top of page

7 Differences Between Professional Skincare vs Over the Counter Products

When your customers are shopping for new skincare products, it can feel like wandering aimlessly through unfamiliar territory without a roadmap. There are so many different paths you could choose and, while many might lead you to the same place in the end, the journey there could be quite different.

The trouble with skincare products is that it’s almost impossible to choose the right product unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. The same product might yield completely different results on two different skin types, or it might not work at all. The ingredients used in skincare products, and the amount, makes all the difference. Your clientele may not even know where to begin interpreting the information on the label.

As a skincare professional, you already know there’s a difference between professional skincare products and over-the-counter options.

But can you articulate the difference to your clients?

You’ll spend the better part of your career directly interacting with clients to assess and resolve myriad skin concerns. Part of your job involves identifying a problem and part of it comes down to knowing what products (and more specifically, what ingredients) to use to solve it. The last thing you want to do is recommend a product that doesn’t work or, heaven forbid, makes the problem worse.

Here’s what you need to know about the difference between professional and over-the-counter skincare products along with some tips for customizing your client recommendations.

Here are 7 benefits of professional versus over-the-counter skincare products:

1. They are made in small batches. When a product is made in mass quantities, it becomes difficult to control the quality. Professional skincare lines are often made in small batches and distributed only to authorized resellers. Over-the-counter skincare products, particularly diverted products, may not offer the same level of safety or efficacy as products distributed authentically.

2. They have higher levels of active ingredients. Over-the-counter skincare products are designed to appeal to customers who self-diagnose skin issues, so they have lower concentrations of active ingredients to minimize the chances of a negative reaction. To keep up with demand, manufacturers often add fillers and preservatives to their products whereas professional products may come in smaller containers but contain more of the active ingredient. With this in mind, it is particularly important to adhere to application recommendations.

3. They are designed for maximum penetration. The skin features a protective barrier that prevents large molecules from penetrating the skin. The problem with many over-the-counter products is that they can’t penetrate the skin barrier – they may superficially relieve surface skin concerns, but only professional products have small enough molecules to deliver clinical results.

4. They contain pH-adjusted ingredients. The optimal pH value of skin is between 4.7 and 5.7 which is mildly acidic. Over-the-counter skincare products don’t take pH value into account and often shift the skin’s pH in the opposite direction. An alkaline pH level leaves the skin vulnerable to bacteria and free radicals which can damage the skin, but professional skincare products are designed to support the integrity of the skin’s protective barrier using pH-adjusted ingredients.

5. They may contain prescription-strength ingredients. Certain skin concerns like severe acne may require a higher concentration of the active ingredient than you can find in over-the-counter remedies. As active ingredient levels increase, it becomes even more important to choose a high-quality product made for professional-only.

6. They are priced more honestly. Though you may pay more for a similar volume of product, professional skincare products tend to be more potent, made with higher quality ingredients, and are designed for maximum penetration, so you don’t need to use as much. When used properly, they last longer and work better than over-the-counter remedies which equates to a much better value long-term.

7. They can be customized for a certain skin type. The key to effective skincare is choosing products appropriate for your skin type. Using the wrong moisturizer or exfoliant could make skin issues worse. Many over-the-counter products are not formulated with a specific skin type in mind, but professional products often are.

The benefits of professional skincare products are hard to argue, but as an esthetician you may find yourself in a position of doing just that. After indulging in an afternoon of pampering, some clients may be hesitant to invest in professional products when they already have over-the-counter skincare solutions at home.

Tips for Customizing Product Recommendations

As an esthetician, you spend a lot of your time administering skincare services. The time you spend with each individual client is important and your work extremely focused – no two sessions are identical.

At the end of each session, ask how your client is feeling and whether they have any questions. Before they step out the door, however, there’s one more box to check: product recommendations.

Though this step may seem like a disagreeable requirement enforced by management, it’s actually a great opportunity for you to strengthen your bond with the client. The idea is to not only make sure the client is satisfied with the treatment they received, but that they continue to see their skin goals realized. Strong recommendations for at-home maintenance are essential in keeping your client happy and a satisfied customer is more likely to become a return customer.

Here are some tips for making the most of your product recommendations:

· Ask questions about what products the client is using and recommend similar professional products, utilizing opportunities to explain the differences between OTC and professional products.

· Consider the client’s primary skin concern (likely the primary focus of their treatment) and recommend a product to address that particularly issue.

· Choose products similar to the products used in the client’s treatment and point out which active ingredients are the same and what benefit they provide.

· Suggest anti-aging products for every client – it’s never too early to start protecting your skin against dryness, fine lines, and wrinkles.

Advise your client when to return for another professional facial and make your best recommendations for products to help them maintain their results at home in the meantime. Remind them that perfect skin is not a destination but rather a journey.

Blog post from Professional Skincare Guide - links are provided by us!


bottom of page