Cosmeceuticals - what are they all about?
I’ve often wondered what cosmeceuticals really are. The massive price tag for a pot of cream needs some serious justification. When I had a facial before Christmas the skincare specialist at the salon was persuading me to buy a cream that costs Eur120. Not only that, she said I really needed three different kinds – all at the same kind of price level, for a decent skincare regime. Fair enough, at the moment I use whatever I have that looks half decent, but it would only cost a few euro a jar – maximum 20 euro; about the same as a very decent bottle of wine (just saying). Now, as I start to become increasingly concerned with the state of my skin, I know I should probably be taking my regime a little more seriously. Time for a little research!
The word “Cosmeceuticals” is the combination of the words “cosmetics” and “pharmaceuticals”. The term applies to topically applied products – creams, serums, lotions (those taken orally are called “nutricosmetics”). They are cosmetic products that contain bioactive ingredients that would purport to have medicinal or drug-like benefits. Indeed, some cosmeceutical products are tested and report benefits beyond the traditional moisturiser in trial users. However, unlike pharmaceutical products, they are not required to undergo rigorous testing for efficacy and quality control; and there are no legal requirements to prove that the products live up to their claims. Furthermore, the FDA in the US does not recognise a category by the name “cosmeceuticals”. A product can be a drug, a cosmetic or a combination of both, but the term has no meaning under the law. It’s a marketing term people!
“The FD&C Act defines drugs as those products that cure, treat, mitigate or prevent disease or that affect the structure or function of the human body. While drugs are subject to a review and approval process by FDA, cosmetics are not approved by FDA prior to sale. If a product has drug properties, it must be approved as a drug.” FDA website
The term does tend to imply to consumers an implication of high performance but this may be misleading and allow retailers to charge a premium for products that actually might not live up to their claims.
As a rule of thumb the key difference between cosmeceuticals and normal cosmetics is the much higher concentration of active ingredients in cosmeceuticals. Some of these active ingredients can penetrate deeper into the dermis layer of the skin and produce more visible and longer-lasting results. It is here that collagen, elastin and cellular activity takes place within the skin so the theory in terms of efficacy makes sense. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some cosmeceuticals can and do help to reduce the appearance of sun-damage & pigmentation, soften fine lines & reduce wrinkle depth. They can offer deep hydration, retexture the skin and stimulate collagen too.
The active ingredients used tend to be Hyaluronic Acid – effective at holding moisture in the skin; Salicylic, Glycolic and Lactic Acids – effective at exfoliating and retexturing the skin, reducing pigmentation and blemishes, and fighting breakouts; Antioxidants – Vitamins A, C, E, Green Tea and Co-Enzyme Q10 – fighting off free-radical damage, slowing the signs of ageing.
This all sounds compelling to me. But, equally, it absolutely makes sense that “proper” cosmeceuticals would be sold by authorised agents, trained in their usage by the manufacturers, who can then assess your skin and its suitability in terms of the various creams, serums etc. I have fairly sensitive skin and I’d be very worried about trying a cream with strong active ingredients without consulting a skincare specialist first. And yet…. You can buy them over the internet in some places.
So tell us, what are your experiences with cosmeceuticals? Do they work? Are they worth forking out for?
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