Skip to main content

Professional vs. Over-the-Counter Skin Care

over the counter vs professional skin care


It’s easy to get lost in the sea of skin care options these days. Not only are there doctors, skin care professionals and estheticians telling you this or that, you also have YouTubers, bloggers and beauty enthusiasts flooding you with thoughts and ideas too. It’s no wonder why there are so many skin issues and concerns these days. When you don’t know where to start or what information is reliable, how is your skin really going to respond?

For starters, it takes 30 days for your skin to even accept the products and begin to respond. Understanding what you are using is the key to getting results.

This leads us to our next question: 

What really is the difference between over-the-counter (OTC) products and professional skin care?

Although OTC products have changed over the years and vary in quality, there are still some very clear differences between professional skin care and OTC products. The FDA divides products into two categories: pharmaceutical and cosmetic. In the world of esthetics, we divide the FDA’s cosmetic category into two additional categories: OTC and professional. Both categories still have to follow the same basic FDA guidelines for consumer grade standards, but professional lines are designed with the idea that the consumer will be advised and mentored by a trained beauty advisor or licensed esthetician.
After clarifying that difference, here are the top five reasons to choose a professional skin care line:


Made in Small Batches

Professional skin care lines are made in small batches and distributed to trained or licensed skin care centers, aesthetic boutiques, spas and salons. OTC products are made for the masses and sold in department stores, drug stores and beauty stores. Manufacturers’ representative (aka independent sales) lines are also often made in large batches and mass produced with the same OTC quality and a higher price tag. Professional skin care companies maintain the ingredients integrity by producing in small batches and sell to professionals to provide guidance and advise.


High Levels of Active Ingredients

Because most consumers "self-diagnose," OTC product lines have less active ingredients to minimize chance of irritation to protect the buyer. To keep up with the mass quantity of products being made, OTC companies use large amount of fillers and preservatives in their products. Professional skin care companies have higher levels of active ingredients (but not as high as "pharmaceutical") in their products and are meant to to be recommended by a trained or licensed professional after a thorough skin analysis. These products are formulated to help or even eliminate skin conditions while fitting you skin types needs. This is why professional skin care bottles and packaging are often smaller in size. With higher contractions of active ingredients and fewer preservatives, there is no need for large bottles. 


Products Molecules are Small

When a product lacks active ingredients, you must use ingredients that have large molecules which are not able to penetrate the skin. When a product can’t properly penetrate the skin, it will "superficially" treat and temporarily provide relief to skin concerns. This gives the illusion that the products are working without actually treating the skin. Professional lines use molecular technology that penetrates the skin producing clinical results. As technology changes and gets better, so does the clinical research these lines invest in. There are now "non-pharmaceutical" ingredients with small enough molecules providing clinical results without the irritation of high strength acids and ingredients making it even more desirable to use professional skin care.

pH-Adjusted Ingredients

The pH of the skin isn’t always talked about on a consumer level but is very important when it comes to skin care. The skin functions at its prime when the natural pH is between a 4.5 and 5.5. Often OTC products don’t take pH into consideration and will leave the skin in an alkaline state. When the skin is alkaline, bacteria and free radicals (such as pollution) can invade the skin. Professional skin care companies understand the importance and take steps to assure the integrity of the skin’s barrier function by using pH adjusted ingredients.


Priced with Integrity

Sometimes professional skin care gets a bad reputation of being "too expensive" but that is far from the truth. A good professional line will price their products according to concentration of active ingredients versus fillers and are actually overall more budget-friendly. It is a common mistake to overuse products which leads to the perception that professional skin care is more expensive. When used properly, they will last longer and work better giving you the ultimate bang for your buck. OTC products will have a lower upfront cost but overtime can be similar in price or more expensive than professional skin care.

So, long story short, if you want results, go for higher quality products! But, first and foremost, consult a licensed professional to learn what is best for YOUR specific skin type. Our skin changes with the seasons so it’s always good to follow up once a quarter.


Stasia Smith

When I changed to Professional grade skincare, I really noticed the difference in my skin.

All comments are moderated before being published.

Your Cart

Your cart is currently empty.
Click here to continue shopping.
Thanks for contacting us! We'll get back to you shortly. Thanks for subscribing Thanks! We will notify you when it becomes available! The max number of items have already been added There is only one item left to add to the cart There are only [num_items] items left to add to the cart