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Ross A. Clevens, MD, FACS

Of course you want to look and feel your best—and your skincare routine plays a significant role in making that happen. What you choose to put on your skin on a daily basis is a major factor in keeping it healthy, happy, and youthful for years to come.

But with so many skincare products on the market—both medical-grade and over-the-counter (OTC) options available—it can be really difficult to narrow down your choices. The global skincare industry continues to grow rapidly, with an increasing number of breakthrough products hitting the shelves (and pharmacies) each year.

And it doesn’t look like that momentum is expected to slow down any time soon. These days, consumers are more aware of using skincare products to preserve their youthful glow and delay signs of aging. According to Statista, it is estimated that the global skincare market will be worth $189.3 billion by 2025.

The question is, with so many products entering the market, how can you determine the best fit to meet your needs? Are medical-grade products really more effective? Is it true that the more you spend, the better products you get?

In this article, we’ll answer all of your questions and break down the primary differences between products, as well as highlight the pros and cons of each to help point you in the right direction.

Medical-Grade vs. Over-the-Counter Skincare Products

Whether a skincare product is considered medical-grade or over-the-counter is determined by a product’s intended use. Various laws and regulations apply to these products, which are mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act defines medical-grade skincare products by their intended use, as "articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease" and "articles intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals."

Now, let’s dive into the pros and cons of using medical-grade and over-the-counter skincare products.

Medical-Grade Skincare Products

Medical-grade skincare products contain prescription-strength ingredients and can only be accessed with a prescription from a medical professional. Because use of these products requires expert knowledge, people can only use them under the supervision of a doctor.

There are a number of benefits to using medical-grade products as part of your skincare regimen. We’ll break it down for you:

The Pros

  • Backed by clinical research
    Medical-grade skincare products are backed by clinical research and are scientifically proven to produce results. The FDA regulates medical-grade products and requires that each is thoroughly researched and tested to ensure safety and efficacy. In other words, there must be scientific proof that each medical-grade product is beneficial and does what it promises, which is not the case with OTC products. The FDA also stipulates that medical-grade skincare products have a 99 percent concentration of active ingredients, which is much higher than would be found in any OTC products. 
  • Nourish skin inside and out
    Because they’re developed based on clinical research and expertise, these products are formulated to reach the hypodermis, which is the deepest level of the skin. This helps to stimulate collagen and elastin production and reduce fine lines, wrinkles, acne scars, and brown spots. 
  • Customizable to your skin concerns
    Medical-grade products are also completely customizable; a physician and his or her team of experienced, licensed providers make an expert recommendation on the products, active ingredients, and strength that will best suit each patient. Products can be tailored to meet specific needs, skin types, and goals to achieve ideal results.

The Cons

  • More expensive
    Because they are made using the highest-quality ingredients in their purest form, medical-grade skincare products are sometimes (but not always) more expensive than the average OTC product. That said, it is true that what you pay for is what you get. Although they may cost more money up front, medical-grade products are scientifically proven to be more effective and longer-lasting than OTC products.  
  • Prescription required
    Another con is that some medical-grade skincare products require a prescription from a medical doctor before they can be purchased. This can certainly be a barrier for some individuals due to issues like difficulty traveling. 

Request a consultation to speak with our expert team

Over-the-Counter Skincare Products

Over-the-counter skincare products are available at most drug and retail stores. They do not require a prescription and are much less potent than medical-grade products. 

We’ll share some pros and cons:

The Pros

  • Easily accessible
    Over-the-counter skincare products are easily accessible to everyone because they’re available in most drug and retail stores. The accessibility of OTC products allows you to choose your products personally, without the need for a medical professional to weigh in with their recommendation and write a prescription.
  • Cost effective
    Another pro in the OTC column is that there are a wide range of products available at a number of different price points. That means there’s something for everyone and that cost should never be a deterrent when it comes to skin care.

The Cons

  • Lower concentration of active ingredients
    Unlike medical-grade skincare products, many found over-the-counter are made up of water and filler ingredients. Legally, OTC skincare products can only include a small concentration of active ingredients. Typically only 10 percent of ingredients are active, whereas medical-grade products are made up of 99 percent active ingredients.
  • Higher risk of not getting the result you want
    It is also difficult to determine the likelihood of OTC skincare products achieving the results you want—particularly if you have specific areas of concern. Unfortunately, some OTC products make false claims on the label, promising results that just aren’t feasible with such a low percentage of active ingredients.
  •  Only sit on the surface of the skin
    Because OTC products are less potent than medical-grade, they rarely penetrate the outermost layer of the skin and often leave active ingredients wasted on the surface. As a result, OTC products do not effectively target advanced problem areas such as acne, aging, and brown spots.

Signature Skincare Designed to Meet Your Needs


The right combination of skincare products—with a high concentration of active ingredients—will help you achieve much better results than anything you’ll find over the counter. The Clevens Signature Skincare Collection, exclusively available at Clevens Face and Body Specialists in Melbourne, Florida, is backed by more than 20 years of clinical research and expertise.

Inspired by excellence in innovation, our own Ross. A. Clevens, MD, FACS, designed his signature skincare line to stimulate cellular rejuvenation, build collagen, and create smooth, radiant skin. Products are specially formulated with pharmaceutical-grade ingredients to deliver visible, lasting results and help each individual meet their personal skincare goals.

This skincare collection includes everything from cleansers, toners, and serums to moisturizers and targeted treatments that address under-eye dark circles, fine lines and wrinkles, and more—meaning whatever your problem area is, we have the perfect combination of products to improve your skin.

Crafting the Right Skincare Regimen For You

Whether you use medical-grade or over-the-counter products, there are certain steps you should take to keep your skin healthy, happy, and hydrated. 

During a consultation, a medical professional who specializes in skincare can work with you to develop a targeted treatment plan that’s personalized to your skin type and unique needs. If possible, we recommend bringing the products you’re currently using to your consultation for evaluation by a skin care specialist.

By following expert advice and incorporating medical-grade skincare products into your daily regimen, you can take better care of your skin, combat signs of aging, and prolong the results that you love.

Looking to step up your skincare game? Schedule your consultation with our skincare specialist, Christina Smith, LME, who is a true skincare professional with over 20 years of experience.


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