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Cosmeceuticals: What are they and should I use one?

There are thousands of personal care and beauty products out there that promise to make you look younger and transform your skin. When I learn about a product that is grounded in science and the company is willing to share the ingredients and chemical make-up, I smile and jump for joy. A cosmeceutical is a personal care product that has some medicinal property or science-based foundation to support its efficacy claims. Given the focus on ingredients and formulation, cosmeceuticals tend to have more refined products and are more expensive than over-the-counter skin care products.


How they work?

Most cosmeceuticals contain active ingredients that are well-known to address certain skin concerns, such as discoloration, brown spots, wrinkles, texture differences, and sagging skin. Based on the treatment intent, a cosmeceutical may incorporate a skin brightening agent, chemical exfoliant, protein peptides, collagen, elastin, essential oils, anti-inflammatory agents, and/or hydrating agents to improve the skin appearance. Know that cosmeceuticals are not drugs (a product that can be shown to alter cellular structure and function which leads to diagnosis, cure, treatment, and prevention). They are best thought of as cosmetics promoting drug properties. This focus on superior, clinically proven ingredients allows better outcomes and more reproducible results.

Many cosmeceutical companies fund studies to demonstrate that their products are effective through patient clinical trials, before-after imaging, or through scientific literature on the active ingredients used. This is important since this collected data or information can be published or studied by others to validate efficacy claims. This also distinguishes cosmeceuticals from other non-validated skin care products availabe on the consumer market and supports the higher price tag.

What are some popular brands?

There are hundreds of brands of cosmeceuticals available on the market. The goal is to find one that targets your skin concerns. Smaller, more unknown brands may be just as effective as more well-known, reputable brands. Many cosmeceuticals are available exclusively through licensed vendors or dispensed at locations that have licensed aestheticians, physicians, or other healthcare providers. Some popular cosmeceutical brands:

  1. EltaMD

  2. SkinMedica

  3. SkinCeuticals

  4. ZO Skin Care

  5. NeoCutis

  6. Epionce

  7. MyBody

  8. Nerium

What to avoid?

  1. Avoid products that claim "exclusive" and secret ingredients that are not disclosed. This implies that the ingredients cannot be proven to be effective and may not even exist. Transparency is key to confirming how effective a treatment can be.

  2. Avoid signing up for long-term contracts for products that may or may not be effective. Plan to use a product for about three months to determine efficacy before committing to continuing to use it.

  3. Avoid reapplying a product if it causes burning, skin discoloration or rash. While cosmeceuticals typically have more refined ingredients, there is still the possibility of allergic reactions to topical agents and ingredients.

  4. Avoid labeling a treatment ineffective too soon. The skin can take several weeks to even several months to fully respond to topical agents and for you to see improvement in texture, smoothness, wrinkling, and discoloration. Do give a three-month trial before abandoning it since these are pricey and do need time to work.

  5. Avoid unreasonable expectations. Cosmeceuticals are not drugs cure skin problems. Most are not formally studied in clinically trials and report anectodal ( personal experience) information. Also, know that results will vary among people and with duration of use.

Learn more about cosmeceuticals

  1. Talk to your dermatologist. Dermatologists are trained to know active ingredients in skin products that are effective and/or have been shown to have beneficial properties related to skin aging, inflammation, and unwanted skin changes.

  2. Talk to a certified aesthetician or someone credentialed who has knowledge about how these products work and what is ideal for your skin type.

  3. Visit product websites and learn more about the treatment intent of products and whether it addresses your skin concerns based on reliable evidence.

Margareth Pierre-Louis