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If you struggle with acne, you’re not alone. While acne often occurs in adolescence, people of all ages can get acne due to a variety of causes.

There are plenty of products available both over the counter (OTC) and with a prescription that can help improve your skin. But how do you know when it’s the right time to make the transition to prescription skincare, and does it really make that big of a difference compared to OTC skincare?

Whether you’re the type of person who loves a multi-step skincare routine or you prefer to keep things quick and easy, finding the right skincare can make all the difference, and we’re here to help. 

What is prescription skincare and who is it for?

Prescription skincare is classified as a drug, and is designed to treat specific, diagnosed skin issues including acne, rosacea, and more. It can only be obtained with a prescription from a healthcare practitioner and dispensed by a pharmacy. 

Your practitioner can help you determine whether prescription skincare is right for you. In general, you need to be diagnosed with a specific skincare issue in order to be eligible to use prescription skincare. If you’re wondering whether you’re a good candidate for prescription skincare, your best bet is to make an appointment with a doctor to discuss your symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. 

What is the difference between prescription skincare and over-the-counter skincare?

Topical moisturizers, cleansers, and serums, sold by skincare companies like Consonant, are considered OTC products. The ingredients used are designed to improve the appearance of the skin rather than treat a diagnosed skin disease. While some OTC skincare products contain the same active ingredients as prescription skincare treatments, the concentrations of those ingredients are usually higher in prescription options. With higher concentrations comes greater potential to have side effects from formulations if used incorrectly. As a result, prescription skincare is more heavily regulated than OTC skincare. 

This means that prescription skincare has to go through multiple phases of clinical trials with a large sample size of patients in order to determine the safety and efficacy of the treatment before it can be made available to consumers. This process can be extremely time-consuming and expensive to the pharmaceutical company, which may account for the higher retail prices of prescription skincare as compared to OTC skincare. 

But don’t be alarmed: this doesn’t mean that OTC products are entirely unregulated. OTC skincare still has to meet certain guidelines regarding ingredient levels, dosages, labelling, manufacturing practices, and more. Companies are not required to clinically test their OTC products before going to market, however some brands, like Consonant Skin+Care, elect to perform efficacy testing before making claims around anticipated visible results.  While these trials are different from those required by prescription drug products they may help consumers understand what each product's intended purpose is and how quickly they may notice visible skin improvements.

Is prescription skincare more effective than over-the-counter skincare?

Since everyone’s skin needs are so different, there is no one skin-care routine—prescription or not—that will work in every situation. 

Non-prescription treatment products containing functional ingredients are a great place to start your skin care journey. They are readily available, may help improve the look of your skin and, may be tolerated better by some skin types than a prescription. If you've been struggling with your skin and have not found relief through OTC products, speaking with a practitioner to get a clinical diagnosis and prescription is a logical next step. 

Prescription skincare products tend to have a higher concentration of active ingredients, which can result in patients seeing an improvement in their skin more quickly than with OTC skincare. Additionally, prescription skincare treatments are prescribed by a medical professional to treat a diagnosed skin issue, so they may target your specific issue more effectively than a general OTC skincare.

What are the different types of treatment for acne?

One of the most common skin conditions for which people seek both OTC and prescription skincare products, is acne. Both prescription and OTC acne specific skincare come in a variety of forms.

In terms of OTC skincare options, some ingredients that have been found to effectively treat acne are benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, retinol, and resorcinol. Topical tea tree oil has also been shown to significantly reduce acne, but at a slower pace than benzoyl peroxide. Other well-tolerated ingredients that have been shown to reduce the appearance of acne include vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B3, certain types of vitamin C, and zinc salts.

When it comes to prescription options, topical therapies are generally recommended for mild to moderate acne. They tend to contain retinoids (vitamin A) and antimicrobials (such as benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics) and take about six to eight weeks to see results. Topical treatments may be used for years as needed.

Systemic acne treatments (drugs taken orally) are used for moderate to severe acne or in situations where topical treatments have proven ineffective. Systemic treatments come in three different forms.

What else can you do to improve your skin?

In addition to OTC and prescription skincare, here are some other things you can do to target issues with your skin. 

  • improve your sleep habits

  • incorporate a variety of nutrient dense foods to your diet

  • exercise regularly

  • stay hydrated

  • work on your mental health

A great skincare routine includes making healthy choices in order to support acne-prone skin.

When should you incorporate prescription skincare into your routine?

Ultimately, the decision of when to start incorporating prescription skincare into your routine is a personal one. Everyone’s skin needs are so different, and the right routine for you will depend on a variety of factors like what your specific skin issue is, what you’ve tried in the past, and what’s causing your skin problems. 

Whether you end up using OTC skincare, prescription skincare, or a combination of both, make sure that any other facial products you use are non-comedogenic (meaning they won’t clog your pores, and are gentle on your skin).

If you think you could benefit from introducing prescription skincare into your routine, talk to a healthcare practitioner. Start an online visit with Felix to find out more about how you can treat your skin with prescription skincare. You can also add the Felix x Consonant Acne Edit or Consonant HydrExtreme products, which can be delivered to your door alongside your prescription medication.

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