Why Over-the-Counter Skincare Isn't Giving You Results

Why Over-the-Counter Skincare Isn't Giving You Results

Posted by Sonia Bellini on

In an oversaturated market with buzzword products coming out every single day, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to know what is best to put on their skin. Even as an esthetician, it took working with professional products to really understand and see the differences between skincare products. There is a definitive difference between products that can be purchased at a drugstore versus a department store versus from a professional brand.

This is not to say that drugstore skincare products are bad for your skin, they just might not be very effective. The reason for this being that over the counter skincare (OTC) has to be generic enough for anyone to use. As a result, these products are most likely not going to give you the results you may be looking for.

So, what are the major differences between professional and drugstore or over-the-counter skincare products? I'm going to tell you!

We all hear that dermatologists recommend Cera-Ve and Cetaphil. Why? With phrasing like “dermatologist recommended,” people automatically assume that means that they should use it on their skin. These two brands are so highly recommended by dermatologists specifically because there is a low reaction rate on all skin types to the active ingredients used. This is also the reason why the reaction rate is so low; there are very few active ingredients.

Active Ingredients are what separates professional from drugstore skincare.

What are active ingredients? Active ingredients are what is going to be working on your skin. For example, sunscreen active ingredients may include zinc, whereas there may a long list of inactive ingredients. Inactive ingredients added to better assist active ingredients with getting to where they need to go, and to do what they need to do.

"Legally, products from the drugstore cannot penetrate the skin, they can only work on the skin topically."

A common misconception about luxury skincare (like brands you find at Sephora, Ulta, and department stores like Target or Nordstrom) is that they are better than products you can buy at the drugstore (like CVS or Rite Aid). The reality is that they are very similar in active ingredients to the brands you can buy at drugstores and sometimes even identical. You end up paying more for marketing, packaging, and location, but not for quality.

Professional Skincare Over The Counter Skincare
  •  can penetrate skin cells to reduce and prevent damage
  • higher concentration of active ingredients allowed
  • specialized products based on skin type, condition, and preferences
  • small batch production
  • any reactions are logged and client skin is reviewed
  • extensive testing, peer reviews, and medical journal approved
  • priced based on ingredients, potency, and research
  • exclusively sold in stores with aestheticians
  • works topically, cannot penetrate skin
  • active ingredients must be under 5%
  • generic enough to work for anyone
  • made in large batches
  • no process for addressing reactions
  • may cite medical journals to boost claims without performing tests
  • price based on marketing, packaging, and location
  • available in drugstores and retail stores like Sephora and Ulta

Professional products are priced based on the amount of ingredients, their potency, and research that has been put into maximizing the efficacy of the products. Legally, products from the drugstore cannot penetrate the skin, they can only work on the skin topically. Professional skincare can go into the skin and penetrate to the cells. Professional brands are also able to use a higher concentration of active ingredients in products. For example, a non-professional vitamin c can legally only have up to 5% pure l-ascorbic acid in it, while professional products can have up to 30%. If a drugstore product claims to have a higher percentage of vitamin c, the rest of it is just a derivative of vitamin c. Professional brands also have a cap on the percentage of specific ingredients allowed in products though. After a certain amount, the product must be prescribed by a doctor and then it is considered a medication.

Drugstore skincare is made in very large batches, for the masses, whereas professional skincare is made in small batches. This ensures the quality and the efficacy of the product. Professional brands require that anything returned because of a reaction must have a reaction form filled out about the reaction and that the batch number be included. This is so the brands can see if anyone else had a reaction to that same batch or if the reaction is a one-off case. However, professional products are tested several times on skin cells and live people before they even hit the shelves.

Professional brands also tend to have a lot more products to choose from. For example, at Bellini’s we have over 50 different serums that we sell, and we don’t even carry every serum that each brand we sell has. The reason for this is that the products they make are so specific to certain skin types and conditions. There is no one-size-fits-all in skincare, so it’s important to find the best products that work for YOU. There is so much to choose from, but only a handful that will be effective for each individual person. At Bellini’s, we aim to give customers and clients the best skincare for their money.

Each brand we carry can only be sold somewhere that has a licensed esthetician on staff. You’ll find a lot of these professional products online, especially on Amazon and probably for a little bit cheaper. These products are not authorized by the brands and are likely fake or expired. We have personally seen a handful of clients come in to buy SkinCeuticals from us after realizing their Amazon purchase was a fake (one was literally water!) It is important to make sure you are only getting professional products from authorized retailers.

In sum, while you may have to dish out a bit more money for professional level skincare, you’re getting much more bang for your buck. These products are made for very specific skin types and conditions. With professional products, you know what you’re getting whereas with drugstore products, you don’t always know exactly what you’re getting, as brands are able to boast certain benefits and a percentage of ingredients without any actual research.

This post was written by Aesthetician, Abby Durey.

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