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Medical-Grade vs. Over-the-Counter vs. Conventional Skincare Products: Which is Best for You?

Medical-Grade vs. Over-the-Counter vs. Conventional Skincare Products: Which is Best for You?

    • The global skincare industry continues to grow rapidly, with an increasing number of breakthrough products hitting the shelves and pharmacies each year. But with so many skincare products on the market—including medical-grade, over-the-counter, and conventional options available—it can be really difficult to narrow down your choices. Many common questions are about medical-grade skincare—what is it exactly? Is it better than over-the-counter and conventional skincare products? And which is best for you? Below, we will make a comparison to help you choose.

Cover Photo:Dermstore Blog

  • What Is Medical-Grade Skincare?

Also known as cosmeceutical skincare, medical-grade skincare is targeted to specific medical conditions and needs, such as acne or wrinkles. The concentration of active ingredients is generally greater than what you can find over the counter, and they have been tested to be effective on the skin, hence there are greater results with such skincare. This type of skincare is known to offer both medicinal and cosmetic benefits.

The Pros:


Medical grade, or pharmaceutical grade products are required to contain ingredients that are 99% pure. Products that are purchased at department stores, drug stores, or on Amazon are not held to the same standards. They may contain fillers.


We've all heard of the important active ingredients recommended for healthier skin: retinoids, vitamin C, antioxidants, and the list goes on and on). Medical grade skin care products have higher concentrations of active ingredients.


Medical grade skin care products must have clinical research studies to back up any claims about their benefits. On the other hand, over the counter skin care products do not need to have clinical studies or research behind their claims.


Pharmaceutical or medical grade skin care products are formulated to be delivered to the dermis. This is where the collagen scaffold, and collagen producing cells live. To make any real changes to the skin, the deep dermis has to be impacted.


With a medical grade regimen tailored thoughtfully to your individual skin, product combinations suitable for your specific skin type and condition can be assembled to achieve your desired results.

The Cons:


Because they are made using the highest-quality ingredients in their purest form, medical-grade skincare products are sometimes (but not always) more expensive than the average OTC product. Although they may cost more money up front, medical-grade products are scientifically proven to be more effective and longer-lasting than OTC products.  


Another con is that some medical-grade skincare products require a prescription from a medical doctor before they can be purchased. This can certainly be a barrier for some individuals due to issues like difficulty traveling. 

  • The Popular Medical-Grade Skincare Products

| SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

($166, up to 6% cashback at Skinceuticals)


C E Ferulic features a synergistic antioxidant combination of 15% pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), 1% vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), and 0.5% ferulic acid to envelop skin in a protective veil. This patented triple antioxidant serum provides powerful environmental protection by neutralizing free radicals caused by exposure to environmental aggressors like UVA/UVB, infrared radiation and ozone pollution, which can contribute to premature aging. Once absorbed, this vitamin C serum can remain effective for 72 hours. Free from parabens, the formula is gentle yet effective and is suitable for normal, dry and even sensitive skin types.

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| Obagi Professional-C Serum 20% Strength 

($133, up to 8% cashback at SkinStore)


Highest concentrated serum with 20% L-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), best suited for normal to oily skin. Helps minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Designed to penetrate deep into your skin, this vitamin C serum provides effective antioxidant protection from UV damage as it brightens away hyperpigmentation and encourages the growth of collagen and elastin fibers. Hyaluronic acid binds moisture to your skin to prevent dryness.

| SkinMedica TNS Advanced+ Serum

($265.50, up to 8% cashback at SkinStore)


SkinMedica's TNS Advanced+ Serum is a skin rejuvenating formula that visibly improves the appearance of coarse wrinkles, fine lines and sagging skin. Formulated with TNS®-MR, the next-generation growth factor blend, this serum acts on multiple levels of the skin to achieve the best results. Additionally, Renessensce (RSC) Advanced, a highly active blend of botanicals, peptides and marine extracts, supports skin renewal for plumper, more youthful skin, delivering results in as little as two weeks.

| PCA SKIN Intensive Brightening Treatment 0.5 Percent Pure Retinol Night

($115, up to 5% cashback at Dermstore)


Specifically formulated for discoloration, this advanced pure nighttime retinol treatment features a delivery system often used in pharmaceuticals, yet entirely new to skincare. The patented Omnisome delivery system stabilizes and carries a unique blend of ingredients deeper into the skin for superior results. Retinol, Niacinamide and Hexylresorcinol produce radiance from within, while promoting an even skin tone. Additional actives smooth the skin's surface, while Niacinamide minimizes redness and the yellowing of the complexion. This innovative formula reduces signs of discoloration, brightens and smoothes. 

| iS Clinical Active Serum

 ($142, up to 5% cashback at Dermstore)


iS Clinical Active Serum provides anti-aging, anti-acne and brightening benefits. Clinically-proven to provide both instant and long-term results, this face serum smooths away fine lines and wrinkles while softening the skin's texture. It reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation, redness and acne, leading to a clearer and healthier-looking complexion. The bilberry and sugarcane really work to exfoliate dead, dull surface cells, whereas the willow bark functions as salicylic acid, unclogging pores and eliminating the severity and frequency of breakouts. The arbutin is a fantastic addition too, as it lightens dark spots and reduces the look of post-acne scarring. 

