The blurred line between cosmetics and drugs

Beautiful African Women Wearing Skincare Cosmeceuticals Moisturiser

Are you fed up of skincare that promises the world and doesn’t deliver? Well, it might be time to start using cosmeceuticals…

What is a cosmeceutical?

‘Cosmeceutical’ is essentially a word to describe a skincare formulation that aims to do more than a typical cosmetic product, but it is not classified as a prescription drug. They are created to contain ‘active ingredients’ that go beyond your usual cosmetic cream and are capable of making physiologic changes to the skin.

The term blends the words ‘cosmetics’ and ‘pharmaceuticals’, and was coined by US dermatologist Dr Albert Klingman in the 1980s.

Other terms that sometimes refer to cosmeceuticals are:

  • Medical-grade skincare
  • Clinical-grade skincare
  • Pharmaceutical-grade skincare
  • Active skincare

What are the benefits of cosmeceuticals?

Cosmeceutical products claim to have a wide range of skin benefits, such as to improve skin tone, wrinkles, pigmentation, rough, dull, oiliness, pore sizes and dry skin.

Unlike normal cosmetic skincare, they will have ‘medical’ or ‘pharmaceutical-grade’ active ingredients. This essentially means that the quality of the main ingredient and the percentage of that ingredient is good and high enough to be in a prescription drug.

This means you can get more potent skincare to maintain your healthy, glowing skin.

What ingredients are commonly found in cosmeceuticals?

There are a huge number of active ingredients that are commonly found in cosmeceutical formulations that have known and scientifically-proven benefits to the skin. Some of the most common include:

  • Vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid)
  • Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol)
  • Hydroxy acids
  • Vitamin A (retinoids)
  • Peptides
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Growth factors
  • Sun protectant factor

Remember that many skincare brands, especially those with lower price points, generally do not contain a high enough percentage of the active ingredient to make significant changes to your skin. Always check the type and percentage of the ingredients and seek guidance from an aesthetic practitioner for further assistance.

Considerations before purchasing cosmeceuticals

It’s important to know that the word ‘cosmeceutical’ is indeed a marketing term. This means that there is no set rule allowing a company to call their product a ‘cosmeceutical’. The products are not regulated in the same way as mainstream drugs or medical treatments, nor do they have to go through the same kind of rigorous testing to show they work. However, as with all marketing material, companies must be able to prove that their claims are true and could be told to stop using certain terminology if substantial evidence of their claims is not provided.

As cosmeceuticals include a higher percentage of active ingredients than your skin may be used to, sometimes they may cause some skin irritation such as flaking, dryness, stings, itches and redness. There is also the risk of skin reactions. If you see these symptoms, it’s best to stop using the product and seek guidance from your aesthetic practitioner.

And then there’s the price. If you are used to buying skincare on the High Street, then you may see a noticeable difference in pricing between cosmetic skincare and cosmeceutical skincare. To avoid disappointment, always choose a reputable brand with a well-established track record in skin science that can provide clinical studies to show their products work.

Finally, ensure to stay realistic of what a cosmeceutical can do. It’s best to see an aesthetic professional who can have a thorough consultation with you to recommend what ingredients and brands might be best suited to your skin. They can also tell you if a cosmeceutical is not enough to address your skin concerns and what in-clinic treatments will be able to help.

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