Dermatologists who sell professional skincare solutions in their offices might not think it’s necessary to educate patients about how to differentiate between the products they dispense and those that consumers buy at the beauty counter at Saks Fifth Avenue or in the isles at their local pharmacies. But taking the time to educate consumers about key differences between professional and OTC skincare can increase a practice’s sales.
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It doesn’t have to be a lengthy explanation. In fact, there are simple differences that could turn savvy patients into regular clients.
We’re going to make it easier by breaking down key talking points. We’ve asked a few dermatologists experienced in selling professional skincare lines, as well as licensed esthetician Rita Lee for expert advice. Ms. Lee has a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard College, an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, and she is founder and author of the skincare blog Just About Skin
Value of education
For starters, professional skincare offers more powerful solutions at a much better value than retail or over-the-counter skincare, according to Ms. Lee.
Rita Lee, licensed esthetician “The key differences between professional and retail are in the ingredients, and how they are put together. Higher amounts of key ingredients, more advanced ingredients and better delivery of those ingredients produce better and faster results,” Ms. Lee says.
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Educating patients about these differences is a dermatologist’s responsibility, even if the doctor isn’t dispensing the products in his or her office, according to Joel Schlessinger M.D., president of LovelySkin.com
“Education is always a part of our job as dermatologists and, even though many dermatologists don't sell products in their offices, patients come in seeking advice. This advice is often a culmination of a series of purchases from department stores, pharmacies, television ads, multi-level sales schemes and friends — none of which worked out to their benefit,” Dr. Schlessinger says. “While many dermatologists choose to ignore these questions, they are valid for us to address and the act of not addressing these legitimate questions leaves patients open to more mistakes or misadventures in their quest for a good regimen.”
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The big four advantages of professional skincare
1.Developed to deliver
Professional skincare is designed to deliver clinical-level results, according to Ms. Lee.
“Medical professional skincare products typically offer a higher concentration of performance and active ingredients…. For example, peptides are a class of ingredients in which the concentration is critical for results. A clinical amount (a percentage which varies by peptide) is required for an intended result, such as increasing fibroblast activity or reducing wrinkle depth,” Ms. Lee says. “Many retail products boasting peptides contain only a very small amount. You can tell by looking at where the peptide is located on the ingredient list — quite often buried at the bottom of the list. When it's in such a small amount, it's not going to do much.”
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Christine Choi Kim, M.D.According to Santa Monica, Calif.-based medical and cosmetic dermatologist Christine Choi Kim, M.D.
, retail skincare lines are considered cosmetics; not pharmaceuticals. Dermatologists classify most professional lines in the hybrid category of cosmeceuticals.
“Although this label is not officially recognized by the FDA, it is used to describe products that may have biological actions on the skin below the stratum corneum, whereas a cosmetic by definition does not alter the skin's structure or function,” says Dr. Kim, who a clinical research investigator at the Clinical Science Institute
in Santa Monica. “Many dermatologists decide to carry their own professional lines that include uniquely compounded pharmaceutical ingredients. The active ingredients, like tretinoin, are regulated by the FDA.”
Dermatologists, according to Old Metairie, La., dermatologist Patricia K. Farris, M.D.
, can have confidence that many of the professional products they dispense are in fact efficacious.
“Professional skincare products from trusted dispensing brands are evaluated through a series of studies that includes both proof of concept and clinical studies. Retail skincare products, although studied for irritancy and safety, are less likely to be studied with the same scientific rigor that dispensing brands are subjected to,” Dr. Farris says.
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2.“A” for advanced
Professional products have more advanced or sophisticated formulas. They incorporate the most promising new ingredients or the latest generation of more established ingredients, according to Lee.
“A good example is Vitamin C. While there are multiple forms available, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (THDA or THD Ascorbate) is the most effective and most stable, non-acidic form of Vitamin C,” Ms. Lee says. “You won't find this in most retail products, and certainly not in drugstore products. It's an expensive ingredient and is typically found in professional lines and a few of the savvier retail brands.”
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Professional lines often contain higher concentrations of ingredients that provide added benefits, according to Dr. Farris.
“These might not be appropriate in the dispensing market due to potential for irritation but play out well as physician-dispensed products,” Dr. Farris says.
3.Ingredients that penetrate the skin
Professional products are more likely than OTC skincare products to actually deliver key ingredients into the skin.
“The biggest challenge of skincare is topical delivery into the highly impermeable layers of skin - enabling ingredients to reach their intended targets, especially when those destinations are hard to reach, such as the basal layer, DEJ (dermal-epidermal junction) or dermis,” Ms. Lee says. “I am more confident that professional lines have thought about this challenge and worked out solutions (such as finding the optimal liposomal delivery system). Most professional lines are founded by scientists, physicians, or skin professionals, so they are keenly aware of this challenge.”
4.A better value
The price tag on professional versus OTC products might mislead consumers into thinking OTC lines are cheaper, giving them more bang for their bucks. But they should think, again, according to Ms. Lee.
“Obviously, it's not priced for the budget consumer, but it is often much less expensive (on a per ounce basis) than brands you find in department stores or large chains like Sephora. Not only do you pay less for the actual quantity of product, but there is so much more benefit in that product,” Ms. Lee says.
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Patients spend so much money on products with no science behind them only to be disappointed when they fail to deliver, according to Dr. Farris.
“I also tell my patients that skincare regimens should be crafted by skincare specialists--not sales people in the department store. Who better to decide what's best for your skin than your dermatologist?” Dr. Farris says.