OTC vs Medical Grade Skin Care

What is the difference between an over the counter (OTC) skin care product and a professional/cosmeceutical/medical skin care product?

OTC beauty products are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and this group of products are designed to sit at the upper layer of your skin (stratum corneum, more on that further down) and make “cosmetic” changes or temporarily alter the appearance.

Professional products (cosmeceuticals/medical grade) are heavily controlled by the FDA, because this group of products are designed to penetrate through the Stratum Corneum, the FDA must control this group to ensure efficacy and safety.

OTC Cosmetics are, as defined by the FDA:

“Articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced onto, or otherwise applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body’s structure or function.”

On the other hand, medical and professional grade skin care is defined by the FDA as:

“Articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease and articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals” [FD&C Act, sec. 201(g)(1)].

Since many consumers “self-diagnose” when choosing a skin care product from a department/drug store, these products must be made safely. That means, big cosmetic companies cannot afford to have a huge number of consumers with issues from using highly active products (lawsuit anyone?) — so, their skin care product may feel good and smell good but, most likely will not have a lot of activity in its formulation. As per FDA specifications, cosmetic companies really do not have to prove efficacy, the special “active” ingredient listed in their formula only must appear somewhere on the ingredient list! That means, the highly sought-after Vitamin C in your serum can be the last ingredient at the concentration of 0.0000005%, if it is in there, they can claim it to be a Vitamin C Serum (don’t let me get started on the quality – facepalm)

I should mention, OTC cosmetics are manufactured and distributed in large batches and are packed with almost as many preservatives as “active” ingredients! (let that sink in)

Over-the-counter cosmetics simply do not penetrate the skin barrier, where the ingredient formula would have a therapeutic benefit to the skin. What they do have though, are obscene amounts of marketing and advertising dollars to ensure your brain is always overloaded with the images of their brand (brand recognition) and it works exceptionally well.

Now that we have established the OTC skin care is essentially garbage that is shoved down your throats to coat the pockets of already rich shareholders let us get into the second reason over the counter skin care will not have a lasting effect on your skin, and that is the intricate composition of your beautiful skin (Epidermis). It is made up of five distinct layers working together and a major part of its function is to keep things out. (invaders) You see, the Stratum Corneum is made up of dead, flattened skin cells covering most of your body (except palms of hands and soles of feet). This upper most layer will prevent many things from getting through (and when something makes it past, your immune response will kick in, so you end up with nasties, like hives and itch – did you know that over half of primary immune cells are found in your skin!)

I suppose I am grateful that the skin is so picky, it will work hard to keep the garbage skin care most of you put on your faces, another downside is the hard-earned money you are wasting every time you pick up a jar of “whatever” you find at your local drug/department store. By the way Sephora, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Saks to name a few, are all Over the Counter!

If you have read this far, you are probably a bit pissed off at me. That is alright, my passion is education, and I would be doing you a disservice by lying to you. The fact is, you can throw a rock and hit a spa or a clinic that houses educated therapists ready to help you with your skin concerns. These providers have spent time, and money on getting educated so they can carefully examine your skin, assess your environment and underlying health conditions. These guys are invested in your skin’s well-being. Are you going to tell me that the 5-minute conversation with your drug store beauty consultant will yield the same analysis of your skin? (I realize that many high-street stores employ trained therapists at their counters, the fact still stands that the products they sell are not designed to be effective and that is not their fault) I also realize, that not all therapists are equally trained, or skilled and have left you wondering why your skin routine is not helping as they promised, but do not despair. Break it off and start looking for another provider! You do not owe them anything, they are in business for you.

There is the issue of many Professional brands appearing on drug store shelves, we (the trained therapists) lose all respect as they have sold us out for the opportunity to become widely available to the masses. I mean, I cannot blame them, I just will not support them any longer. Having said that, as a user of said professional products I have experienced firsthand their formulations change after hitting the drug store shelves, (not for the better) no surprise there.

Lastly, why would you not support your fellow small business owner?!

Here are a few of proven Healthy Habits for the happiness of your skin:

  • Proper home care prescribed by a trained provider: will include antioxidants, peptides, lipids, AHAs, SPF.
  • Personal care: a good diet, multi vitamins, regular water intake, regular exercise.
  • Positive thinking is proving to decrease premature aging!
  • Healthy foods should include berries, citrus fruits, and antioxidants.

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