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Save your wallet and your skin: Why Spa Grade & Over the Counter Skin Care Products are actually making your Skin Worse (& are costing you more than you realize!)

Yep, you read that title right. Your favorite moisturizer, Vitamin C Serum, eye cream or sunscreen that you've been getting from your local pharmacy or big box store (or even at the medi-spa) and using for years? Or what about all of the “expensive and exotic” items in your new beauty mail order package that just came in? Unfortunately, studies have shown these products are not doing your skin (or your wallet) any favors, and we want to explain why.

If you know Kelly and/or have been to our office for a skincare consult, you know that we are VERY PARTICULAR about what we put on our skin and what we recommend for others to put on their skin.  When it comes to your skincare options and what you put on your GORGEOUS face to stop time from marching across it, we promise that “over-the-counter” or “spa-grade” products are not the best route to go and these may even end up being more expensive in the long run.  

For clarification purposes, “over-the-counter” products are just like they sound. You can pick them up at the grocery store or order online from anyone or anywhere in the world (at your own risk). “Spa-grade” products are mostly available at spas but can also be available online and, just like over-the-counter products, there is no special license or education needed to be able to purchase these products AND there are very rarely any studies for either of them to show that they make your skin better but if you do a little deeper dive, you will see that the ingredients in many of these products CAN and WILL do more harm than good. On the other hand, “medical grade products” can only be purchased from someone who has a license to prescribe medications/state license to provide medical education and recommendations to patients and each of the products have to be approved by an official board with multiple non-biased studies needed to confirm it is effective and not harmful. Are you starting to get why you have a much better chance at success and achieving your goals when, instead of trusting your skin to some successful marketing campaign (dangerous!), you enlist a provider with a medical license and many years of clinical research (wise!) who gets to see your skin professionally and understands the products?

Based on years of head-to-head and non-biased independent clinical studies for medical grade versus Spa Grade versus over-the-counter products,  the results were truly enlightening and speak for themselves. Namely, that medical grade products actually do what they advertise they can do, while their OTC and spa-grade counterparts promised a lot, but just couldn't deliver positive results when stacked against medical grade products.... AND almost all of the non-medical grade products activated the inflammatory pathway to make your skin look more aged, red and wrinkled in a new term that is called “Inflammaging.” 

In short, the visible results came in when the study participants were photographed under a special light that showed what was happening to the skin after each product was applied, and the participants that had used the medical grade products consistently saw the positive results of improvement in texture, appearance and overall health of the skin- we're talking less inflammation, improved hydration, less dermal debris (AKA Sun damage & brown spots), improvement in fine lines and wrinkles, and overall improved skin texture and elasticity when compared to those who were using OTC or spa grade products that - here's the kicker - advertised that they did the SAME THING.

Here's another dose of sobering reality that might be hard to hear - just because your bestie is a new esthetician & recommends a certain product or skincare brand that they claim will work for your skin, it doesn't mean that it will, and they honestly just probably want to sell their stuff to you (sorry bestie girl!). When you work with a board trained provider who has actually participated in these clinical research trials and can understand and explain to you the science behind the products being recommended (and give you study results if you want them!), those are the voices you can and should trust when it comes to your skin.

Let's Break down what Medical Grade Skincare really is and why it's so important.


Understanding Your Skin and the Inflammatory Pathway

Have you heard of the inflammatory pathway? It involves the coordinated communication of different immune cells and blood vessels through an intricate cascade of molecular signals. Inflammation can cause things such as fever, cardiovascular issues, allergy anaphylaxis, fibrosis, autoimmunity, but it can also wreak unwanted havoc that shows up on your skin, which then can also eventually lead to pronounced aging and skin, hair and nail disease later down the road (Yikes!)

These acute or chronic inflammatory responses cause inflammatory cytokine production from epidermal keratinocytes as well as dermal fibroblasts and other cells, which in turn stimulate melanocytes, often resulting in unwanted skin pigmentation. Basically, (without the fancy big derm words) when we use Spa grade or unregulated OTC products made by companies that are able to use any ingredients they want (yes, even the harmful ones!) , you're left with a vicious cycle of inflammation that shows up as the redness, the breakouts, and the brown spots with bumpy texture that we are so desperately trying to get rid of (that’s why you bought the darn product in the first place, duh!)

You might be surprised, but this is how many (more than you think, I promise!) skincare companies make their money, they are literally profiting from you believing their product says what it's going to do (go figure) and then using the cheap ingredients to cut their costs at the expense of your results. There's no regulation of any kind with OTC and Spa grade products, which is why companies such as ________________ (fill in the blank here, you know the popular ones you see on TV and in social media ads) market that they are “Dermatologist tested” all they want (even though they most likely haven’t been), but their products actually do more harm than good and they don't really have to legally tell you otherwise.

Whether you want a product that will brighten, hydrate, tighten, or retexturize, the common denominator in any skincare product you use should be to reduce underlying inflammation and trigger the natural reparative process of the skin. Read on for more my friend!


