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Medical grade vs over the counter skincare - what is the difference?

September 07, 2019

Our clients often ask "What is the difference between our brands and what you can buy in a department store, spa or pharmacy?"

The key difference between medical-grade and over the counter store / spa bought skincare, lies in the product ingredients and formulations. Medical grade skincare typically contains active ingredients in higher concentrations for maximum results, and also has more sophisticated delivery systems to allow a deeper penetration of these active ingredients. 

For example, Vitamin A, which is designed to reduce the appearance of fine lines and large pores, as well as stabilise sebum production, is often found in anti-aging skincare products. However, you’ll generally find that supermarket / department store skincare will include Vitamin A in its milder form – also known as Retinyl Palmitate/Acetate, whereas medical grade skincare products will typically contain a higher-level form of vitamin A called Retinol or new kid on the block Retinal. Medical grade skincare also tends to include a higher % of retinol in the product.

The strength of the retinol included is only part of a products effectiveness. If we consider encapsulated retinol for example, it works similarly to regular retinol, however it delivers its powers into the skin a little differently. Encapsulated retinol such as Biopelle Retriderm is housed in a carrier system to protect its integrity and improve its ability to penetrate into the skin effectively. Retinoids work in the deeper layers of the skin so having a carrier system to deliver the retinol effectively to the lower levels of the skin means it is targeting the right area and not just those outer layers. It is also important to note that vitamin A is not stable in most formulations, especially water-based. If it is not protected in the formulation it degrades and becomes inactive!

As mentioned above another very important aspect is product stability. Medik8 state with regards to their vitamin C choices:

"We take stability seriously. We use  super-stable forms of vitamin C, alongside stabilised ascorbic acid in our serums".  Medik8 also state that "the by-products of degraded L-ascorbic acid can cause damage to skin cells, if accumulated in large amounts in a topical formulation. Under certain conditions it can behave as a pro-oxidant"

... certainly not the desired effect!

As a result of including highly efficacious ingredients in stronger concentrations and effective delivery systems, medical-grade skincare is ideal for targeting specific skin concerns like aging skin, menopausal skinpigmentation, acne, rosacea…etc. at a deeper level with superior results.


Medical grade skincare is often formulated by clinicians and physicians and generally have clinical evidence to support the product and active ingredient claims, many published in peer reviewed journals. As the formulations contain powerful stable ingredients with effective delivery systems, medical grade skincare is designed to transform your skin for the long term. Many of these products take years to formulate and a host of expert chemists to perfect. Sophisticated skincare takes time and money to produce and package correctly to ensure stability and hence efficacy.

You will often only find medical grade skincare in clinics with an affiliated Doctor. This is a huge plus of medical grade skincare, having your skin evaluated by an experienced provider who can recommend the right products helps you avoid wasting time and money on products that aren’t right for your skin type. It also ensures safety as the Medical Doctor can check your medical history and medications for possible undesired interactions.

At SDD we prescribe medical-grade physician only brands; Biopelle, Dermaceutic, Emepelle, Neoretin, Biretix, ProfhiloAspect Dr along side other cosmeceutical brands such as Medik8, Mesoestetic and Circadia. We can devise an appropriate and effective skincare regime tailored specifically to your concerns, reviewed by our Medical Doctor.

If you are ready to upgrade your skincare, or you have questions about your options, we will be happy to help you with our free online skin consultation at

We look forward to helping you get your most beautiful skin yet.

The SDD Team x

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