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SkinCare Choices: Over the Counter vs Pharmaceutical Products

March 29, 2017

The choices can seem almost infinite when looking at skincare.  Be sure to be well informed on the best bang for your hard earned buck!  Is there really a difference? Or is it all fancy marketing talk and pretty pictures?


Your first step in choosing the perfect products is understanding the subtle differences between each category.  But most importantly the right products—whether over the counter (OTC), cosmeceutical, or pharmaceutical—are the ones that contain  the right ingredients.  


Over the Counter (OTC)

The majority of creams, serums, and body products available fall into this category. Quite simply, they’re products you’ll find readily available at your local drug or department store. OTCs can range in price from cheap to very expensive, but generally contain a similar concentration of ingredients (up to 70% pure ingredients per FDA regulation). Because OTC products must fit most skin types, they often will not contain many active ingredients and often contain inactive compounds, fragrances and preservatives.



This category includes cosmetic products containing active ingredients that are known to be beneficial in some way. For example, vitamin C is a known antioxidant. When it is added to a lotion or a cream, it is considered a cosmeceutical. The same goes for products with ingredients such as  marine extracts or peptides.




The pharmaceutical category might have the fewest offering of the bunch (only about 5% of skincare products are considered pharmaceutical-grade), they are also some of the most effective. Pharmaceutical skincare products are available only through a licensed professional. They are also FDA-regulated, must contain 99.9% pure active ingredients, must be backed up by scientific studies, and must demonstrate beneficial effect on a function or structure of the skin. In other words, they gotta get the job done when it comes to reducing wrinkles, diminishing the appearance of brown spots, providing hydration, and improving other functions of the skin.



So what is the difference between OTC and Pharmaceutical skin care and which is best? 

The major difference is potency or strength and the mixture of the right active ingredients.

Another difference is that, unlike OTC products, where a consumer can self-diagnose when choosing a skin care product, pharmaceutical skin care products must be selected for you.

While pharmaceutical products will likely give you the best results, there are still a number of good cosmetic and cosmeceutical products available on  the market.  You just have to know their ingredients and have realistic expectations. As to what they can do and what they cannot do.


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