A woman looking at signs of aging on her face

Anti-Aging Skincare vs. In-Office Treatments

When it comes to anti-aging skin treatments, how do you know when you need to seek professional help, and when a trip to Target will do the trick? To find out the difference between at-home skincare and in-office treatments, we turned to board certified dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper).


4 minute read

So you’ve got some low key skin concerns: do you spend a ridiculous amount of time standing in the skincare aisle, or do you text everyone you know for a referral to a cosmetic dermatologist?

It’s a dilemma that centers around one main uncertainty: when it comes to non-medical complexion questions, how do you know when you need to seek professional help, and when a trip to Target will do the trick? For answers, we turned to board certified dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper), who’s known for her straight talk on the topic.


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What’s the difference between at-home skincare products and in-office treatments?

This may seem like a no-brainer, but do you actually know the difference between something like a prescription retinoid, and over-the-counter retinol? What about an at-home glycolic acid treatment and a light in-office peel?

According to Dr. Lee, people have a lot of confusion about medical-grade products and treatments, as compared to what’s available on store shelves — primarily because we tend to assume that “more” or “stronger” equals better. But that’s not always the case: Dr. Lee always suggests starting with smaller concentrations of active ingredients and escalating very gradually (over a matter of months) until you see results.

Here, we highlight some of the most common skin concerns, and break down what you can expect from at-home treatments, versus some of their in-office alternatives.

Fine lines and wrinkles

When it comes to premature aging, prevention is key. While intrinsic aging is inevitable, extrinsic aging (from UV exposure, smoking, etc.) is best prevented by using sunscreen and making healthy lifestyle choices.

But let’s be real: nobody’s perfect. Here are some ways to smooth those lines and stimulate your collagen and elastin production.

At-home options

Research shows that retinoids are incredibly effective at minimizing fine lines and wrinkles, and boosting collagen production. Expect some results as soon as 4-6 weeks, with full results apparent in about a year. Over-the-counter retinol, like SLMD Retinol Resurfacing Serum, is a good at-home option.

Prescription retinoid cream, aka tretinoin, does work faster than OTC retinol, but it also carries more risk of irritation.

Studies show that vitamin C not only helps prevent photoaging, it also stimulates collagen and elastin production. Find it in SLMD Vitamin C Serum, as well as Facial Moisturizer w/Vitamin C.

In-office options

Dermatologists have quite a few options for minimizing fine lines and wrinkles in the office, including:

  • Injectables: hyaluronic acid-based dermal fillers and neuromoduators like Botox
  • Chemical peels: including glycolic acid, lactic acid, and TCA solutions in varying strengths
  • Laser resurfacing: non-ablative (stimulate collagen and elastin in the dermis) and ablative (remove layers of epidermis and stimulate the dermis) depending on needs/goals


Treatments for dyschromia (aka hyperpigmentation) typically depend on what’s causing the discoloration. Technically speaking, hyperpigmentation is an excess of melanin pigment in the skin — but the reasons vary, including:

  • Trauma: known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, most commonly from acne or an injury
  • Hormones: fluctuations in hormone levels can cause patches of hyperpigmentation called melasma
  • UV damage: prolonged sun damage can cause solar lentigines (aka sun spots)

At-home options

Although it generally heals over time on its own, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation does respond to a variety of over-the counter ingredients, including salicylic acid, glycolic acid, retinol and kojic acid. Try SLMD AHA/BHA Swipes, Retinol Resurfacing Serum, and Dark Spot Fix.

Sun spots and melasma can be more challenging to treat, but the same ingredients that address PIH are typically effective here, too. Studies show that niacinamide and kojic acid, found in Dark Spot Fix, can diminish the look of melanin deposits. 

Vitamin C has also been clinically proven to inhibit both free radical damage and the enzyme tyrosinase, which in turn decreases melanin production. SLMD Vitamin C Serum contains vitamin C, as well as nourishing hyaluronic acid.

As always, prevention is the best solution, so sunscreen (like Dual Defender SPF 30) is a must.

In-office options

Treating hyperpigmentation with lasers and chemical peels is a complicated process: dermatologists must carefully consider the cause and severity of the dark spots, as well as the skin type of the patient. A technique that’s too aggressive or not appropriate for the patient can actually exacerbate the problem. Common options include:

  • Chemical peels: generally preferred for treating temperamental conditions like melasma.
  • Lasers: ablative treatments can treat some types of dark patches, while non-ablative lasers like Pico and Q-Switched can address more concentrated sun spots.
  • Intense Pulsed Light (IPL): also known as a photofacial, typically used to minimize UV damage.


A lackluster complexion can have a variety of causes: dryness, dead skin cell buildup, uneven skin tone and texture — all of which prevent light from reflecting off of skin. Products and treatments that promote smoother, plumper skin, therefore, help restore a more youthful glow.

At-home options

When addressing dullness, a multi-step approach yields the best results:

In-office options

Dermatologists have a wide variety of treatments that are effective for alleviating dullness. These include:

  • Microneedling: micro wounds stimulate collagen production and deliver active ingredients into skin.
  • Dermaplaning: a scalpel blade removes the outer layers of the epidermis. Chemical peels: mild alpha hydroxy acids slough off dead cell layers.
  • Laser treatments: non-ablative, fractional devices boost blood flow and collagen production.
Dr Sandra Lee

Dr. Lee's Last Word

I know a lot of people wonder whether they can use a store bought product to address their skin concerns, or if they need to see a dermatologist for some kind of treatment. My philosophy is to start with over-the-counter dermatological ingredients like retinol and glycolic acid. Give it some time: skincare can take months to show results. If you’re still looking for improvement, then visit your dermatologist to investigate your options.


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