Medical Grade Skincare vs Over The Counter – Quality?

medical grade skincare vs over the counter

You’ve heard about Vitamin C serums with “magical” anti-ageing powers from brands like Vivier and SkinCeuticals both of which are professional strength, pharmaceutical grade skincare and medical grade skin care product lines, respectively.

However, if you’re looking for them in Sephora, or department stores, you’ll be quite disappointed. This class of medical grade skincare products is only available and sold at medi-spas, dermatology offices, or sites like ours, As a result, they also come at a slightly higher price point.  

Medical grade cosmetics - the best you shop

Let’s be honest, we all want clear, beautiful, youthful skin (and #nofilter!), but we don’t want to break the bank to achieve it. So, does it really matter where we get our skincare products? Because department stores have wallet-friendly and appealing products, too. But, then again, do they work and do what they claim they do?

Medical-grade brands have such loyal followers who swear by their results, but are they worth the steep price tag? Get ready for a deep dive into the differences between medical grade skincare products and over-the-counter skincare products (OTC) and why you should care which one you invest in!  

What is Medical Grade Skincare? 

Medical grade skincare is often referred to as cosmeceutical skincare because it specifically aims to treat certain conditions like fine lines, wrinkles, and acne. Also, it contains higher concentrations of active ingredients than what you’d find in over-the-counter skincare products.

These ingredients are also tested and proven to be effective for different needs and that’s why you typically see better results. This category of products has both medicinal and cosmetic benefits. However, you do not need a prescription from a physician to buy these products. 

What’s the Difference between Medical Grade and OTC (Over-the-counter) Skincare Products? 

The main difference between the two is that medical grade skincare products have active ingredients that OTC brands may have but at higher strengths and in forms that are more stable, so they won’t breakdown quickly. Usually, these products are available in doctors’ offices and medical aesthetics clinics, but online shopping has increased accessibility to them.

Most companies that manufacture medical grade skincare products carry out extensive research and have clinical studies on the effectiveness of the ingredients that they use and will use only pure ingredients (99%). OTC lines don’t abide by these standards. 

OTC products have mass appeal and are designed to cater to the masses – one size fits all, need I say more! They also contain more fillers than active ingredients. Some mainstream brands claim their retinol serum or night cream can transform skin, but usually there are such minute amounts of active ingredients in a sea of synthetically derived additives.  

Looking at medical grade products, we see that they are tailored to skin type and skin concerns. The ingredients are specially designed to be highly stable, so they degrade slowly which increases the effectiveness of the products and helps them to last longer. Additionally, many of the ingredients are also engineered in a way that allows them to penetrate deeper into the skin.   



Reputable brands of medical grade skincare products invest money into R&D, so their results speak for themselves. Therefore they may not be as well known if you’re not familiar with the industry. Their products are results-driven and go through rigorous research, testing, and clinical trials conducted by professional skincare experts and appear in peer-reviewed medical journals. 


Medical grade products often contain premium active ingredients like pharmaceutical drugs that your doctor might prescribe – think retinol. This is a type of vitamin A–derived retinoid is frequently used in formulating cosmetic and skincare treatment products to reduce the appearance of blemishes, fine lines, and wrinkles. 

Unlike typical OTC products, medical grade products contain safe, wholesome, and high-quality active ingredients at higher concentrations which are effective and target specific skin concerns. They’re safe for any skin type, particularly sensitive skin. 


Medical grade brands have better formulations and clients enjoy using them. They have nice scents; they glide on smoothly and aren’t sticky or goopy. You feel good using them and feel great when you see the results! 


You get what you pay for! Pay a little more to get a premium skincare brand that will actually manage or treat acne and other skin problems. Medical grade skincare brands are cost-effective and help you save in the long run. They are more potent so you don’t have to use a lot which means that even if you spend more, you use less and the product(s) will last longer even if you incorporate it into your everyday skincare routine.  

Skincare Product Quality Over Quantity 

We can’t stress this enough even though you’ve all heard this a million times before! But, with medical grade skincare products, you get QUALITY! And a little also goes a long way – you don’t need to use a whole palm full of lotion to get the same result – a little dab will do ya’! 

WHY? Higher concentration of active ingredients (hyaluronic acid, growth factors, peptides, acids, retinols, antioxidants, etc.) are uniquely designed to penetrate the deeper levels of the skin, exfoliate, promote the growth of healthy skin cells and proteins like collagen and elastin. 

The Best Medical-Grade Skincare Brands 

If you’re ready to take the leap and switch to medical grade skincare products – have a look at some of our favorites below. 

PCA Skin 

Great for the colder months we’re experiencing now, their rich moisturizing cream has snow algae to help soften skin and reverse the signs of ageing. Snow algae can survive the harshest frigid conditions.  


Vivier is a Canadian pharmaceutical grade skincare brand. It’s backed by science and meets the highest standards of quality and purity; every formulation is potent. Their products have unique technologies built into them to ensure you achieve optimal results.

From unique intradermal systems for product penetration into the deepest layers of the skin to microencapsulated slow-release formulations, these products work hard so you don’t have to for great skin.  

Laboratoire Dr. Renaud 

The products from Laboratoire Dr. Renaud are the result of in-depth studies of the skin, years of research and collaboration with experts in dermopharmacology. They have various lines dedicated to addressing various skincare concerns including ageing, acne and oily skin, dehydration, and dark circles, to name a few.  

The Takeaway (or The Bottom Line) 

While it’s fun to peruse the skincare aisles of your favorite beauty store, medical grade skincare products may be for you if you’re looking for proven and effective active ingredients at a higher concentration in your skincare products. Before buying though, consult with a physician to ensure you buy the product(s) that are best for your skin type and concerns. 

FAQs – Medical Grade Skincare vs OTC

Does medical grade skincare require a prescription from a doctor? 

Medical grade skincare products don’t require a prescription from a doctor. However, there are some medical grade skincare lines, such as Obagi, that sell medical-grade skincare products where some of their products do require a prescription. For example, their Tretinoin does require a prescription from a doctor, but you can purchase a less potent, effective medical grade Obagi retinol without a prescription. 

Where can you buy medical-grade skincare? 

Usually, you would buy medical grade skincare at your doctor or dermatologist’s office. It’s always best to discuss which products are best for your skin issues with your doctor. You can also purchase these products online. However, buy from reputable sites, like ours, the brand’s official website, or the online shop affiliated with your physician.  

How do you know if a skincare line is medical grade? 

At times, it might be hard to determine if a skincare line is medical grade, especially online. Medical grade skincare lines must have clinical research to back up their claims of the reported benefits. The best way to ensure a line is medical grade is to ask your doctor or dermatologist and find out which products they recommend. Then, you can find a reputable online store, such as ours, the brand’s official website or your medi-spa or doctor’s online shop. 

For more information book your consultation at any of our cosmetic clinics in Ontario Brantford * Collingwood Embrun Kincardine * Orillia * Ottawa West * Owen Sound 

You may also call us at +1-866-333-3305 and book your appointment

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