Do you need to use cosmeceuticals?
Cosmeceuticals are cosmetics with the strength of pharmaceuticals. Julie Lardner investigates whether they’re just another beauty marketing tactic and what you should look for.
When it comes to skincare, as with so many things in life, once the genie is out of the bottle, it is impossible to get 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 reassure us that scientific data back up the product; 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 skincare can be a way of identifying a specific 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 control any other claims the cosmetic company makes, which puts all cosmetics into a grey area of unregulated quackery.
If it’s a made-up word, the claims may also be made up. This would be true of many, but there are sophisticated skincare formulations that can indeed claim some 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 bathwater.
For a skincare brand to claim the lofty status of a cosmeceutical, it should at least meet specific criteria.
The product should:
1. Contain proven ingredients with published research to support any claims.
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, consider four criteria 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 published research papers are available on 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. An excellent idea if you have a red-carpet event to go to, but the results are short-lived. These products do nothing if you want to diminish or correct fine lines and uneven pigmentation.
3. Sufficient active ingredients.
One of the main reasons a skincare brand will claim to be a cosmeceutical is to denote the number 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 will likely be a waste of time and money. A quick call to the brand’s customer support number should give you the necessary information. 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 massive problem for many skin care companies because once the air hits your product, it oxidises and loses its potency and effectiveness. Look for packaging with a minimum amount of exposure to both light and air. The best products will be in 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 reasonable, they have been trained to sell you a product. And unless they have an intimate knowledge of skin and the ingredients they espouse, you may want to consider going elsewhere for your advice.
Generally, a true cosmeceutical is sold and recommended by a cosmetic physician, surgeon, dermatologist, or beauty therapist who specialises in anti-ageing skincare and treatments.