Skin Care Product Efficacy - OTC vs. Pharmaceutical Grade

Skin Care Debate: Over-the-Counter vs. Pharmaceutical Grade

Skincare is the least invasive way to change your skin. But, in order to get results, one needs to know the difference between Over The Counter (OTC) skin care and pharmaceutical grade skin care.

Over-The- Counter products can be purchased without a prescription.  OTC’s don’t contain the same amount of active ingredients as pharmaceuticals.

Pharmaceutical grade skin care is only available through a licensed Physician. They contain a higher amount of active ingredients than product you could buy over-the counter. These active ingredients can physically change your skin (ie; reduce wrinkles, brown spots, hydrate, repair etc.)


The biggest difference between over the counter skin care and pharmaceutical grade skin care is not only active ingredients and their amounts, but the level of penetration of products into the skin.

OTC products cannot penetrate past the dead tissue layer on the surface of the skin. 

Pharmaceutical grade skin care products have the ability to penetrate the epidermis, or top layer of skin, to the dermis or lower layer of skin. The dermis is the skin layer where collagen, elastin and pigmentation reside, as well as where our new skin cells are produced. 

Since the loss of collagen and elastin in the dermis is what ages us, we need to use pharmaceutical grade products that can penetrate to that level.

Does that mean that OTC skin care products don’t work?

Not necessarily – OTC skin care products are less effective, take longer to work and ultimately are more expensive to use in the long run than pharmaceutical grade products.

At Sound Plastic Surgery, we recommend products that are pharmaceutical grade, like our Image Skin Care product line. These products are administered by a medical esthetician and directed by a physician.  Pharmaceutical grade skin care products will not only give great results long term, but are GOOD for your skin and worth every penny. 

Schedule a free skin care consultation with our licensed medical aesthetician, Erin Keane, LME – call 206-729-2248 to schedule !