• Josep Orellana, science journalist

    Cosmeceuticals: more than cosmetics?

    14 Mar Cosmeceuticals: more than cosmetics?



    American Academy of Dermatology

    Nowadays cosmeceuticals are the goose that lays the golden egg in the cosmetics industry. With many therapeutic effects, they are the panacea that keep skin healthy and looking good. And although not all the effects are scientifically proven, cosmeceutical sales are growing steadily.


    Traditional cosmetics are used for beautifying the body and improving the skin’s appearance. Cosmeceuticals are topical dermatological preparations (creams, lotions and serums) containing active ingredients that can influence the biological functions of the skin, basically by contributing nutrients that have an anti-ageing effect. Legally, they cannot be advertised as products that will prevent disorders or that have certain therapeutic actions.

    Advertising for cosmeceuticals promises that they keep the skin healthy while stimulating biological and repair actions. Cosmeceuticals exist that are directed at photo-ageing, wrinkles, blemishes, oily skin, dry skin, acne, dermatitis and cellulitis – in short, at whatever might ultimately enhance healthy and beautiful skin. Cosmeceuticals should not be confused with nutricosmetics, which are foods with effects on the skin.


    Cosmeceuticals are not drugs

    The term “cosmeceutical” emerged in the 1980s from the words “cosmetic” and “pharmaceutical” combined. But cosmeceuticals might mislead consumers because they are not some kind of medication for the skin and, therefore, are not subject to the strict regulations governing pharmaceuticals. In fact, there are no clear regulations governing these products. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not explicitly recognize the term “cosmeceutical”; European Union legislation considers cosmeceuticals to be cosmetics; and they are classified as “near drugs” in Japan.


    Sales success

    Cosmeceuticals currently represent 80% of the cosmetics market in Europe and the USA. According to forecasts, their success is set to continue. A highly influential factor is the ageing of the world’s population (people are spending more on taking care of their appearance).

    New markets are also opening up in countries such as China, India, Brazil and Russia. Most cosmetic manufacturers are interested in this segment and are investing a great deal in research aimed at the creation of new cosmeceuticals.


    What do cosmeceuticals contain?

    Most cosmetics today are, in terms of composition, cosmeceuticals. They are marketed under various labels, such as dermopharmaceuticals, functional cosmetics, dermaceutical products or active cosmetics.

    The active ingredients added to the traditional cosmetic base generally include the following:


    • Antioxidants, such as retinol, vitamins (B, C and E), coenzyme Q10, alpha lipoic acid (ALA), hyaluronic acid and polyphenols.
    • Peptides, which stimulate collagen growth in the skin.
    • Growth factors, which favour the formation of collagen and elastin. These compounds act as chemical messengers between skin cells and play a role in regulating cell division.
    • Natural botanical products, such as tea, soybean, grape seed and Aloe Vera.


    Cosmeceuticals may also contain exfoliating or depigmentation agents and sunscreens. Many combine several of the above ingredients, usually listed on the label along with other ingredients; sometimes, however, they are not easily identified.

    As a general rule, sunscreen and anti-oxidant products should be applied during the day and retinoids, peptides and growth factors at night to fully exploit their restorative properties.


    Are cosmeceuticals really bioactive?

    Definitive studies on skin absorption and action of most active ingredients in cosmeceuticals have not been conducted. Therefore, we have no choice but to accept advertising claims. Nonetheless, it is important to be well informed before wasting money or risking side effects, so consult a dermatologist to help you choose the most suitable products for your skin.