Finest Medical-Grade Skincare

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Take a walk through your typical department store, and you’ll likely see a robust beauty department with eager salespeople attempting to sell you on the latest moisturizer, serum, or eye cream launch. While there’s plenty to choose from, what you won’t see is medical-grade skincare, which you can find at a medical spa, a dermatologist’s office, and authorized online retailers. You’ll notice that the price point may be a bit higher, and these products are a bit more challenging to get your hands on — but they do have their advantages.

Despite the COVID-19 crisis and the looming economic recession, the medical-grade skincare market is projected to grow by 1.1 billion USD worldwide by the end of 2027, thanks to accurate analysis and staying on top of trends.

We tapped Elle MacLeman, biochemist, skincare specialist, and head technical writer for The Derm Review, to provide greater insight on the difference between medical-grade and mainstream skincare and what to look for when shopping for the best products.

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Best Medical-Grade Skincare Products: The List

Cosmedix Pure C, $54

Dr. Lancer Younger Pure Youth Serum, $275

Elta MD UV Clear Sunscreen, $37

Exuviance Performance Peel, $79

Strivectin New Daily Reveal Exfoliating Pads, $45

GlyMed Plus AHA Accelerator, Professionally Prescribed, $73.50

Glytone Rejuvenating Mini Peel Gel, $64

MDacne Dark Spot Remover, $69.95

NeoStrata Bionic Face Cream, $60

PCA Skincare Après Peel Hydrating Balm, $50

Revision Skincare Injection Perfection Regimen, $500

DDF Advanced Eye Firming Concentrate, $88

Jan Marini Multi-Acid Resurfacing Peels, $88

What Is Medical-Grade Skincare?

Also known as cosmeceutical skincare, medical-grade skincare is formulated to target specific skincare concerns such as acne, sun damage, and premature aging — but on a deeper and more effective level than over-the-counter-products. Medical-grade skincare provides medicinal and cosmetic benefits.

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What Makes Medical-Grade Products Different From Department Store Finds?

According to Elle MacLeman, “Medical-grade skincare is a little bit of a misnomer. The term isn’t regulated, and despite claims that medical-grade skincare comes under a different regulatory structure with the FDA than conventional skincare isn’t true.”

“While it is sometimes true that more research is invested in medical-grade skincare than department skincare, this isn’t always the case. Some department store brands will actually conduct a similar level of clinical testing to the testing that medical-grade skincare undertakes,” Elle goes on to explain.

“As a generality, medical-grade skincare is usually more focused on barrier protection and less focused on hyped active ingredients. This can be great for skin that is experiencing irritation, sensitivity, or breakouts, but you can often find department store equivalent products that do the same thing.”

When it comes to medical-grade skincare versus mainstream products, there are a few key differences.

  • Limited Purchasing Power: Back in the day, you could only buy medical-grade skincare in a doctor’s office, but now, you can find it online sold by authorized retailers specializing in this level of product. The advantage of visiting a medical spa or dermatologist’s office is that you’ll also receive personalized guidance and specific product recommendations.
  • Stability: The best medical-grade skincare is formulated with more highly stabilized ingredients — meaning they take longer to deteriorate — than mainstream products. They also have greater absorption, meaning these results-driven ingredients are delivered deeper into the skin. However, buyer beware: While it’s a small number, some companies only use trace amounts of active ingredients coupled with synthetic additives that aren’t effective and false claims.
  • FDA Regulation: Since the FDA doesn’t regulate over-the-counter products, they can’t penetrate beyond the top layer of skin. OTC formulas also can’t make any medical claims, such as treating a particular skin condition. Since medical-grade skincare is regulated, it can provide claims and safely penetrate the skin on a deeper level.

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Is Medical-Grade Skincare Better?

While there’s nothing wrong with department or drugstore products, medical-grade skincare is supported by clinical evidence and, often, professional advice depending on where you purchase it. As mentioned, it’s also more potent and high-quality, meaning you’ll see results faster. Even so, buyer beware.

“As you may have guessed from the previous information, medical-grade skincare isn’t necessarily better, says MacLeman. “Their formulations are usually better for sensitive skin types and barrier disruption, but the formulations are often similar to other products on the market.”

