Unpacking the difference between skincare product grades

“Clinically proven, organic, pure, hypoallergenic, non-toxic, active ingredients”- with a plethora of terminology describing different skincare products, deciding on a skincare regime can be really difficult. Besides sometimes requiring a chemistry major to decipher some ingredient lists, the advertising industry confuses consumers by promising incredible results to play on emotions and meet their sales targets. 

Deciding on not only what skincare products but also what grade of skincare products to use is a major responsibility you owe yourself. After all, your skincare regime is a lifelong investment and commitment and getting it right early to address your skincare concerns correctly is essential and could ultimately save your skin (and your bank account) in the long run!

If this is the first time you’re learning that there is a difference in grades of skincare, welcome! We’re so glad you’ve found our blog because the best thing you can do is to educate yourself.

Skincare products are certainly not created equally. While some products are inexpensive and easily accessible, they can also be totally ineffective. 

In this blog, we’ll delve into the differences between medical-grade (hereon referred to as pharmaceutical-grade) and cosmetic-grade skincare products. 

First, let’s break these down.

🧴Cosmetic Grade

Cosmetic Grade skincare is not subject to any regulations, safety testing or required review of ingredients and is in a totally different league when compared to pharmaceutical-grade skincare brands.  

They’re referred to as ‘cosmetic’ because underneath all the beautiful packaging and marketing ploys, they only affect the skin’s surface. The goal of these products is to change only the appearance of the skin. Not the composition.


Pharmaceutical-grade skin care must meet the FDA’s requirement that products are 99.9% pure ingredients.  This high-quality level of ingredients must contain 0.1%, or less, of bacteria.

Claims made by medical-grade skincare products must be proven through clinical trials and aim to change the skin’s composition in terms of structure, texture, or pigment. 

✨ Key differences between cosmetic-grade skincare and pharmaceutical-grade skin care 👇🏾

🤷🏾‍♀️ Who they are suited for

Cosmetic-grade skincare products are designed to cater for the broader public and work for the majority of the population. They’re therefore formulated with lower active ingredients to avoid any negative effects when purchased off the shelf and used at home by anyone in the general population and allow the customer to self-diagnose their skincare needs and make a decision about which product to purchase.

Pharmaceutical-grade skin care products, on the other hand, are prescribed by a trained medical professional who examines your skin and prescribes medicine that will address the skin concern you have. Due to the high and pure concentration of active ingredients, each pharmaceutical-grade skin care product must be used under strict guidelines to ensure it is the correct treatment for the patient’s skin otherwise there could be adverse reactions to the product. A blanket approach for pharmaceutical-grade skin care product use is impossible.

🛒 Where to purchase

Cosmetic-grade products are readily available off the shelf at department stores but pharmaceutical-grade products are harder to come by. 

They are either only available from an approved distributor to ensure correct use and prescription of the product, off the shelves of your authorised skincare and aesthetic clinic or on online stores after a strict virtual consultation process to ensure you are checking out the most appropriate product type for your skincare needs.

💵 Cost

Over-the-counter products are usually less expensive than medical-grade skin care products. This is because lower quality, raw products are used, which sacrifices how effective the skin care product really is. Some cosmetic-grade skincare products sold in stores, however, cost even more than pharmaceutical-grade products because of the luxury brand associated with the product – affording it a higher cost bracket thanks to excellent marketing.

Pharmaceutical-grade products on the other hand oftentimes cost more due to the nature and concentration of pure and active ingredients found in the products so you essentially get what you pay for. Pharmaceutical-grade products aren’t marketed as luxury-affinity products and can therefore even be less expensive than luxury cosmetic-grade skincare products.

💸 Cost-effectiveness

Due to the low concentration of active ingredients in cosmetic-grade products, the bulk of the product is composed of other ingredients. This means that the consumer has to use more of the product during each use and the product has to be replenished more frequently. 

With a high concentration of actives and a much purer product offering, pharmaceutical-grade products only require small uses at a time -stretching the product (and your investment) further.

🔎 How they are designed to work on the skin

Cosmetic skin care products only work on the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin. Pharmaceutical grade skincare products penetrate deep into the thick subcutaneous layer of living tissue called the dermis; and they are required to contain 99% pure active ingredients in order to achieve this which we’ll speak about just now.

🧫 Concentrations and type of ingredients used

Higher concentrations of active ingredients are what make an actual difference in your skin. 

Active ingredients in products are ingredients that are considered to have a pharmaceutical or drug effect. This effect(s) must be documented by scientific evaluation and approved. To this point, cosmeceutical-grade skincare is not held to any standards and requires very little testing to support claims they make. Pharmaceutical-grade skincare, on the other hand is subject to strict testing and approval and are treated like prescription medications.

Active ingredients include sunscreen ingredients, skin-lightening agents, Vitamin C, Retinol and anti-acne ingredients such as sulfur and benzoyl peroxide.

✨ Skin Truth™ your partner in medical grade and cosmeceutical brands

As authorised stockists of trusted skin brands, we guarantee that each and every product you purchase is 100% genuine and prescribed to your skincare needs.

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