The Best Skincare Products: Medical-Grade vs. Over the Counter (OTC) Skincare

Great news, it’s finally here! Your online order from Sephora has just arrived. Your amazing new skincare product that is going to correct, smooth, lift, and hydrate. You’re feeling good, practicing self-care, and investing in yourself. Amazing! As you eagerly and excitedly start using your new awesome skincare product, that little voice in your head creeps up and decides to chime in (because why not), and asks the burning question – “Is this ACTUALLY going to work?”

Of course, it’s going to work! You just spent $89.99 of your hard-earned money on the best anti-ageing serum that will stimulate your natural collagen and leave you with a radiant glow. Plus, a gorgeous celebrity who has seemingly good skin has been promoting it all over social media and TV. You can’t go wrong. It must work! It has to work! But as much as you’re trying to convince yourself of this, deep down you have this incremental, heart-sunken feeling of doubt.

Although you’re aware you’re not necessarily an expert by any means, you’ve lived enough to know that it’s a “hit or miss” when it comes to finding skincare products that work to produce real results. It’s not uncommon to go through many products to find the right fit, after all. This was what the ‘expert’ from Sephora said when I described my skin frustrations and inquired for a remedy. This seems to be a popular trend when it comes to skincare product recommendations from friends and family too. 

Like most of you, I also have friends who confidently rave and swear by-products that work for them - only to try the product and find out the hard truth! That it just did not work for me, nor did I get the same result that my friend got. It was at this very moment, I was reminded of the amazing phrase, “the blind leading the blind”.

Don’t worry! We’ve all been there at some point! And we are here to show you that it doesn’t have to be this way! There is a solution and there are amazing products that do work and produce real results specifically for you. We need to educate ourselves, learn where we can find these products and how to access them. After all, there are so many skincare lines and products out there on the market, so it’s important to know how we make better choices in order to achieve our desired results.

‘The Best Skincare Products’ and Where They Can Be Found

Whether you’re looking for acne treatment products, face cream for oily skin, the best anti-wrinkle eye cream, or just a moisturizer for dry skin, it’s extremely important to set the record straight when it comes to the difference in product quality. According to the Global Wellness Institute’s most recent collection of data and trends (released in October 2018), the Global Wellness Economy was a $4.5 trillion market in 2018. Can you guess which key sector brought in the highest revenue? Ding-Ding Ding! You got it! It was personal care, beauty and anti-aging with a whopping $1.08 trillion dollars. 

It’s no secret that we want to have clear, beautiful, younger-looking skin. Inevitably, we want the most value out of our skincare products, without breaking the bank to achieve it, of course! When we put aside all the pretty packaging, can the product truly produce the results it claims it can? Can this be proven? How do we know and how can we trust our skincare products?

The answers to these questions and more, will be revealed as we continue to discuss the difference between pharmaceutical (also known as medical-grade) skincare products versus over the counter (OTC) products and why you should care about which one you are purchasing. 

5 Key Differences Between Medical-Grade and Over the Counter (OTC) Skincare Products

1) Concentration and Quality of Ingredients 

Medical-grade (or pharmaceutical-grade) products require all active ingredients to be 99% pure, unlike OTC products purchased from Amazon, department stores, and drug stores that are not held to the same standard. They most often contain fillers. If there happens to be an active ingredient in an OTC product, the concentration is simply too low, so it will take a much longer time to see any real effect.

Example: Retinoids 

Retinoids are a class of chemical compounds that are vitamers of vitamin A or are chemically related to it. Retinoids are used in the treatment of many diverse skin conditions. Some beneficial effects are stimulation of collagen production, alleviating acne, repairing photo-aging, and reducing wrinkles.

OTC retinol creams may only have a retinol concentration as low as 0.01%, whereas ZO Skin Health, Alumier MD, Vivier Skin and other medical-grade skin care lines will carry retinol products offering a stronger concentration of 0.25%, 0.5% and a 1% option for a little more oomph. The delivery system in these medical-grade products is more sophisticated, helping to deliver the retinol deeper into the inner layers of the skin and offering much more beneficial results.

2) High Research Standards, Purity and Consumer Safety Regulated by Health Agencies

Pharmaceutical or medical-grade skincare products must have vigorous research studies completed before they can be available on the market. Government agencies like the FDA and Health Canada oversee all manufactured drugs (in this case, medical-grade skincare products) to ensure this. This ensures all claims being made about the product are true.

Remember, the law doesn’t require cosmetics to be FDA approved before going on the market. This means that thorough product ingredient testing is NOT required and the FDA does not have oversight over the cosmetic product industry. That means you never really know what’s in your OTC products… scary!

3) Skin Layer(s) Effected by a Product – How Deep Does It Go?  

OTC products only work on the epidermis (the surface epithelium of the skin overlying the dermis) so essentially the outermost layer of the skin. Pharmaceutical-grade skin care products are designed to work on the dermis (the thick layer of living tissue below the epidermis, which forms the true skin containing blood capillaries, nerve endings, sweat glands, hair follicles and other structures). The deep dermis must be impacted to make any real change to the skin, meaning those expensive OTC products are not really worth their price at all.

4) Medical Grade vs. OTC Price Points

The sad truth is that most of us are not familiar with medical-grade skincare brands such as ZO Skin Health, Vivier Skin and Alumier MD, which probes the question, why not? Well, unlike OTC companies, medical-grade companies generally do not spend much on advertising campaigns or marketing.

Instead, they are spending their money on quality product development and research. We already know that you can achieve more effective results in a shorter period of time with medical-grade products. According to thousands of our patients and customers, they are saving more money in the long run due to products being effective. You be the judge!


5) A Customized Approach

The best skincare products will be tailored to your specific skin type. This precision can only be found in pharmaceutical (medical-grade) skincare lines. While most of us are ‘in the know’ when it comes to the type of skin we have (and what the hottest products are due to the numerous advertising campaigns we’re exposed to) truth is, most of us are not qualified experts and know very little when it comes to medical-grade skincare brands.

Typically, we identify our skin type by categorizing it as oily, dry, or combination (oily and dry). Does that mean everyone with oily skin has the same type of oily skin or is battling the same skin problem or condition? NO. Therefore, it’s safe to say there is real value that can be acquired by completing a professional consultation or visiting your local dermatologist.

My Skin Shop can create a medical-grade skincare routine tailored thoughtfully to your beautiful, individual skin. After all, you are paying good money and deserve real results! There is no one-size-fits-all. Over the counter products are just not able to accommodate this and are designed to broadly work on all skin types. Do you want broad results, or do you want targeted results where you can easily notice outcomes that are effective and real? That’s the real question at the end of the day!