“One point of difference is that they tend to be less associated with high-cost branding, think of La Mer or cosmetic branded skincare,” she goes on to explain. “However, the term ‘medical-grade is a marketing term in and of itself. Often you will find drug store brands that have a very similar formulation that doesn’t have the same price tag as products that are marketed as medical grade.”

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Best Ingredients to Look for in Medical-Grade Formulas

According to Elle, “Medical grade skincare will often focus heavily on active ingredients such as vitamin C, retinoids, and acids. They can be great for some skin types if they are well tolerated, but keep in mind that high concentrations of active ingredients or complex combinations of potent ingredients aren’t always best for your skin. More often than not, less is better.”

Elle’s Picks: Some Great Ingredients to Look Out For Are:

  • Glycerin, an excellent hydrator and an affordable alternative to hyaluronic acid.
  • Ceramides
  • Retinol
  • Vitamin C — L-ascorbic acid — is the best of the bunch. However, it doesn’t work for everyone. Despite the research that shows that vitamin C is excellent for your skin, many people find the acidic nature of vitamin C products too irritating to reap its benefits.
  • AHAs – Be careful not to overuse hydroxy acids as using them too often or using products that have a high concentration of hydroxy acids can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier. This disruption can cause irritation and sensitivity.

Precautions When Using Stronger Products

If you have sensitive skin or a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, certain ingredients in medical-grade products can cause irritation, redness, and inflammation. This is why it’s best to consult a physician before experimenting with a new routine.

“Your skin’s natural barrier is what protects your skin from bacteria, allergens, and moisture loss,” Elle explains. “Strong or concentrated active products can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier, leaving your skin a little worse for wear. Often brands, particularly medical-grade skincare brands, will advertise high concentrations of ingredients. This can seem really appealing. After all, who doesn’t want their skincare to work harder and faster? However, your skin barrier is delicate and needs gentle, protective ingredients to maintain its health. Opt for brands that don’t use high concentration claims to boost their sales and instead look to those that focus on balancing barrier support and active ingredients.

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Best Medical-Grade Skincare Products

Cosmedix Pure C, $54
Pure C is considered the most popular product by the Cosmedix brand. While C is difficult to stabilize, this product works by mixing pure vitamin C powder (L-ascorbic acid) with your favorite nighttime serum or moisturizer. It helps firm skin and smooth wrinkles and even skin tone by reducing the look of acne scars, dark spots, and hyperpigmentation.

Dr. Lancer Younger Pure Youth Serum, $275
This anti-aging serum is formulated with Mimixyl, Dr. Lancer’s proprietary plant-based retinoid blend. It also contains hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR), which provides the same benefits as retinol but without irritation. Results include a reduction in the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pore size; improved skin tone; restored firmness.

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Elta MD UV Clear Sunscreen, $37
Elta MD is known for its effective sunscreens, and this one tops the list as a consumer favorite. It provides broad-spectrum protection and can calm and protect sensitive skin types prone to discoloration and breakouts associated with acne and rosacea. The silky, lightweight formula is fragrance-free, oil-free, paraben-free, sensitivity-free, and noncomedogenic. The formula contains the mineral sunscreen zinc oxide and the chemical sunscreen octinoxate, which provide broad-spectrum SPF 46 protection.

Exuviance Performance Peel, $79
Exuviance, the original Glycolic Acid Peel creators, created a high-performance at-home peel that’s safe yet effective. It’s formulated with a 25% blend of alpha hydroxy acids and polyhydroxy acids, such as glycolic, mandelic, and gluconolactone. Clinical results show that 100% of users noticed an improvement in fine lines and wrinkles after one month of twice-weekly use.

Strivectin New Daily Reveal Exfoliating Pads, $45
Four different types of acids (alpha hydroxy, beta hydroxy, polyhydroxy, and tranexamic) boost the skin’s natural exfoliation rate in just three days, resulting in a more even skin tone and glowing complexion. As the peel solution is saturated in micro-peel fiber pads, you get the benefit of physical exfoliation, too.

