Are cosmeceuticals skincare's big game changer?

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Just like when Kim Kardashian and Kanye West became “Kimye”, Cosmeceuticals is an equally powerful coupling. Made from the words “Cosmetics” and “Pharmaceuticals”, Cosmeceuticals are all about beauty focused products that deliver pharmaceutical grade results.

But does it all sound a little bit too good to be true? Well, as the adage goes, when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Why? Medicines like your go-to cold and flu tablets require rigorous tests and research before they can be put on the shelf as a medicinal product. So if it says it will fix your pounding headache, it probably will.

But will a Cosmeceutical cream cure you of your crows-feet and lip wrinkles? Not necessarily.

Hear me out. There’s an interesting back story:

If you’re into beauty and skincare, you’ve probably heard of the skin care line, Retin-A. This skincare was created by a doctor, Albert Kligman. He’s the one who coined the term “Cosmeceuticals” back in 1980.

A Retin-A advertisement


It was named Retin-A because it is a combination of the words Retinol and Vitamin A. Retinol is the alcohol form of vitamin A. Still with me?

When applied to the skin, something actually happens. The Retinol converts to Retonic acid and while doing so, effectively treats wrinkles, age-spots and even acne at a cellular level. Yep, the real deal.

Related: The right way to layer your skin products.

Dr. Kligman's Retin-A line is like the king of Cosmeceuticals because it was the first ever youth-promoting product with an evidence-based medical background supporting its claim. And because of this, it was approved by America's Food and Drug Association (the FDA) as an effective drug.

But here's the thing. ANY skin care brand can label their products as "Cosmeceuticals". And most don't bother going through the rigmarole of getting the FDA's certification.


Why? Well it's time consuming - up to 15 years - and who cares about red tape if it means a delay to the shop shelf. Time is money, guys.

So generally, Cosmeceuticals are basically just skin care products that claim to have a higher potency of active ingredients than your regular moisturiser. They could have Alpha or Beta Hydroxy Acids in them (I'll save an explainer for another post), or ingredients like Vitamin E, Hyalauronic Acid or Vitamin A.

Related: When should I start using anti-ageing products?


So lots of women assume that just cause a product says "Cosmeceutical" it's had some kind of higher standing. It doesn't.

But even if a product does work, and has sound research, good science and decent testing behind it, they still put vague marketing language on their product's packaging, just to cover their behinds - no one wants to get in trouble for selling a product that doesn't "do" what it claims.

So instead of saying "reduces wrinkles" they'll say a product "appears to reduce lines and wrinkles". Appears to? Clever, clever!

And they'll say, "ninety percent of women saw an improvement in their skin", when really they've asked 10 women they've grabbed from the local KFC (for all we know). Because, remember? Time is money, guys.

 Related: The skin saving wonder oil you can find at the chemist

So that's the deal. It's hard to cut through the hype and cool lingo and pretty packaging. A lot of it is trial and error. What works for you may not work for someone else.  Just do your research before you buy.

There's a lot of unbiased reviews online that you can read before you part with any cash.

So, to finish, here are some Cosmeceuticals we do like, we'll tell you why in the gallery:

What's your favourite Cosmeceutical product?