There’s a world of difference between over-the-counter pain medication for common headaches and those prescribed by a doctor for acute pain.
The same goes for prescription skincare products, compared to what’s available on the shelf.
The cleansers, toners, moisturisers and other rejuvenating tinctures we buy in Boots are, generally speaking, pretty good. But they’re often formulated with minimal active ingredients (actives) and designed to work on the broadest range of skin types.
The great thing about prescription products is they’re not designed to be all things to all people. Instead, they’re usually formulated for specific skin types and conditions.
Inside, you’ll find much higher concentrations of the things skin loves, along with some magic ingredients not available in store-bought products.
It’s these active ingredients, and their varying concentrations, which give some cosmetics their prescription-only status – and the clear upper hand when it comes to rejuvenating results.
Here, we take a look at some of the crucial differences between medical-grade skincare, and the everyday products you probably already know and love.
Let’s Get Active
You’ll find a whole host of actives like retinoids, vitamins, antioxidants and other goodies in over-the-counter products.
But a closer look at that all-important ingredient list reveals one of the cosmetic industry’s best-kept secrets.
Ingredients must be listed on packaging according to the amount found in the product. The most abundant (usually water) take first place on the list while active ingredients, usually found in smaller amounts, take a sad runner-up.
So, if you see the good stuff like vitamins and retinoids listed last on the packaging, you can be pretty sure your favourite moisturiser only contains trace amounts.
What’s more, cosmetic companies don’t have to prove that any of their patented or miracle actives really work.
Medical-grade products contain active ingredients in much higher concentrations than you’ll find in store, making them much faster and harder working against the signs of ageing or problem skin.
In the UK, for example, you won’t find retinol (vitamin A) in concentrates higher than 2% on the high street.
All this is not to say that store-bought products aren’t effective – but they may take much longer to work any rejuvenating magic.
Quality & Regulation
While we’re on the subject of active ingredients, it’s worth noting that quality counts every bit as much as quantity.
Medical-grade products go through a lengthy regulatory approval process in which the manufacturer must prove active ingredients are 99% pure.
Over-the-counter producers are held to far less rigorous standards and not required to tell the consumer about impurities or fillers.
And – unlike mainstream cosmetic brands – prescription companies can’t make bold claims about their proprietary wonder ingredients without providing evidence-based research to back them.
Even the best of active ingredients is useless if it can’t get where it needs to be. And where cosmetics are concerned, that’s the dermis – the skin beneath the outermost layer (epidermis).
Unfortunately, despite the sophisticated ‘delivery systems’ promised on the packaging, store-bought cosmetics mainly work on the dermis. That means minimal penetration to deeper layers if any at all.
For fantastic long-lasting results, products must reach the epidermis, and that’s another win for prescription products.
They’re designed to reach deep beneath the skin where collagen-producing cells live. And – crucially – any claims they might make about subdermal reach must be backed by hard evidence when coming to market.
Just like paracetamol works on everyday aches and pains, store-bought cosmetics are mostly designed to work on all skin types.
But If you live with oily, dry skin or a condition like rosacea, you’re going to want something specially formulated.
Buy in the store, and you not only run the risk of your chosen product being ineffective but it could make things worse.
With medical-grade products like the Teoxane and Obagi range, you know you’re receiving a product designed for your skin type and condition.
Work With an Expert
We wouldn’t adopt a trial-and-error process of self-diagnosis to any other health problems. But that’s precisely the approach most of us take to skincare.
One of the great things about a prescription regime is working with an expert to design something that works for you, rather than reacting to the latest advert or influencer recommendation.
Realistically, the result is going to be a regime made up the best from both prescription and non-prescription products to get the best results.
If a clinician offers products like Obaji or Teoxane, you can bet they’ve received extensive training on the full line-up of products, in addition to years at medical school.
In the long run, working with an expert like Benji Dhillon at Define clinic takes the uncertainty out of skincare regime design. It could save your skin – and save you a little money in the process.