  • What Is Over-the-Counter Skincare?

Over-the-counter (OTC) skincare refers to products that you can buy at your local drugstore or beauty store without a prescription. OTC cosmetic products aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Medical-grade skincare is a marketing term used for some OTC products.

The Pros


Over-the-counter skin care products are easily accessible to everyone because they are available in most drugstores and retail stores.


Another great thing about the OTC column is that there are many products at different price points to choose from. This means there is something for everyone.

The Cons


Legally, OTC skincare products can only include a small concentration of active ingredients. If there is an active ingredient in an over the counter cosmetic product, there just may not be enough of it to have an effect, or it may take much longer to get an effect.


It is also difficult to determine the likelihood of OTC skincare products achieving the results you want—particularly if you have specific areas of concern.


Unlike medical-grade skincare products, over-the-counter products are regulated by the FDA and cannot penetrate beyond the top layer of the skin. 

  • The Popular Over-the-Counter Skincare Products

Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion

($10.49, up to 4% cashback at Walgreens)



Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion is a non-greasy, lightweight moisturizer that hydrates and protects your sensitive skin. Formulated with a superior system of emollients and humectants to bind water to the skin and prevent moisture loss. It contains a unique combination of moisturizers, such as avocado oil, to help protect and strengthen the skin from environmental stresses.

| Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream 

($17.99, up to 4% cashback at Walgreens)


Designed for those with skin sensitive to retinol, this gentle facial night cream is formulated with a milder form of retinol in moisturizing cream to reduce irritation and keep the skin hydrated – not flaky. It also contains hyaluronic acid to help bind essential moisture in your skin to re-plump wrinkles. Tested by dermatologists and clinically proven to visibly reduce the look of both fine lines and deep wrinkles in 12 weeks, RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream is oil-free and non-comedogenic.

CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion

($11.24, up to 4% cashback at Walmart)


CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion helps repair damaged skin and maintain the skin's natural protective function with ingredients not commonly found in other moisturizers. PM lotion contains the three essential ceramides (called 1, 3, and 6-II) skin needs to help restore the protective skin barrier. The formula also contains hyaluronic acid to help retain skin's natural moisture and niacinamide to help calm skin.

Its patented Multivesicular Emulsion (MVE) formulation releases these ingredients over time, penetrating deep into the skin to hydrate and nourish throughout the night. 

| Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel

($17.75, up to 5% cashback at iHerb)


Unique Hyaluronic Gel Matrix – Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel is infused with hydrating hyaluronic acid, which is naturally found in skin. This acts as a sponge to absorb up to 1,000 times its weight in water, and the formula leaves skin more supple and smooth. The unique water gel formula absorbs quickly, like a gel, but has the long-lasting, intense moisturizing power of a cream.

| Vaseline Healing Jelly Original

($4.17, up to 4% cashback at Walmart)


Vaseline Healing Jelly is the original white petroleum skin protectant that effectively care for your skin. It has been used to protect, help heal, and lock in moisture for dry, cracked skin since 1870. Vaseline Healing Jelly Original is triple-purified and hypoallergenic, and is the ideal product for a multitude of uses, including personal care, baby care, and beauty.

  • Medical-Grade vs. Over-the-Counter

There are a few key differences when it comes to medical-grade skincare versus over-the-counter. For one, accessibility. It used to be that you could only get medical-grade skincare in doctors' offices, but now (with the help of the Internet), accessibility has increased. 

Also, over-the-counter skin care products have been designed to work on the majority of the population. For this reason, the concentration of their active ingredient is relatively low. They do this so as not to negatively affect the skin of the general population. As a result, OTC products do not effectively target advanced problem areas such as acne, aging, and brown spots. However, medical-grade skincare is generally more effective, as the ingredients are in greater concentration and have been tested to work—this means that you're more likely to get results in a shorter amount of time.

  • What Is Conventional Skincare?

Products that do not contain labels such as "natural" or "organic" are products using synthetic chemicals. Again, everything is made up of chemicals.  

Pros & Cons

Manufactures of conventional skincare products operate on principle of innocence: i.e. any cosmetic ingredient that is not prohibited is allowed. Even when there is enough scientific evidence pointing at a negative impact on skin and the environment caused by commonly cosmetic ingredients. Unfortunately, it might take years until these doubtful substances will officially be prohibited in the beauty industry. Another reason, why brands stick to synthetic ingredients, is due to their wide availability and low cost. cooperates with many merchants, such as: Walmart (Up to 4% cashback), Sephora(4% -5% cash back), Moosejaw (5% -6% cash back), LOOKFANTASTIC (Up to 10% cash back)Sam's Club (Up to 15% cashback)Norton(Up to 20% cashback), Microsoft (Up to 7% cash back) and so on. You can save on buying daily necessities, fashion, beauty, electronic products, broadband installation, mobile communication, air tickets, hotels and other aspects of life! 

2022-02-15 01:11403