The Key Difference #1- Your Ingredients

If we know anything, it's that people are invested in their appearances, and rightfully so! Studies show that when you look your best, you feel your best. Lots of individuals opt to have other cosmetic procedures to enhance their appearance, but the grand majority of us start out with a smaller step before the Botox and Filler - and that's your skin care regimen and the products you choose to put on your skin every single day.

Let me ask you one simple question: Are you someone who values Quality over Quantity? Then it won't take me convincing you that Medical Grade products are absolutely the better option. What makes a medical grade product medical grade? The QUALITY and extensively studied ingredients of course.

Now before we go down the rabbit hole of ingredients (I see you late night ingredient YouTube researcher!) there are really only 2 things that matter when we talk about ingredients in your skin care products:

1. Do the Ingredients in your skin care work to repair the skin barrier and decrease inflammation?

2. Do each of the products in your skin care regimen have clinical data behind them to back what they claim to do?

If you can answer these two questions about your skincare ingredients, kudos to you. If you were stumped with the first question, I can tell you right off the bat that your spa grade or over the counter products probably don't fit either criteria, which also means they are a good candidate for the trash can (or as Kelly likes to say, give these OTC products to your LEAST FAVORITE friend, or use them elsewhere other than your face/neck/chest until they are gone.)

When it comes to your skin, picking products that not only do what advertise they can do, but can also improve barrier function and reduce inflammation, is really what you want for optimal results, regardless of your skincare goals or the specific product line you choose to use.

The Key Difference #2 - Delivery of Your Ingredients

Now that we've addressed the quality of your skincare ingredients, it's time to address the other elephant in the room, and that is (drumroll please!)... how these ingredients are delivered and received by the skin.

Without an appropriate delivery mechanism, many of those quality, anti-inflammatory AMAZING ingredients go to waste when they are not delivered in a way that your skin can absorb or use.

Let's take a look at a common favorite among skin care enthusiasts, the quintessential (or so most believe, more on this in a second) Vitamin C Serum. Let's revisit the example from the beginning of this journey together, where we can compare something like the OTC Vitamin C Serum and a medical grade serum, The Epionce Intense Defense Serum.

What we know from countless clinical studies is that OTC and Spa Grade products only sit on top of the skin, and usually don't have micro-partilized ingredient formulation that pushes the active ingredients to the deeper cellular layers of the skin where they matter and can change the skin from the bottom up. Think of it like oil on top of water - the two are not designed to mix (much like OTC products and your skin!) and so the oil stays separated and never penetrates through water.

With the OTC Vitamin C Serum, that is exactly the case. Sure, it's the cheaper option, offered in your local store, and it advertises it works just as well as the medical grade option, but now you know the real deal. The reason you aren't seeing the results they've promised you is because the product is not formulated to even get to the layers where it can make any sort of real difference. But, it will sit on top of the skin and cause more irritation and inflammation, which is why these products are actually COSTING you and your glowy skin tremendously.

With the Epionce Intense Defense Serum, you are not only getting Vitamin C, but a clinically proven serum that delivers Vitamins A, B, D, & E too. It’s rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids, and essential amino acids that provide, moisturize, brightening, anti-aging benefits, and work to improve overall skin health. AND it has the technology (namely Epionce's Barrier Repair Technology) which allows all of those beneficial ingredients to get to multiple sub layers within the skin where it takes action to repair, replenish, and rejuvenate.

Key Difference #3- The True Cost of Using OTC Skincare

Now let's talk money! While most will say that Medical Grade Skin Care is overpriced and your bestie esthetician (Hey Girl Heyyyy) will probably suggest 300 different cheaper options to appeal to your budget, you should always think about the cost of your skincare in the long term (much like anything else with money, right?)

Like we saw above, buying the same OTC serum and getting no results when the product inevitably sits on top of the skin and causes nothing but problems, is quite literally like throwing money out of an open window (plus, you get crappy skin on top of it).

Instead, think of your quality, medical grade skin care purchases as an actual investment for your face. There is a reason that Medical Grade Skin care products are more expensive, and those reasons are exactly what we have just described above.

Ultimately, you pay for what you get. If you want products that actually do what they say they will with clinical research and board-certified dermatologists behind the brand, you will pay more for it. But it's the long-term investment in your future aging skin that you have to keep in mind.

Just think about all the cash you will save just by investing in quality skin care now, when everyone else will have to spend MORE on injectables like Botox & Filler or even cosmetic surgery down the line to fix what good, quality medical grade products could have prevented in the first place (at least in part).

So, do your skin and your wallet a favor this year… stick to the medical grade products recommended by trusted & informed medical providers. Your skin and wallet will surely thank you.

Kelly Ballou, PA-C, Founder Renew Dermatology Frisco, Colorado (Summit County)





Check out this Article from our favorite Medical Grade Skin Care line Epionce below for some of the BEST botanical ingredients that you should be on the lookout for!

Epionce Tip of The Month Article - February
Download PDF • 1.02MB

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