lead to sticker shock, the “you get what you paid for” saying applies here.


Medical grade products are more expensive because they include high quality active ingredients, and in higher concentrations than OTC. Medical grade products are so powerful that you often only need a very small amount at each use in order to see a difference.


In order to keep your skincare routine budget-friendly, I recommend stocking up on your day-to-day drugstore essentials for cleansing, toning and the like, and viewing medical grade skincare as a long-game investment in the fight against aging, acne, and other issues.


Bobbi Del Balzo is the Lead Medical Aesthetician at Deep Blue Med Spa. Bobbi focuses on treating common issues such as sun damage, age spots, rosacea, acne and other skin conditions. As a skincare expert, Bobbi aims to provide professional service and to create trusted relationships with each of her patients. For this reason, she takes her time to thoroughly evaluate the skin and decide what the best course of action would be for that specific patient. She believes education is key in helping patients achieve their skincare needs.