It might seem like the term “medical grade” is just another meaningless phrase slapped onto product labels to justify their higher price. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

True medical-grade products can only be sold under a direction of a physician. This oversight is crucial because these products contain higher concentrations of active ingredients. For instance, Davie Dermatology and The Med Spa is approved to sell products with higher concentrations of ingredients like retinol, tretinoin, and glycolic acids. When we prescribe these products, there are no one-size-fits-all instructions; we can ensure that each client receives a customized regime designed to fit his or her specific skin profile. We can then monitor use of the products and adjust them based on how the client’s skin reacts.

Medical-grade skincare products are considered pharmaceuticals, and thus they are closely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA regulation guarantees the quality of the product; active ingredients must be proven in a lab to do what their label says they will do. This is a significant difference from over-the-counter products, which are not as closely regulated. If a medical-grade product advertises that it can lighten dark spots, then that is what it can do.

In addition to the quality assurance that medical-grade skincare products offer, there is also the question of the quality—and quantity—of the active ingredients themselves. Because they are administered under the care of skincare professionals, medical-grade skincare products are stronger and more effective than those available over the counter. Over-the-counter products may indeed have some of the same ingredients of medical-grade products. However, the higher concentrations mean that they are just more effective. Whether you’re looking to reduce wrinkles, lighten age spots, restore glow, medical-grade products can get the job done.

One final word about labeling: if you can buy a product from a drugstore, department store, specialty store, or website, it is not medical-grade. Even if the label proclaims that the product was “created by doctors” or “used in doctors’ offices,” it cannot be medical-grade if it does not come from a facility that is under the supervision of a doctor. Consumers need to be especially careful when ordering products from online suppliers, which can be notoriously difficult to regulate. If an online retailer is offering medical-grade products, then they are doing so illegally.