I’m about to become real unpopular with most other estheticians. I’m going to tell you why I don’t hate drugstore, OTC skincare. I’m going to tell you why I sometimes even recommend it. The majority of skincare professionals-licensed, educated skincare professionals, not MLM reps-will get offended, maybe even a little aggressive and judgmental, when you ask them to suggest a product that you can get at Target, Sephora, etc. They will be quick to tell you (usually condescendingly, in my experience) that any product other than a professional product is a waste of money and will not get you any results. They will be quick to tell you (usually condescendingly, in my experience) that any product other than the professional product they themselves retail, is a waste.
They’re right, to an extent. Professional products exist because the active ingredients are generally (key word there) more highly concentrated than over-the-counter products. Sometimes they have credibility because they have been researched by a reputable lab, or have been developed by a trusted, verified cosmetic chemist. I don’t want anyone reading this to think I’m bashing pro products. They certainly have their place. What I’m bashing is the belief that pro products are the only worthwhile products out there. What I’m against is the idea that every product you use should be professional grade. In the case of things that are just being washed right off your skin, like cleansers and masks, it simply is a waste of money in most cases.
I love OTC products because they are so accessible, and generally unpretentious. I would rather you ask me for an OTC recommendation and book another facial with me because I am willing to work with you and will not pressure you for sales, than to push a pro product on you and make you feel alienated and a bit uncomfortable, potentially never coming to me for another facial. It really comes down to that. I’d rather you actually implement a skincare routine using OTC products than not do anything at all because you aren’t using pro products.
There are some really great OTC products out there, and I am working on discovering those so I can share them with yall. The main thing about ALL products is learning to read ingredient labels. A pro product that contains ineffective ingredients, no matter how highly concentrated, simply will not provide results. Learn which ingredients are beneficial to your concerns, and shop for those. Learn which ingredients will only exacerbate your concerns, and avoid those. This is essential to buying any product, whether it be pro or OTC, skincare or makeup.
Here’s my opinion on when to go pro, and when to go OTC:
Cleanser: go OTC. There is no need to spend more than $15 on a cleanser, in my humble opinion. Since it’s going to be washed right off your face, you don’t need an impressive ingredient deck. Does it contain gently cleansing ingredients? In the case of acne, does it contain something that is going to help clear everything up? Is it the correct consistency (gel for oily to normal skin, lotion/cream for dry skin)? That’s all you need in a cleanser, and you can find all of that in an inexpensive, over-the-counter cleanser.
Toner: either! I’ve tried some wonderful professional toners, I’ve tried some wonderful OTC toners. Pro and OTC toners contain a lot of the same ingredients with similar concentrations. The point of a toner is to balance the pH of your skin and repair your acid mantle, so avoid astringents.
Exfoliators: I’d go pro on these, or at least high-end OTC. The problem with drugstore exfoliants is that they’re generally produced using walnut and apricot shells. These are HORRIBLE for the skin but provide that deeply scrubby feel at a next to nothing cost. I have yet to find an OTC chemical exfoliator, so I can’t speak to those until I’ve done more research. Exfoliation is so crucial to your skin health, trust it to the pros, and use what they provide/recommend.
Moisturizers: either. Again, it comes down to ingredients used as well as texture and consistency. Do your homework and use what’s right for your skin. I have used a professional line for moisturizers, and hated them. I have used moisturizers from Target, Sephora, and other OTC lines, and been blown away with the results.
Sunscreen: OTC, but research, research, research. There is a lot of hoopla about sunscreen causing cancer. I find this hard to believe, but I do believe that sunscreens contain unnecessary, potentially toxic ingredients. That being said, don’t let yourself get swindled into buying pro only sunscreen. Chances are, it’s not any different than a good quality OTC sunscreen; it probably just contains a soothing “chem-free” label that may or may not have much credibility. Sunscreen is crucial, the most important part of any skincare routine, so if a professional product makes you feel more comfortable, please purchase it. The best sunscreen is the one you’ll use daily!
Masks: either. I’ve used a $3 sheet mask with a better ingredient deck than the professional masks I was provided in school. Bentonite clay, which you can buy by the tub at the grocery store for under $10, works better than most professional masks. HOWEVER. There are some truly terrible OTC masks that contain horrifying ingredients, and there are some truly innovative professional masks that astound me.
Treatments: high-end to professional. Serums, targeted creams, etc. need high concentrations to work. You simply won’t find more than short-term, superficial results in a low-end, OTC treatment. This is where you should spend your money, as these products will be on your skin the longest.
Now, something I do completely agree with: only buying professional products from the professional offering them to you. If you are at a Paul Mitchell salon, buy your Paul Mitchell products from them. If you are at an Aveda spa, buy your Aveda products from them. Do not, I repeat, do not buy professional products from Amazon, Target, Walgreens, etc. These products have been watered down or are expired, and that’s how a retailer obtained access to them. You might as well buy well-formulated OTC products if you are not going to purchase pro products from the pros.
Do you prefer OTC skincare lines or professional? Why or why not? What are your favorite products that you repurchase, time and time again? Let me know in the comments below!
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