5 Prescription Beauty Products Explained by a Dermatologist

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5 Prescription Beauty Products Explained by a Dermatologist

Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD
By Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD
Sept 29, 2020
5 Prescription Beauty Products Explained by a Dermatologist

If taking good care of your skin was easy, there would be no need for experts. This is particularly true when it comes to medicine for your skin. Skincare has evolved into something akin to a menu, where many people consult Dr. Google, and then select a product they think will work to treat skin issues ranging from acne to rosacea to hyperpigmentation.

Unfortunately, some of the ingredients in skincare and beauty products will not only fail to work, they can actually lead to inflammation and irritation, accelerating the aging process. Here’s what to know about five prescription beauty products, and how they work.

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Top Beauty Products You Need A Prescription

Prescription beauty products are available to treat acne, to slow the growth of facial hair, to reduce the appearance fine lines and wrinkles, to reduce dark spots and scars, to treat bumpy skin on the backs of arms and legs (keratosis pilaris), and to promote eyelash growth.


Latisse is a prescription beauty product that helps your eyelashes to grow longer. Interestingly, Latisse was originally formulated as a treatment for glaucoma, under the brand name Lumigan. While in development those who were using Lumigan experienced the pleasant side effect of longer eyelashes.

As a result, Latisse was developed and is FDA approved to promote eyelash growth. Unlike the glaucoma medicine, Latisse is not put into the eye. Instead, it is applied like eyeliner, using a tiny brush (or your own, clean, eyeliner brush).

Why You Need a Prescription for Latisse

A prescription is required for Latisse, as there have been rare instances of side effects, including hyperpigmentation of the skin around the eyes, and/or periorbital fat reduction (reduction of fat pads around the eye). These side effects are rare, but if you are prescribed Latisse, your dermatologist will want to monitor you, with at least a yearly visit.

That said, don’t feel self-conscious about asking for a prescription. Latisse is very effective and very safe, and dermatologists are comfortable prescribing it.

The RxSaver price for Latisse at major retail pharmacies starts at $139.31

Retin-A (Tretinoin)

As an anti-aging beauty product, Retin-A and its generic tretinoin are prescription topicals that speed up skin cell turnover rate. In addition, tretinoin helps to upregulate collagen and elastin.

When we are young, the skin cell turnover rate is roughly 28 days. As we get older, that rate increases to approximately 35 days. Because it takes longer for the top layer of skin cells to turnover, our skin loses its luminosity, looking duller than when we were young. Tretinoin resets the cell turnover rate to 28 days, helping us look younger and more radiant.

Tretinoin also replenishes our collagen stores. Keep in mind that we lose roughly 1% of collagen each year from the time we are 30 years old. This contributes to the appearance of aging, as collagen keeps our pores smaller and skin fuller, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Finally, tretinoin helps to restart the production of elastin, which helps prevent sagging and wrinkles. Elastin production ceases when we are teenagers, so using tretinoin can aid in helping your skin look full, firm, and youthful.

Why You Need a Prescription for Tretinoin

Tretinoin requires a prescription, and most dermatologists will start you on a low dose. When you first begin using tretinoin, you may experience burning, redness, peeling, or itchiness. However, these side effects disappear over time, as your skin gets used to tretinoin. Very few people are allergic to tretinoin, but you will want to follow up with a dermatologist if you have a reaction, or the side effects don’t go away. Tretinoin is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.

The RxSaver price for tretinoin at major retail pharmacies starts at $38.11


Hydroquinone is a prescription beauty product that is a depigmenting agent. It is used to lighten dark spots caused by aging, scarring, and sunspots. It works by inhibiting a chemical reaction that results in hyperpigmentation in the skin.

Why You Need a Prescription for Hydroquinone

Some over the counter beauty products contain 2% hydroquinone, but you’ll need a prescription to get 4% hydroquinone. Side effects from hydroquinone are generally mild, including dryness, irritation, redness, itching. If using prescription-strength hydroquinone, you’ll want to use small amounts, and follow up with your dermatologist regularly, or if you experience lasting side effects.

