What are Cosmeceuticals?

22 Jun

When I tell people that I work with cosmeceuticals the first question that I get asked is “What are cosmeceuticals?”, my typical response is “Great question!”. I then describe the following:

Cosmeceuticals are topical skincare or cosmetic products that contain ingredients which combine pharmaceutical and cosmetic qualities. This definition means that in most cases portions of the product ingredients have been scientifically formulated to include bioactive ingredients that claim to provide benefits beyond your standard drug store moisturizer.

Though this definition is technically correct, there are many things that one should consider when choosing products that are considered to be cosmeceutical in nature. The term cosmeceutical is not a legally recognized term as defined by FDA regulations, thus the term “pharmaceutical” can be misleading as it implies that the products are tested and regulated much like any controlled pharmaceutical, drug, or medical product, which is simply not the case. If a product has a drug or any ingredient that must be prescribed by a doctor or otherwise makes claims associated with a treatment or cure, only a doctor of qualified professional may distribute or use it, thus you generally can not or should not purchase such an item over the counter or on the internet. There are also some professional grade products that Estheticians may use that are stronger than OTC (regulations and services provided can vary by state)  In addition, if a product contains a actual “drug” it must also be approved by the FDA before it can be made available for distribution and it must comply with FDA regulations on active ingredient, safety regulations, labeling and distribution requirements. Most people heavily immersed in the beauty and skin care industry know that the FDA does not regulate the cosmetic and skin care industry with the exception of tightly regulated ingredients. The cosmetic and skin care industry regulates itself and simply complies with marketing requirements as it relates to labeling or product and benefit claims. Outside of that, there is a great deal of wiggle room for skin care industry, and ther are lot’s of reasons to take caution with what you use on your body. I always think of the example of a highly popular eyelash enhancer and its use of a drug that was developed as a treatment for glaucoma, the attractive side effect of the drug was eyelash growth though there were alleged negative side effects as well including temporary to permement eye discoloration. 

My recommendation to anyone concerned about what they are putting on their skin is to become an informed consumer, check your labels and make an attempt to gain an educated understanding of ingredients from reputable resources. Since “organic” and “natural” ingredients are readily available and typically fall outside FDA regulations, when selecting natural products it is particularly important that you know your stuff.

Some helpful resources are linked below, but honorable and respectful mention goes out to Paula’s Choice by Cosmetic Cop, it’s a great starting point for research. I will caution to never just take one resource and run with the information, always validate your findings with at least two-three credible resources. Seek out information from sites that are focused on education, and sites where the motivation for providing such information is not just to get into your wallet.

You can find Paula’s Choice here.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmeceutical, http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/ucm074162.htm


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