The worldwide cosmeceutical market’s growth rate is surging ahead of other product categories in the personal care and cosmetics industry and is expected to maintain a robust growth in the coming years, according to the “Cosmeceuticals Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2016 – 2024,” report by Transparency Market Research1.
Yet, here in the United States, the word cosmeceutical is meaningless under the law, according to the FDA. Cosmeceutical, the term the cosmetic industry uses to describe cosmetics that have medicinal or drug-like benefits, is not recognized by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act2.
The disconnect often leaves cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists with the responsibility of educating patients about what cosmeceuticals are and aren’t. Patients’ questions will likely be about not only the products a physician might carry in his or her office, but also cosmeceuticals at spas, cosmetic retailers, cosmetic counters and even big box retailers like Walmart and Target, where consumers can purchase mass merchandise brands including Olay and L’Oréal, which now offer cosmeceutical products.
“Cosmeceuticals are a very important part of what a dermatologist should know and be able to discuss with patients,” says dermatologist Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D., who practices in High Point, N.C., and founded Dermatology Consulting Services, a company that works with cosmeceutical firms to develop formulations and conduct product testing.
Cosmeceuticals are primarily moisturizers, and the majority of the benefit that cosmeceuticals deliver is a moisturizing benefit, according to Dr. Draelos.
“Additional specialty ingredients, sometimes called hero ingredients, are added to the moisturizer chasey in order to confer distinction in the marketplace,” Dr. Draelos says.
Distinguishing cosmetics from cosmeceuticals can be tricky. Boston, Mass., dermatologist Ranella Hirsch, M.D., offers this example of how to tell the difference: “A facial moisturizer containing a humectant primary ingredient typically would not be [a cosmeceutical], but if it contained an active ingredient such as an antioxidant, then it would be more of that category.”
Still, according to Dr. Draelos, cosmeceuticals are technically cosmetics. They’re not regulated by the FDA; rather, they’re self-regulated by industry.
“Although there has been movement by the FDA to investigate possibly changing that,” she says.
A good cosmeceutical manufacturer will have their products tested. Sometimes companies test their products against a market leader or other competitive product. Sometimes they’ll conduct research using historical controls, such as what patients’ faces looked like at baseline versus how they look after using the cosmeceuticals for a specific time period, according to Dr. Draelos.
Do they work?
There’s no doubt that cosmeceutical moisturizers work to increase skin hydration and improve skin the skin’s surface by delivering barrier repair ingredients, according to Dr. Draelos.
That’s the moisturization part. Cosmeceuticals might also offer limited benefits based on hero ingredients and how those ingredients are delivered.
“The cosmeceutical may contain, for example, an antioxidant. Maybe it contains vitamin C. Maybe it contains the green tea extract epigallocatechin gallate. Maybe it contains an anti-inflammatory like allantoin, or salicylic acid in the form of willow bark. Or maybe it contains aloe,” Dr. Draelos says. “By adding additional ingredients, the goal is to try and create a topical formulation that delivers more robust skin benefits than just the traditional moisturizer that you might buy off the shelf.”
Differentiating cosmeceuticals is important because manufacturers sell cosmeceutical products at a premium, she says.
Dermatologists guiding patients about which cosmeceuticals might be best suited for individual patients can start by looking at the hero, or active, ingredients, according to Dr. Hirsch.
“Historically, proven actives are a good place to start—vitamin A and others with good track records,” Dr. Hirsch says.
For more specific information about cosmeceutical classifications and which patients are likely to benefit, see Seven in-demand cosmeceutical categories: What dermatologists need to know
Disclosures: No relevant disclosures for Dr. Hirsch. Dr. Draelos works with many companies that manufacture cosmeceuticals.