I think one of the most common questions I get asked is, "what over the counter skin care is ok to use?". You’ve likely heard the girls and I joke, once you've used medical grade skincare, it’s hard to ever go back to drugstore brands. It’s not that these products are ‘bad’ -well some of them are *ahem St Ives Scrub* but it comes down to 3 main differences. Potency, purity and clinical research.
Drugstore skincare brands are made in large masses, that have mild ingredients to appeal to their demographic. The purity is controversial, as they are not regulated and don’t necessarily have to contain the ingredients they are said to have. Many products have synthetic dyes, colours and fragrances to heighten the consumer's sensory experience. Also, medical skin care brands are willing to invest in third party clinical studies and innovative ingredients. Medical grade skincare is rigorously tested and ensured to meet the requirements that the product says it has.
That said, there are a few hidden gems among the crowd. We have compiled a few of the big no no’s and a few of the ok’s of some popular over the counter brands.
First on the list is CereVe Foaming Facial Cleanser. CereVe was developed by dermatologists, and started with just three products, a cleanser, a moisturizing lotion and a moisturizing cream. What I like about this product is that it uses 3 essential ceramides (ceramides are a family of waxy lipid molecules that are naturally produced by the skin and help strengthen your skin barrier). By using these ceramides in their products, it encourages epidermal hydration and protects against environmental stressors. We would give this product a green light for adolescent clients looking to develop good skin hygiene and habits, but a no for clients with advanced skin conditions.
Next up is Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser. This cleanser is soap free, meaning it won’t strip the skin, or cause irritation. In fact it’s so gentle, it doesn’t really do anything. It doesn’t target acne, signs of aging, excess oil etc. Dermatologists like it for clients that are using acne medication, as they typically dry out the skin, Cetaphil is so gentle it won’t interfere or cause worsening symptoms. We would suggest skipping this product, as it’s too neutral to do anything effective. Don’t waste your money.
Neutrogena has been a drugstore industry leader for decades. The Neutrogena Body Clear Body Cleanser is a budget friendly option when treating body acne and blemishes. Formulated with 2% Salicylic, an oil-soluble beta-hydroxy acid penetrates the pores and cuts through oil while fighting bacteria, this body wash cleanses without irritating the skin. Some of the drawbacks of using this product are excessive dryness in areas that aren’t acne prone, and the added fragrance may be bothersome to some people. I would use caution when using the product.
Remember Biore Pore Strips? Well people still use them! And they’ve made a bit of a comeback with their Charcoal Cleanser. The problem with pore strips are, they act as a Band-Aid on the skin, when ripped off it will extract anything and everything on the surface of your nose, including hair, oil, skin, and debris. What they won’t do unfortunately is prevent build up and blackheads from reoccurring. Is it a quick fix? Yes, but that’s all it is. We give this product a hard no.
One of the staples in our house is the Eucerin. My son has suffered with eczema his entire life, other than prescription steroids the only two products that provide any type of relief are Vivier’s Lexxel cream (which is much too expensive to be used as a body lotion) and Eucerin. Eucerin Eczema Relief Cream includes castor oil, which has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and moisturizing properties, thus making it useful for treating dry, irritated skin. If you or someone in your household suffers with extreme dry, irritated skin, this is a must try.
Everyone and their mother has tried, or knows someone who has tried The Ordinary brand. This brand appeals to many consumers, as it's cost effective. To keep their costs low, the brand uses few well known and researched ingredients -so they don’t have to spend funds researching them, and cheap packaging. Their philosophy is that everyone should be able to have access to quality skincare. The Ordinary products are fragrance-free and keep their ingredient list as simple as possible. Instead of adding fillers, they prefer to put higher concentrations of active ingredients. With that said, the products aren’t going to be as active or pure as medical grade brands, but it is better than not using anything at all. We would say proceed with caution when using this brand, as it’s easy to quickly layer products that don’t mix well together, thus leading to more acne, irritation or redness.
Lastly, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of ‘skin experts’ on social media, you’re not alone. Over the pandemic, it seemed like everyone had their own opinion on what was good for your skin. From JLO’s olive oil to Kim K’s newest skin care line, SKKN, there are so many misleading and questionable brands and ingredients. But, the good news is consumers aren’t that gullible. Statistically, celebrity endorsed products have the least amount of trust, with only 33% of consumers actually believing that their products work. Our hope would be that consumers continue to question these products, and the ingredients in them. We are rating this a huge NO.
With all that said, over the counter brands can have two identical products that have the exact same ingredients, and one will be highly effective while the other could be completely useless. The difference with these brands is the concentration of ingredients. One product may use a very small amount while the other uses a clinically active level. Unfortunately for the consumer, there is no way to know the difference. There’s a big difference between an ingredient used at .01% versus 1%, but you would never know it from the label. Since drugstore skin care formulas are proprietary, cheap products can easily disguise themselves as looking like quality products, especially when the package is pretty and eye-catching. If you really want to get serious about your skin care, speak with a qualified professional about your skin concerns, products you’re using and what they would recommend.