Related: Best Exfoliators & Face Scrubs

GlyMed Plus AHA Accelerator, Professionally Prescribed, $73.50
Glycolic acid peel at home? Though you’ll need to see your esthetician or dermatologist to purchase this at-home formula, it’s one of the strongest ones you can use on your own, thanks to 20% glycolic and lactic acids. Suitable for most skin types, this accelerator reduces dull and uneven skin texture, increases firmness and elasticity, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, and minimizes pores.

Glytone Rejuvenating Mini Peel Gel, $64
While Glytone Skin Care’s body products are top-rated, the brand shines when it comes to its free glycolic acid facial products. The award-winning Glytone Rejuvenating Mini Peel Gel is an at-home peel designed to take home exfoliating a step further, stopping just short of a complete chemical peel. It’s formulated with 10.8% of free glycolic acid, which works to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, resulting in softer, smoother, more youthful-appearing skin.

MDacne Dark Spot Remover, $69.95
This dark spot remover is one of the brand’s best-selling products. It treats hyperpigmentation (dark spots) on the face and body, thanks to 2% hydroquinone — the gold standard for hyperpigmentation — as well as alpha and beta hydroxy acids, retinyl palmitate, vitamin E, aloe vera, and bearberry leaf extract. You can start to see results in as little as one week with the MDacne Dark Spot Remover with regular use.

Related: Best Dark Spot Correctors

NeoStrata Bionic Face Cream, $60
This medical-grade moisturizer provides intense hydration while helping to soothe and revitalize the look of stressed skin. This rich, soothing emollient is fragrance-free and specifically designed for dry, sensitive skin. A few key ingredients include PHAs (a form of acid exfoliation that lifts off dead skin and promotes cell renewal), meadowfoam seed oil, and several different silicones.

PCA Skincare Après Peel Hydrating Balm, $50
This balm features an advanced formula designed to restore moisture while fighting the visible signs of aging. After all, it was designed to be used as a chemical peel. Phytohormones, soy isoflavones, and chasteberry extract rebuild collagen for skin that feels softer, younger, and more resilient.

Revision Skincare Injection Perfection Regimen, $500
This system is designed to enhance and prolong treatment results after injections and fillers. The five-piece kit includes peptide-rich Revox 7, an eye cream, vitamin K serum, face cream, and your choice of an age-defying moisturizer with sunscreen or Multi-Protection Broad-Spectrum SPF 50.

DDF Advanced Eye Firming Concentrate, $88
Turmeric addresses dark undereye circles and scars, glycerin moisturizes, and caffeine decreases puffiness by shrinking blood vessels. While results are immediate, more visible improvements are noticed over time. It’s considered one of the best medical-grade eye creams.

Related: Best Eye Cream for Wrinkles

Jan Marini Multi-Acid Resurfacing Peels, $88
These quadruple-acid peel pads effectively refine skin texture and reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pore size. They’re also an excellent option for those with acne (thanks to salicylic acid), including residual scarring. Despite being a powerful at-home peel, aloe, chamomile, and green tea extracts soothe and balance the skin, resulting in a clear, glowing complexion.

Best Medical-Grade Skincare: The Final Word

While we’re not against mainstream skincare, the medical-grade variety can be more beneficial. Also known as cosmeceutical skincare, medical-grade skincare is formulated to target specific skincare concerns such as acne, sun damage, and premature aging — but on a deeper and more effective level than over-the-counter-products.

Even so, buyer beware. “Medical-grade skincare isn’t necessarily better, says MacLeman. “Their formulations are usually better for sensitive skin types and barrier disruption, but the formulations are often similar to other products on the market.”

What is the best medical skincare line? There are several but look for ingredients such as glycerin — an excellent hydrator and an affordable alternative to hyaluronic acid — ceramides, retinol, vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), and alpha-hydroxy acids.

If you have sensitive skin or a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, certain ingredients in medical-grade products can cause irritation, redness, and inflammation. This is why it’s best to consult a physician before experimenting with a new routine.

Sources
“Global Medicated Skincare Products Industry 2019 to 2027,” PR News Wire, June 2020.

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