We Investigate The Rise Of Medical-Grade Skincare

You’ve probably spotted some of these brands at your dermatologist’s clinic or have heard your favourite ‘skinfluencer’ talk about the power of a particular medical-grade skincare brand. They’ve been popular in the past with celebrities who could afford those steep price tags and purchased them on their trips abroad, but with the world now at our fingertips, these are finding a way into the skincare cabinets of anybody who cares enough for results and can, well, shell out the dinero. Call it science-backed, cosmeceuticals, or medical-grade, whatever the name, the fact remains that you can’t ignore this category in skincare anymore. We connected with a few experts to understand why it works, and generally, what the fuss is all about…

What is Medical-grade Skincare?

Dr Karishma Kagodu, Plastic Surgeon, Founder and Managing Director of Dr Karishma’s Aesthetics (Kaesthetics) says, “Medical-grade skincare is skincare which contains higher concentrations of actives as compared to OTC skincare products. These products are backed by clinical studies, have gone through intense quality checks, and are approved by dermatologists after collection of data, trials, research, and studies.” She adds that medical-grade skincare is targeted to specific medical conditions and needs. “Because of their potent nature, these formulas deliver quicker and more impactful transformations and results. This type of skincare is meant to offer both medicinal and cosmetic benefits,” she says.

Dr Meghna Gupta, Dermatologist and Founder, Delhi Skin Centre, says, “Simply put, OTC skincare is ‘over-the-counter’ which people choose for themselves and start using these, but medical-grade skincare is usually what your dermatologist decides for you. Products your dermatologist will help you with, keeping in mind your specific skin type and its concerns.”

But there’s ‘medical-grade skincare’, ‘clinically-proven’, and ‘dermatologist approved’ – do all of these mean the same thing? Dr Charlene DeHaven, Clinical Director, iS Clinical reveals, “Unfortunately, none of these terms has a standard or uniform definition. This leads to considerable confusion among consumers – and understandably so.”

For example, she points out, in the United States, none of these terms is recognised by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and only the term ‘cosmetic’ grade is recognised. “The FDA considers cosmetic quality to be the same as food grade and it is up to the cosmetic manufacturer if they wish to use a higher grade of an ingredient than food grade. Pharmaceutical-grade ingredients are the highest grade possible. Most companies use cosmetic-grade ingredients because they are much less expensive,” she explains.

The consensus obviously, is that when it comes to a comparison between medical-grade skincare and OTC skincare, the quality of the former is far superior owing to the use of prescription-strength actives and the highest quality of ingredients present in these.


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Rising Popularity of Medical-Grade Skincare

Medical-grade skincare isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s been around for years. Why then is it becoming coveted today, with a clear and visible shift where many skincare enthusiasts now prefer medical-grade skincare over OTC? “Consumers are looking for excellent results in their skincare products and those containing superior ingredients will give much better results,” says Dr Charlene. To this, Dr Meghna adds that the shift is because of the awareness and importance of skin care that has been generated.

When it comes to preferred medical-grade brands, Dr Karishma shares, “We generally prescribe brands such as Cetaphil, Sebamed, Bioderma, Zein Obagi, Dermaceutic, Sesderma, etc. For products containing retinol, retinoids, vitamin C, and anti-acne gels, we prefer to use medical-grade skincare brands.”

The Question of Authenticity & Regulations
Dr Charlene makes a point when she says that there is no assurance of purity or effectiveness when buying cosmetic-grade or OTC products. “In contrast, pharmaceutical-grade ingredients come with a Certificate of Analysis that provides the results from a scientific instrument called a mass spectrometer. It is impossible to hide contents from mass spectrometer results and these show exactly what is contained within the substance tested – including impurities, toxins, fillers, or other undesirable substances.”

While the United States of America has FDA regulations in place when it comes to skincare, we wonder if there is a similar body that regulates and screens skincare products in India. Dr Karishma enlightens, “The Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) under the provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and the Cosmetics Rules, 2020 is the main regulatory authority for the skincare products in India. Many of them are backed by clinical studies and adhere to FDA regulations.”

Bang For Your Buck?

There’s no denying they’re effective, but when we look at medical-grade skincare brands like Murad, ZO Skin Health, iS Clinical, Dr Barbara Sturm, Dermalogica, and others, it’s clear that a lot of them tend to be heavy on the pocket. So, what justifies these steep price tags? “The best ingredients are 100 times or 1000 times more expensive than cosmetic-grade ingredients,” says Dr Charlene.

Dr Meghna too offers an explanation, “A lot of money goes into the research work, and the actives which are procured in their purest forms have the highest concentration, that’s why some of these international brands are expensive.” But she points out that there are a lot of Indian brands which are very economical.

Case in point: being a brand like Episoft, by Indian pharma company Glenmark, which is an oft-recommended brand by dermatologists, or Cetaphil by Galderma India which has its own fan following.

The Downside

While the upside of medical-grade skincare is a more scientific approach to product development with result-oriented products, the downside, Dr Meghna says, could be if one doesn’t follow the usage as recommended or if you apply a larger amount than necessary. “Being quite potent, these could cause issues like rashes on the skin or result in very dry skin if wrongly used,” she explains. On the other hand, Dr Karishma points out the price point and accessibility of these products as an issue.

And now with the problem of plenty, there’s also the decision to be made of which brand and product to choose from, or rather which ones our dermatologists choose for us! “Whichever brand you opt for, and whether Indian or imported, medical-grade skincare is worth every penny,” signs off Dr Karishma. Now we’re not arguing that!


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