Do you need to use cosmeceuticals? (And what the hell are they?!)
September 4, 2014 | By:
Cosmeceuticals are cosmetics with the strength of pharmaceuticals. Julie Lardner investigates whether they're just another beauty marketing tactic, and exactly what you should look for
Cosmaceuticals_medical grade skincare. Beauty. Women over 50

A close-up on whether cosmeceuticals can do anything for your skin

When it comes to skincare, as with so many things in life, once the genie is out of the bottle it is not only impossible to get the it back in but everyone wants a piece of the magical action. And so it is with cosmeceutical skincare.

A Google search will quickly reveal that the word cosmeceutical is made up, and means the merging of cosmetic and pharmaceutical ingredients. It was once a lovely idea and a genuine description, intended to give us a perception of reassurance that first, the product is backed up by scientific data; second, it will work; and third, it is superior to all others.

But the term has now fallen prey to a little too much use and a lot of abuse.

Opting for cosmeceutical skin care can be a way of identifying a certain type of skincare. But, it’s important to note, there are no pharmaceutical drug implications and cosmeceuticals come under the same legal requirements as any other cosmetic preparation.

These laws govern safety in use, but do very little to govern any other claims being made by the cosmetic company, which puts all cosmetics into a grey area of unregulated quackery.

If it’s a made-up word, then perhaps the claims are also made up? This would be true of many, but there are sophisticated skincare formulations that can indeed claim some kind of cosmeceutical status and stay somewhere above the fray.

So while a healthy scepticism is useful, let’s not throw the baby out with the proverbial bath water.

For a skincare brand to claim the lofty status of a cosmeceutical then it should at least meet a certain criteria.

The product should:

1. Contain proven ingredients, with published research to support any claims being made.

2. Assist in the long-term correction of your skin.

3. Have meaningful and potent percentages of high-quality active ingredients.

4. Present these ingredients in a way that maintains the stability of the formulation for long enough to do something worthwhile to your skin.

With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at these four criteria that a cosmeceutical should meet.

1. Essential ingredients include vitamins A and C

There are specific ingredients that are not only proven in their efficacy but are essential for the ongoing health of your skin. They are Vitamin A (Retinol), Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid), Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide), Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids. All of these ingredients are proven to work and there are published research papers available on all of them. (There are others, but these are the mainstays.)

2. Long-term correction of your skin

I have seen cosmetics that offer ‘cosmetic effects’ on the skin under the guise of a cosmeceutical. Sure, they smooth out wrinkles, almost instantly. A nice idea if you have a red-carpet event to go to, but the results are short lived. If you want to diminish or correct fine lines and uneven pigmentation, these products do absolutely nothing.

3. Sufficient active ingredients

One of the main reasons a skincare brand will claim to be a cosmeceutical is to denote the amount of active ingredients in their serums and creams. Many companies claim to use proven active ingredients but, if the product doesn’t contain a significant percentage, it is likely to be a waste of time and money. A quick call to the brand’s customer support number should give you the information you need. If it’s not forthcoming, be a little suspicious.

4. Stable ingredients

For a product to be worthy, the ingredients need to be stable. This represents a huge problem for many skincare companies because once the air hits your product, it begins to oxidise and loses much of its potency and effectiveness. Look for packaging with a minimum amount of exposure to both light and air. The best products will be in either dark coloured bottles, tubes or airtight pump dispensers.

And finally: always consider who is recommending the product to you. Does the person know or understand your skin?

Buying from a cosmetic salesperson is often the first place we go for advice, but, though their intentions may seem good, they have been trained to sell you a product. And unless they have an intimate knowledge of skin and the ingredients they are espousing, you may want to consider going elsewhere for your advice.

Generally, a true cosmeceutical is sold and recommended by either a cosmetic physician or surgeon, a dermatologist or a beauty therapist who specialises in anti-ageing skincare and treatments.

Related articles

Four dermatologists tell us what skincare they use themselves

The next big anti-ageing breakthroughs from Asia, the home of skincare innovation

See all our beauty and skincare articles