The RxSaver price for hydroquinone at major retail pharmacies starts at $34.68

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is used to treat rosacea, acne, and dark spots. It is an anti-inflammatory that can help with swelling and redness caused by acne and rosacea, and it is also an anti pigment agent. Azelaic acid is a topical medication applied directly to the skin.

Why You Need a Prescription for Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is available over the counter, but you cannot get 20% azelaic acid which is indicated for rosacea and for hyperpigmentation, without a prescription.

The RxSaver price for azelaic acid at major retail pharmacies starts at $117.47


Vaniqa slows the regrowth of hair. It doesn’t stop hair regrowth, but for those who are not candidates for laser hair removal, Vaniqa can significantly slow the regrowth rate. For example, those who shave, wax, or tweeze every two days, may only need to do so every two weeks.

Because shaving and waxing cause trauma to the skin, they can lead to the development of dark spots (hyperpigmentation). Using Vaniqa instead of frequent shaving or waxing can reduce the appearance of dark spots. Vaniqa can be especially helpful to those with darker skin, who tend to suffer from hyperpigmentation more frequently.

Why You Need a Prescription for Vaniqa

You’ll need a prescription for Vaniqa, as there is a potential for side effects, which could include redness or skin irritation. If you experience side effects from Vaniqa talk to your dermatologist, who may recommend that you reduce the application to once a day.

The RxSaver price for Vaniqa at major retail pharmacies starts at $177.81

How to Get a Prescription for Beauty Products

Getting a prescription for beauty products begins with asking your dermatologist for help. That’s why we are here! There are so many changes you can make to transform your skin just through topical applications, and we would love to help you make them. So please don’t ever feel like something that is bothering you isn’t important enough to discuss with us. And if you see a dermatologist who doesn’t seem to care about your concerns, find a new dermatologist.

Why see a dermatologist instead of using a subscription service?

The importance of having a conversation about your concerns or questions with a dermatologist can’t be underscored. Self-diagnosing frequently leads to patients being way off course, in treating their skin. Just because a product worked well for your sister or best friend, doesn’t mean it’s the right product for you. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for how to age into your optimal skin.

It’s also important to mention that the introduction of so many new ingredients all combined and sold today is potentially dangerous. Dermatologists refer to the process of constantly introducing your skin to new products, thereby keeping your skin in a perpetual state of inflammation, as “inflam-aging.” This is obviously something we want to avoid, as it can speed up the aging process, ultimately causing more harm than good.

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Dermatology Telehealth During COVID-19

Due to COVID-19, it may be easier than ever to see a dermatologist via telehealth (telemedicine appointments). Plus, the wait time to see a dermatologist is likely reduced, due to the availability of telehealth appointments. With video appointments, you’re also no longer restricted to seeing a dermatologist in your local region, if you don’t want to. So, if you feel uncomfortable with the only dermatologist in your town, look elsewhere; there are so many of us who want to help you look and feel your best as you age.

Latisse: 0.03 % / 1 drop btl Tretinoin: 0.05 % / 1 tube Hydroquinone: 4 % / 1 tube Azelaic acid: 15 % / 1 tube Vaniqa: 13.9 % / 1 tube

*Lowest online price at national pharmacy chains Costco, CVS, RiteAid, Walgreens and Walmart as of 9/23/2020. Prices vary by location and pharmacy, see RxSaver.com for actual pricing in your area.

Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD

Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD

Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, is a board-certified and nationally-acclaimed dermatologic surgeon. Widely celebrated for her expertise in neurotoxins, injectable fillers and chemical peels, she provides a wide range of treatments including fat removal, mole excision, Mohs surgery, and skin cancer treatment. She is also a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, and American College of Mohs Surgery. She regularly appears as a dermatologic expert on national shows including Good Morning America, TODAY, The Dr. Oz Show, The Doctors, Inside Edition & many more. Dr. Engelman is the Dermatology expert for RxSaver.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

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