The difference between prescription and natural skincare

There’s a lot of hype about natural skincare products. But what’s their place in a skincare routine, and how do they work with prescription skincare products? In this post, we’ll talk about what prescription skincare is, whether prescription skincare can be natural and whether natural products belong in your routine.

What’s so good about prescription skincare?

Prescription skincare will always be more effective than non-prescription skincare. 

Prescription ingredients are the ones that health authorities have decided to go to the trouble of regulating. This is because they’re powerful ingredients that have the potential to bring greater benefits to your skin. The ingredients in Dermatica’s prescription skincare products have been thoroughly tested: their effectiveness is supported by years of independent clinical studies. This involves testing the products on large numbers of people, so there’s a pretty good chance they’ll work for you. Prescription skin care products can treat a range of problems like acne, pigmentation, melasma and ageing skin.

But this increased effectiveness also means that prescription ingredients can usually cause greater side effects. Making them prescription-only means that a medical professional will talk to you about your individual situation, and together you can decide if it’s likely to be worth the risk of side effects. They can also give you tips on how to minimise any side effects you experience, and adjust your prescription based on how your skin reacts. If you have a prescription with Dermatica you can speak to their dermatology team about your dosage and keep them updated on your skin progress. The production of prescription skincare is also regulated to ensure that the quality of the products are consistent, and they’re formulated to be safe and effective on your skin.

However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to look after your skin with prescription products only. Prescription products are generally just leave-on treatments, similar to a serum. In a skincare routine, you’ll also need a cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen, which won’t be prescription products. Many prescription ingredients are also quite harsh on your skin, so if you use too many at once, it can reduce your skin to a peeling mess (your doctor probably won’t let this happen to you).

Can prescription ingredients be natural?

A lot of prescription skincare ingredients are actually found in nature. Azelaic acid, used as a treatment for acne and rosacea, can be found in whole grain cereals. Tretinoin, a form of vitamin A that’s used for reducing wrinkles, pigmentation and acne, is naturally found in rosehip seed oil. Mushrooms and bee propolis contain the highly effective hyperpigmentation-reducing hydroquinone.

But sometimes the natural form isn’t the best for your skin. It might not be concentrated enough to make a difference, or it might be too expensive and wasteful to extract and purify it from a natural source. For example, you would need 85 litres of rosehip seed oil to get the same amount of tretinoin as you’d find in a 30 g tube of 0.1% prescription tretinoin.

There’s also a lot of variation in natural ingredients. With rosehip oil, for example, the amount of tretinoin in it will depend on the variety of rose used, the growing conditions, and the way that the oil is extracted from the rosehips. This means that you don’t know how much of the active ingredient your skin is getting.

With prescription skincare, the amount of the active ingredients are carefully regulated to make sure you can expect consistent results. 

However, non-prescription products aren’t regulated to this extent. Non-prescription skincare products are usually self-regulated with no strict requirements for their composition, so a product that claims to have 1% retinol could theoretically contain 0.6% or 1.4% retinol. There also isn’t any requirement for the stability of the active ingredient, or how effective the delivery system is, so there can be a lot of variation in how much retinol actually makes it into the skin.

Should I use natural skincare products?

Natural ingredients aren’t necessarily safer for your skin. Prescription products are mostly formulated with synthetic ingredients or highly purified ingredients extracted from nature. This means that there’s a very limited number of ingredients in the final product, so the chance of your skin being sensitive to one is lower. The strict regulation surrounding prescription skincare products also means their safety is guaranteed.

On the other hand, nature is full of allergens and irritants. People commonly react to essential oils, for example. Some essential oils can also cause phototoxic reactions, where your skin erupts in the presence of sunlight! If your skin isn’t sensitive, then most natural products will probably be fine to use. But if your skin is sensitive, this can lead to rashes and breakouts. Additionally, the lack of regulation of non-prescription products also means that there can be safety issues – for example, many recalled beauty products are natural ones with ineffective preservative systems.

If there are natural skincare products that your skin likes using, then you can use them in your routine along with prescription skincare products that can effectively target your skin problems.

The bottom line

Where your skincare ingredients come from doesn’t tell you how effective or safe it is. Both synthetic and natural ingredients can have their place in your skincare routine.

Micelle Wong
Micelle Wong
Originally published June 30 2020, updated June 30 2020

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